by Farah Hussein
It was 17th of August 1977 in the French suburb of Les Ulis, Essonne that a hero was born. A hero that would become Arsenal’s top goal-scorer of all time. A hero that would later go on to win the PFA Players’ Player of the Year twice, and the FWA Footballer of the Year three times. A hero that was named in the FIFA Team of the Year five times. A hero by the name of Thierry Henry that stunned the world with his incredible talent and scoring ability.
He was bought by his former manager Arsene Wenger from Juventus to Arsenal in an estimated fee of £11m in 1999. Everybody wondered whether he was worth the money spent on him, but he proved his doubters wrong in gallic style with 26 goals and eleven assists in his debut season.
Titi’s second season at the club was less impressive than his first as he ended it netting less goals (22) and providing less assists (3) in a trophyless disappointing season.
However everything changed in the 2001- 02 season when the gunners secured a magnificent double, winning the league seven points ahead of second place Liverpool and defeating Chelsea 2-0 in the FA Cup Final with Titi the league’s top goal-scorer banging in 32 goals in all competitions from all angles. The 2002- 03 season was also a productive one as the Frenchman netted another 32 goals leading his team along with his 23 assists to an FA Cup triumph where he was man of the match in the final against Southampton. Henry missed out on again being the league’s top goal-scorer by a single strike to Manchester United’s Ruud Van Nistelrooy but he was named the PFA Players’ Player of the Year and the FWA Footballer of the Year and was a runner-up for the 2003 FIFA World Player of the Year award.
Then came the legendary season of 2003- 04, when Arsenal’s ‘Invincibles’, captained by Patrick Vieira went through the entire campaign unbeaten. It is an act yet to be replicated by another team and possibly never will. The class of 2003 has since been voted the greatest premier league team since its inception with Henry playing a fundamental part in it bagging 39 goals in all competitions and reclaiming his league’s top goal-scorer honour with 30 goals to his name along with the European Golden Boot. Titi was also named FWA Footballer of the year and PFA Players’ Player of the Year in the second year running as he once more pipped into runner-up spot for the 2004 FIFA Wold Payer of the Year Award.
The title was lost to Chelsea in 2004- 05. However Arsenal were able to clinch the FA Cup that season (Henry was forced to miss the final through injury) and the Frenchman’s individual contribution was again immense with 30 goals in all competitions (31) sharing the European Golden Boot with Diego Forlan and is now the only player to have officially won the award twice in a row. An incredible goal haul was now becoming the norm.
Then came the surprise departure of captain Patrick Vieira that led to Henry being awarded the armband. It was a natural succession – firmly established as the King of Highbury he now had legislative powers. Following Denis Bergkamp’s retirement he was paired with Robin Van Persie up front in a Gunners’ attack that was packed with arsenal and artistry.
This dream pairing helped produce an astonishing personal achievement for the Frenchman as he became the club’s top goal-scorer of all time breaking Ian Wright’s record of 185 goals (whilst also breaking Arsenal’s Cliff Bastin’s league goal tally of 150 goals with a goal against West Ham United). He was also voted FWA Footballer of the Year for the third time now, and – yes, you’ve guessed it – was the league’s top goal-scorer.
Signing a 4-year contract was a statement that he wanted to stay at the club forever and though the subsequent campaign was a disappointment for Henry nobody expected it to spark a chain of events that led to his abdication of the throne. An injury-plagued season ended prematurely in February but we’d all seen this before; this was where he returned fit and firing them in at will. He did…at the Nou Camp.
In a transfer that genuinely shocked Thierry Henry left Arsenal for Barcelona in 2007 for an estimated fee of €24m. However, Henry returned for Arsenal in season 2011- 12 in a three month loan making seven appearances and scoring two goals.
He made an incredible return that reminded everyone just how vital Henry is for Arsenal, scoring a dramatic late winner in his second debut at the club after coming on as a substitute in an FA Cup win against Leeds. The goal celebration and the Hollywood-scripted magic of that evening reminded us of how much love the current New York Red Bulls player has for Arsenal.
El Doctor, El Mimo, Tezza, Titi, Tetou or just Thierry Henry, whatever you want to call him….with a bronze statue of him outside the Emirates Stadium doing his famous knee slide and 174 goals in 254 appearances for Arsenal, Henry will forever be a Gunner.