Arsenal Fans: The 5 Games That Defined Henry's Career

From impressing as a baby at Monaco through to international controversy, with a spell at some club called Arsenal in between, these are the 5 games that made Henry the player we all love...
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From impressing as a baby at Monaco through to international controversy, with a spell at some club called Arsenal in between, these are the 5 games that made Henry the player we all love...

This was an extract from “Thierry Henry: Fifty Defining Fixtures” by Paul Joseph. Each of the fifty games chosen for the book in some way played a decisive role in shaping Henry’s career.

AS Monaco 6 RC Lens 0 - Ligue 1 1995

Despite failing to make an impact in his early turnouts on the left wing for Monaco, Henry caught the eye in September scoring a brace for the French Juniors against England. After the game, France’s then National Technical Director Gérard Houllier spoke about him in glowing terms.

“He has the capacity to beat defenders. He’s very good with the ball at his feet. He’s also got great potential in terms of power, which he can use to go past opponents. He’s a striker for the future. When he has got his finishing right, he’ll be very close to the top level.”

At this embryonic stage of his career, there was no shame in Henry still needing to improve in front of goal. But what was already clear for all to see was his ingenuity and capacity to find the right solution in a split-second and in any situation on the pitch – and it was those very talents that he would display against Lens in a match that, for the first time, brought him to the wider public attention.

Early in the match, Monaco striker Madar suffered a head injury and Henry, sporting short dreadlocks and a thin moustache, trotted on to replace him upfront. He had flattered to deceive in all of his run-outs from the bench (the majority of which saw him playing on the wing) and there was no obvious reason to imagine his latest opportunity would be any different. But just four minutes after coming on, Henry scored his first goal as a professional footballer – a goal of invention, spontaneity and technique.

Italy 0 France 0 (France won on penalties) - World Cup Quarter-Finals 1998

With the shoot-out tied at 2-2, Henry ambled from the half-way line to the penalty spot looking focussed but relaxed, considering the colossal weight on his shoulders. His heart was doubtless racing at a million miles per hour and yet at no point did he appear visibly fazed. He placed the ball on the spot, took several paces back and began his run-up. Reaching the ball, he side-footed it powerfully to the goalkeeper’s left, evading his flailing hands and finding the net. Henry had held his nerve.

Vieiri responded by scoring for Italy and Blanc did the same with France’s fifth penalty, leaving Di Biagio needing to put his kick away to keep Italy in the tie. His shot crashed against the crossbar and the Stade de France went wild.

“I was telling myself that this was the moment I had always dreamt of, but when everything could go wrong” Henry later said about his penalty. “To reassure myself, I told myself that Aimé Jacquet trusted me, that I wasn’t an imposter.”

Henry’s contribution to the victory amounted to less than 55 minutes, but more than any other game of the tournament it represented the often paper thin line between success and failure. Struck a fraction lower and Pagliuca would almost certainly have saved and the courageous youngster who stepped up ahead of several more experienced teammates may have never recovered. Henry trod that precarious line with the same nimbleness he showed when dancing past opponents and he was now two games from becoming a world champion.

Southampton 0 Arsenal 1 - Premier League 1999

With eleven minutes left on the clock, Adams played a ball into Henry’s feet on the edge of the penalty area. With his back to goal, he held off a defender before nudging the ball to his left. For a moment it appeared that he had pushed it too far, but in one fluid movement he stretched and unleashed a whipped shot that flew past the goalkeeper’s outstretched hand and into the net.

The ball was hit with enough force to knock Henry off balance, but he was soon back on his feet, making his way to the celebrating Arsenal fans by the corner flag with his teammates in hot pursuit. On arrival, Henry placed a nonchalant hand on the flag and made a mock military salute before blowing a kiss to the jubilant supporters. It was a trademark celebration that he and teammate David Trezeguet had adopted at Monaco in honour of Argentine striker Gabriel Batistuta.

Yet despite the significance of the moment – not to mention the importance of the goal – Henry’s expression remained unmoved. His reluctance to display overt happiness when he scored would become a regularly commented upon characteristic throughout his career, blamed on everything from a fierce self-critical streak to an inherently brooding personality to an overly demanding father. But this was no time for psychoanalysis. Henry had scored his first goal – a goal of exceptional quality – for Arsenal and with it won them the game.

Arsenal 3 Tottenham Hotspur 0 - Premier League 2002

Spurs were struggling to hold on, and when the goal did eventually arrive in the 13th minute, it was not so much the consequence of Arsenal’s pressure as a display of individual brilliance. A Tottenham throw-in deep in Arsenal territory was headed clear to Henry and from well inside his own half he glided forward, leaving an assortment of Tottenham players in his wake. He held off Etherington and as he approached the edge of the Tottenham box jinked past Carr and King before driving the ball low into the corner.

Henry celebrated by running back the entire length of the pitch and sliding to his knees just metres in front of the Tottenham fans, his fists clenched by his side and a snarled expression on his face in what would become an iconic image.

One photograph in particular, taken from behind Henry, would become a fans’ favourite, and, like the best pieces of art, offers something new every time it is viewed. Amid the inevitable vein popping fury and obscene hand gestures, one or two spectators stand-out as being of a more gentlemanly disposition – notably the chap taking an opportune photo of the goalscorer and another looking on with a wry, almost reverential smile.

France 1 Republic of Ireland 1

(France won 2-1 on aggregate)

World Cup Qualifying Play-Off 2nd Leg

18 November 2009

With 13 minutes of extra-time gone, a free-kick from inside the French half was lofted into the Ireland penalty area. It broke to Henry who controlled the ball and flicked it across the face of goal for Gallas to head into the net from point-blank range. Gallas wheeled away in celebration and Henry quickly followed. But back in the penalty area, the Ireland players were furious and chased after the referee.

Television replays soon confirmed the cause of their protestations. Henry had clearly – and seemingly deliberately – handed the ball twice to bring it under control before passing for Gallas to score. To compound Ireland’s anger, two France players appeared to be offside when the original free-kick was taken. But it was Henry’s actions that had unleashed a whirlwind of controversy that would never fully subside.

After the game, Henry admitted to the handball, but stopped short of apologising or admitting it had been intentional.

The reaction was explosive. Before long, the first calls for the game to be replayed were aired, with Ireland’s assistant manager Liam Brady saying it was essential “for the dignity and integrity of football.” Soon enough, high level Irish government officials had joined in the same chorus.

Criticism of Henry quickly escalated beyond the handball itself, with his very character and moral fibre placed on public trial. Many claimed that by celebrating the goal he had shown a brazen lack of contrition. Others condemned him as “conceited” and “two-faced” for sitting on the turf consoling the distraught Irish defender Dunne on the pitch at the final whistle, akin to offering comfort to a cuckolded man whose wife he had cheated with.

Cheated. A word that few would have associated with Henry before that night in Paris, but that he would now carry with him for the rest of his career.

Liked that? Buy the book here.