The diagonal through ball from Alex Song was perfect. It could have been played by Patrick Vieira, Robert Pires, or even Dennis Bergkamp. The first touch was immaculate, the body shape breathtakingly familiar. The giant clock suspended from the Emirates canopy seemed to stop, dead. Time wound back to 2004 and, briefly, Thierry Henry was invincible again.
As he drew back his right-foot to strike the ball, the Emirates was momentarily hushed. Then followed the trademark sidefoot strike. Before the ball crossed the line, Henry glanced across at the linesman. He just had to check. Check that this was really happening, that it wasn’t a dream, that a cruel flag wasn’t about to deny him his moment.
He knew, of course, that the ball would settle in the bottom corner. When he’s wearing red and white, it invariably does.
The reception when Henry had come on as a 68th substitute had been deafening. When he scored his 78th minute goal, a storm of anticipation broke in an explosion of pure joy.
Thanks to EastLower for that amazing video.
Great athletes write their own storylines. Last night, Thierry Henry took a leaden game and carved himself a story, a headline and an accompanying photograph. Another moment, another memory, another myth. A 227th goal, and 60,000 very lucky Arsenal fans there to witness it.
Henry said after the game that it was the first goal he’d scored as an Arsenal fan. You could see that in his celebration. The nonchalance and the shrug of old were replaced with pure, unbridled ecstasy.
Everything else was eerily recognisable. He might not have the blistering pace of yesteryear – but he might not need it. Sprinting speed might be temporary, but it seems class is permanent. The control and finish were as good as anything Henry produced in his heyday. Put simply: given ten opportunities, Marouane Chamakh could not have scored that goal last night. Henry needed just one. Arsenal should only require occasional cameos from their ageing talisman. Yet on this evidence, they could well be match-winning cameos.
What’s certain is that Henry won’t tarnish his legacy. Indeed, last night his statue it seemed to swell and shimmer more than ever before.
Last night was, in many respects, the perfect night for an Arsenal fan. That Arsenal fan, I should add, is named Thierry Henry. He Has Returned. Long Live The King.