Tuesday, 10 January 2012

Henry's magical return in Leeds win -Joy for Wenger as Gunners progress

Morning Gooners.

You could say it was written in the stars. Some might say it was a fairy tale which came true. Others will say it was history in the making. I believe the King has returned. For all the centiment about Theirry Henry's return running through the build up to the match, it was a trademark 227 goal for the Frenchman which sealed the victory for us.

From the moment Arsenal's record goalscorer agreed to re-sign for the club he had become a fan of, many including myself thought it would be only poetic for him to resume where he left off. Banging them in, in front of the North Bank.

Of course a lot has changed. Henry is a different player and man to the one who left to join Barcelona in the summer of 2007. It had worried me prior to the game that too much was being expected of the French World Cup and European Championship winner. He wouldn't be the same Henry we saw grace the turf of Highbury. But I think he had unfinished business with the club. He left after one injury hit season and was never the player we'd seen in the seven successful season he played for Arsene Wenger at Highbury.

As soon as I saw the team news that Wenger as expected had picked Henry to start on the bench, I antisipated I was in for a special night. With my own eyes I was able to witness the King return in an Arsenal shirt. It will be a story I will be able to pass down to the younger generation of Arsenal fans in my family for years to come - Arsenal's greatest ever goal scorer coming back to help the club he loves in its hour of need.

As expected the manager had picked an experienced line up for the game. Breaking with tradition for the domestic cup competitions, Wojciech Szczesny was retained in goal. A makeshift back four was created around Laurnet Koscielny who partnered Sebastien Squillaci at the back, with Francis Coquelin at right back and Ingasi Miquel at left back.

The captain for the evening was Mikel Arteta in the deep lying holding role alongside Alex Song. The attacking three consisted of Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Aaron Ramsey and Andrey Arshavin, with Marouane Chamakh playing as the lone striker.

The Gunners started the better of the two teams, Wenger's men in total control of the first half procedings. Unfortunately it was a pretty boring game. Arsenal passed the ball around nicely but there was no cutting edge.

Fair play to Andrey Arshavin. He was up for this match. He was showing for the ball at every opportunity, trying to make things happen. Inside the opening five minutes, the Russian had a three chances to either shot or play in a team mate. It's clear his confidence is shot to pieces at the moment but he didn't give up. A turning point might just be one of these chances going in. But it wasn't to be, especially in the first half.

For all the negativity which surrounds Marouane Chamakh, the Moroccan didn't stop running. Yes, he's another player who is short on confidence - every time he had a shooting opportunity he would instead pass to a team mate - but he worked hard for the team.

Like I say, the first half was nothing to write home about. It was all Arsenal. I don't even remember Szczesny  having a save to make. Ramsey fired a shot over, Squillaci headed wide, Arteta had an effort scream past the post and Koscielny also missed the target with a header from Arteta's corner.

The only worrying moment was when Francis Coquelin pulled up. It was later revealed the Frenchman had suffered a hamstring injury which is set to sideline him for three weeks.

It was all level at half time. The talk amounst my friends was when would Wenger call for Henry. We were lacking the cutting edge up front. Would the manager decide to start him from the beginning of the half or introduce him with half an hour to go. It was not a question of if - it was when Henry would reemerge in the red and white.

Within seconds of the half starting, The Ox had created a chance for himself as the first Theirry Henry chant rung around the Grove as the Arsenal legend limbered up in front of the West Stand and North Bank. The teenager fired his effort wide, but it was a positive sign.

It was like the Gunners on the pitch were inspired by the man getting warmed up off it. Arshavin again being the main instigator of everything going forward in Arsenal's play. The Russian cracked a volley wide, had a cross/shot and an involvement in Arteta's effort goal bound effort which was saved.

The game continued to be all Arsenal. As well as Arshavin running his socks off, Chamakh put a shift in. The Ox had come alive in the second half, in front of a very neat and tidy Nico Yennaris.

Theo Walcott, Yossi Benayoun and Theirry Henry had been warming up for 20 minutes before the manager decided to make the change. Arsenal were dominating play but were unable to pick the lock and find a way into Leeds' goal.

Walcott came on for Oxlade-Chamberlain and Chamakh made way for Henry. The moment was magical. It is something I will never forget. The atmosphere electric as the Frenchman stepped onto the pitch again in an Arsenal shirt.

Camera flash bulbs went off as the roof of the Grove was lifted by a cheer which greated Henry's introduction.

His first involvment was to stray offside as he pulled away off the shoulder of his man in a trademark Henry run. The idea was right but the excitution wasn't quite there. Henry's first touch was greeted with a huge cheer, a simple pass made to a teammate's feet.

But within ten minutes of his entrance onto the pitch, the story of last night's game was written. Alex Song played the pass to Henry in a left of centre position. The Frenchman shifted the ball inside onto his right foot as he burst into the area and took aim, curling the ball inside the goalkeeper's left hand post. A classic and traditional Henry finish to restart his Arsenal goalscoring at goal number 227.

It went crazy in the North Bank as the ball hit the back of the net. It was a night when you know exactly why you go to football. Can a concert or movie provide that kind of excitement? It was an "I was there" moment for me.

Henry's song reverberated around the ground as we celebrated. Henry celebrated with the manager and the whole squad seemed to be embracing in front of the home team bench. Even Szczesny had raced from his goal to be involved. But the game was not won, even though we had the lead. Dirty Leeds then went and made themselves a couple of chances but Arsenal stood firm. Szczesny really had little to do throughout the whole match.

Afterwards there was only one topic of conversation... Henry.

Arsene Wenger said post-match:
"Yes, it was a little bit of a dream, because it was a story about football you would tell some young children. Unfortunately it is not often like that in our game, but sometimes it happens."
No one can underestimate the importance of the goal. It means that we don't have to play a replay and that we can see with our own eyes that Henry still has his killer's instinct.

It was a magical end to the night as Henry came to salute us in the North Bank. A game where we sung his name which such vigor. If that goal is the only thing the Frenchman does for us in his six or eight week spell, I'll be happy. Nothing can take away the moment I saw an Arsenal God in Henry score for us again.

The King is back! Long live The King!

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