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Thierry Henry v Dennis Bergkamp: Who Was The Greatest?

by Joe Mardon
21 September 2013 50 Comments

Le King vs The Dutch Master: who would you choose between The Gunners' modern day legends?

It’s a debate I have with others almost as often as I do with myself. Like choosing a favourite album, the impossibility of the question is that which sees it so frequently discussed;

Who is the greatest player you have seen play for Arsenal?

Behind the impossibility of the question float two men on platinum thrones; Dennis Bergkamp and Thierry Henry.

Favouring one over the other is like asking who you prefer, your Mum or your Dad? You don’t have to answer, but what if you did? What if the everlasting fitness of Robin van Persie depended on it?

My answer changes on a regular basis. I recently read an interview with Dennis in edition one of The Blizzard. (Find it. Read it.) He dissected his finest moments in such exquisite detail it read almost as joyous as watching them again. (And again). Each goal is a masterpiece painting, now hung in footballs fine gallery. Each touch is a brush stroke. Moves executed in the split of a second having been held untapped in his mind for years until the opportune moment presented itself. I smiled for days and have only just come down.

“You’ve got to be as still as possible, as if you are standing still… but in the air, and controlling the ball.”

Dennis Bergkamp was the greatest player I’ve ever seen play for The Arsenal. He probably walks on water.

A couple of weeks later Thierry returned home to train following the end of the US season. Seeing him in a cannon embossed red tracksuit top once more triggers the memory bank, as he picks the ball up in one box before attacking the other, like an NBA star on a Basketball court. Traveling at Olympic sprinter speed, the ball somehow remains at his feet. Tackles and fouls disintegrate into dust behind him as he scores again. As the club unvieled the ultimate tribute to Henry in the form of a statue, Thierry spoke with the tears of a man who loves the club as much as you or I.

“It is the perfect example of the love I have for the club,” he said. “Kneeling and facing the stadium – and with Highbury right behind it – is amazing.”

Thierry Henry was the greatest player I’ve ever seen play for The Arsenal.


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The lights were dimmed in the Highbury press room. Behind the seated Dutchman and his new manager, Bruce Rioch, a montage of our new signing is screened, sound tracked by The Stone Roses ‘This is the One’. Dennis certainly was.

His disappointing spell at Inter was all but ignored. Only six months previously Arsenal had been signing players of the calibre of Chris Kiwomya from Ipswich Town. The capture of a Dutch centre forward from the Italian giants catapulted the club away from the ‘boring, boring Arsenal’ tag and into the modern area, guided handsomely by Arsene Wenger on route to world adulation.

By the time Henry was signed with the Nicholas Anelka loose change in 2009, Dennis and Arsene had taken the club to another level. Having recently won the double and then challenging for another, the signing of a player stuck frustrated out on the wing with Juventus did not come with the same fanfare. How strange it now seems we simply hoped he’d replace Anelka.

Without the signing of Dennis, and the legacy he quickly laid, Arsenal as a football club might not have been in the position to sign Henry, let alone offer him such a platform to excel. Thank Italian football for casting them both aside. It knows what it missed out on.

Both slow burned before exploding into greatness. In over twenty years of watching Arsenal there have been two periods in which I was gratefully aware that one of the worlds greatest players was peaking in front of my awestruck, appreciative eyes.

In 1998 Dennis was the focal point to winning the double. He did things with a ball that defied logic and gravity. In 2004 Thierry purred into a sixth gear which no other player in the league obtained, as the invincibles ripped up record books.

There were two particular moments during these precious months in which it was patently obvious that a player could do what ever they liked with a football.

As the title came into view in 1998, and winning every game left would clinch the rewards, Arsenal travelled to Oakwood to face a dogged Barnsley. Bergkamp steered the game in the preferred direction by curling the ball into the top corner in a trademark fashion so frequently seen by then, it almost appeared easy. In comparison to the execution of his hat trick at Leicester at the start of that season, or his latter moments of individual genius against Newcastle and Argentina, it was.


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Dennis did things on a football pitch that took countless replays to comprehend. Once you worked out what he’d done and how he did it, the notion that he’d done so intentionally was fucking outrageous. I still have visions of Dabisaz turning this way and which, blood twisted, trying to work out where the ball is, as Dennis clips it past him. Of course he meant it.

In April 2004 the invincibles were taking the piss, no one more so than Thierry. Like Dennis six years previously, (and often now with his help) if a game had the cheek to be going against us the Frenchman would pick it up by the scruff of the neck and drag it back in our favour. Having lost to Manchester United and Chelsea in the FA Cup and Champions League, a horrible week was worsening still, with Liverpool taking the lead at Highbury. Shortly after Robert Pires had equalised Thierry decided enough was enough, and sought to tear the Liverpool defence to shreds in devastatingly individual fashion. Just as he did again and again over the years to many a side, spectacularly so against Real Madrid, Inter Milan, Leeds United and Spurs. Defences couldn’t even kick him, let alone tackle him.

Those were moments worth a season ticket alone, so long will they remain etched in the memory. Fans of other clubs will wait an eternity to see a player such as Thierry or Dennis and still have to settle for an inferior. How spoilt we were to see both together at the same time. How unfair it must’ve seemed to opponents when the Arsenal team sheet contained both names.

Henry on Bergkamp: “I have always said Dennis Bergkamp will remain the best partner I have ever played with. Sometimes you have players who do not have to talk, you just have to watch them — and that is the case with Dennis. The way he can kill a team with one pass is just amazing. He will sometimes do things out of nowhere.”

Bergkamp on Henry: “If had to pick one (strike partner) I would say Thierry because of the unbeaten season with him. Thierry’s skills were perfectly functional. There was something behind every movement; to get a strike, receive a pass.

Thierry Henry played with Messi and Zidane. Dennis Bergkamp played with Marco Van Basten. That they both chose each other over such illustrious names is a testament to their own status.

Without an answer, I turned to Twitter, where the decision was split by one in favour of Dennis. Some people opted for Bergkamp over Henry because the Dutchman finished his career with the club. If it was a question of loyalty then Dennis would win. It’s not.


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In questioning the merits of greatness we have to consider that undeniable benchmark of medals, and nobody gets their medals out quite like Thierry. The move to Barcelona enhanced his status in emphatic fashion and helped him win it all. A World Cup, European Championship, Premier Leagues, FA Cups. Spanish League and Cup, Champions League, Club World Club and European Super Cup.

The official website ran a (slightly larger) poll in 2008 to discover who was the greatest player to have played for Arsenal. Ignoring that Kanu came in at number thirteen, it was no surprise that Dennis and Thierry obtained the top spots, with the Frechman taking the crown this time around.

Tim Payton of the Arsenal Supporters Trust summarised it well. “A true comparison is subjective and impossible. Both were majestic, but the statistic of being the club’s best ever goalscorer stands alone.”

I came to the same conclusion today, but used a comparatively childish method. Today, I base my decision on which player I think about the most, and on at least three nights of the week my head hits the pillow with the Thierry Henry song swirling around inside it. Where once a child counted sheep to settle into sleep, the fan/man that I have ‘matured’ into sings a song about a footballer instead.

When I imagine going out for steak with four famous figures from the past and present, Thierry’s name is on the first seat reserved. It’s perhaps pathetic, but there’s nobody more that I’d like to meet. No other footballer made me smile as much.

Tomorrow might see another change of mind, but one thing is set in Highbury history. Dennis Bergkamp and Thierry Henry reached levels that we may not see again. Peaks and performances for which we should be eternally grateful.

We were lucky to breath their air.

And then the King returned. In what almost seems like a hazy dream, Thierry returned last January, bearded wiser, for a month that will be treasured. In a season of disastrous lows, it’s impossible to think of the last minute winners against Leeds and Sunderland without smiling.

He writes his own scripts. It was perfect. Goals that all but produced tears of joy for the returning son. Nostalgic and short sighted it may have been, but there is also his mere presence also helped form a team spirit that has lead Arsenal back into the brightness of the top four from the darkness of the first half of the season.

It’s not possible to love a stranger more.

The greatest.

This piece appears courtesy of The Gooner

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image descriptionCOMMENTS

Stephen Jay 11:42 am, 26-Apr-2012

great piece.

Millz 12:05 pm, 26-Apr-2012

Nice article. Personally I put Dennis on top spot. His coolness and composure when surrounded by players amazed me. And for me his greatest goals are still some of the greatest I've ever seen. And barnsley play at oakwell, not oakwood.

stonroy 12:06 pm, 26-Apr-2012

Basing it on who scored the most goals is the wrong way to look at it. Bergkamp chose to come to Arsenal when it was still an unknown outside of England, plus he retired with us...That counts for more. Long live the Iceman...

stonroy 12:08 pm, 26-Apr-2012

Spot on Millz, that goal against Newcastle was something to behold. Bobby Robson afterwards said nobody in the world could stop that...A Dutch masterclass...

Vinay 12:12 pm, 26-Apr-2012

Dennis was by far the finest ever to have played for us. What he could do on a football pitch defied logic at times. The king was the best striker ever but in terms of the best overall player and sheer class, there is no one better than DB10

Subterraneo 12:19 pm, 26-Apr-2012

There is one other way of judging it: Henry never played better than with Bergkamp but looked slightly less a player without him (though of course 'slightly less a player' still qualifies him for a place in a World XI of players around at the time). Bergkamp was just Bergkamp. He made other players look better simply by being on the pitch with him. He didn't need anyone to make him look better, he just was that brilliant. Always. I can't believe I'm saying that there was a better player than Henry but there was (just). Bergkamp.

Nick 12:29 pm, 26-Apr-2012

Bergkamp for me, if only cos Henry is French.

pedantic george 12:35 pm, 26-Apr-2012

Dennis gave more to the team as all other attacking players became 20 goal per season strikers with him in the team.

Kyle 12:41 pm, 26-Apr-2012

Has to be DB10, Henry had his moments but Dennis did things no one had ever seen before. He setup freddie against juventus at highbury holding the ball up on the edge of the box with two defenders in close attention before flicking it into the path off ljunberg to chip into the net

pedantic george 12:43 pm, 26-Apr-2012

Kyle.was hat not a beautiful thing he did? Freddie was an example of how much better a player appeared with Dennis in the team

Thomas 1:07 pm, 26-Apr-2012

This is so hard to pick, also believe ian wright is a tremendous player for us but i grew up watching thierry henry so id pick him but dennis was magical always consistent and the best 35 year old ever as his assists and goals total = above 300, i felt dennis easily deserved a statue outside emirates before thierry but thierry has won everything and for us he holds all the records so by the slightest margin i would say thierry

Our Jonf 1:36 pm, 26-Apr-2012

Imagine a team that consisted of 'Dennis', 'Thierry' and Perry 'Long-throw' Groves. Stuff of dreams.

Jonny 1:55 pm, 26-Apr-2012

Good piece but it seems silly to ask the question and then not have the ability to vote on it!

Bobby 2:24 pm, 26-Apr-2012

Dennis' goal against my Geordie boys - my choice for best goal in the EPL. I'd love to hear him talk about that like he did for his Argentina goal. What a ledge.

gooner 4:24 pm, 26-Apr-2012

is it because DB10 is white???jus wondering.....King Henry all the way

nick 5:33 pm, 26-Apr-2012

Just can't pic its impossible they r both my 2 fav players and even dennis is a record breaker not just th14 lONG LIVE our gooner legends

Kyle 5:49 pm, 26-Apr-2012

gooner no need to be racist

MysticGooner 7:24 pm, 26-Apr-2012

Dennis Bergkamp is The Greatest

Onenil 7:42 pm, 26-Apr-2012

Thierry! People talk about his goals (for obvious reason) but the number of assists against his name was incredible too. DB10 was fantastic - still remember reading we'd signed him on the bus on the way to college - but TH14 edges it for me.

Darran 10:22 pm, 26-Apr-2012

There should have been a statue of the entire 03/04 team. Maybe Edu, too.

Pedro 6:42 am, 28-Apr-2012

Bergkamp10God :-) nuff said!

zaf 2:05 am, 30-Apr-2012

Thierry Scored more goals for arsenal. Bergkamp won more trophies than thierry for arsenal. Bergkamp (1998) at Peak or Thierry at Peak (2004). Bergkamp just edges it.

BigDave 4:53 pm, 2-May-2012

A very poor article How can you even ask who was Arsenals greatest ever player Henry or Bergkamp If you even have to think about then chose Henry then your footballing judgment is way off the radar Bergkamp walks all over Henry......Bergkamp defined an era of attacking football......... it is only because of Bergkamp Henry improved so much or Henry would have turned into a player resembling walcott or Babel of Liverpool Henry lacked most qualities that Bergkamp had... bergkamp is an all time great not just for arsenal but in the history of football

BigDave 4:56 pm, 2-May-2012

???bergkamp you guys even have any footballing intelligence I am disguzsted you even posed such a questiona and to compare a great like Bergkamp with Henry is just scandelous

BigDave 4:57 pm, 2-May-2012

Also Henry Arsenals greatest player??????????? No one heard of Tony Adams, Liam Brady, Patrick Vieira and of Coure Bergkamp who are much better players then Henry and had a bigger impact on the club

Onenil 5:33 pm, 2-May-2012

Calm down and take a chill pill lads - we were lucky to have just the one of them in our lifetime! I preferred Thierry (marginally) but its all subjective.

mark reed 2:28 pm, 22-Nov-2012

Dennis Bergkamp was the Greatest of all time.......AFC

mark reed 3:22 pm, 22-Nov-2012

Im lucky enough to have seen Brady Adams Pires Bergkamp Wrighty Smith Roecastle Henry George Nicholas Limpar Merson.... all fantastic players but theres only one Master and thats Dennis Bergkamp.......

Daniel 7:10 pm, 22-Nov-2012

I see where you're coming from on the goals front, and that he was a great personality - but looking 50 years down the road, Bergkamp will be named amongst the greatest 30 players of all time. Henry, brilliant as he was, won't make it on that same list.

Nick 2:03 am, 23-Nov-2012

I'm a United fan and a football fan. Henry was awesome, and will always be mentioned in Arsenals "greatest XI" discussions, but Bergkamp will always be mentioned in the "Premier leagues greatest XI" debates. You lot should be happy you had them both as most clubs have not had the equivalent of either.

A/S 10:27 am, 26-Nov-2012

A bit late to the party. Dennis Bergkamp is the greatest. That is all.

Josh 12:46 am, 26-Jan-2013

Henry was equally a good finisher as he was also a team player. Henry edges it, but only just. I love the dutch master too

Bilbo 1:36 pm, 26-Jan-2013

Love them both - Thierry loves the club but left only to return. Dennis retired with us. I hope they both return to coach the team. DB10 is my favourite, but TH14 still touches my heart every time I see him at the unveiling of his statue

mario 4:12 pm, 14-Feb-2013

Bergkamp the best as for Henry building a statue was a disgrace he's been wanting to leave arsenal for years,that's why muppet wenger made him captain to appease him.

n1 gooner 4:13 pm, 14-Feb-2013

Henry Arsenal's all time greatest goal scorer and some say he ain't a legend. Henry is the only striker you can compare with The brazilian ronaldo,the man was a beast. I love Denis to bits,but Henry is Arsenal's greatest ever player.

Denis 4:14 pm, 14-Feb-2013

Bergkamp for me, no doubt. Fantastic article, though I'm pretty sure Henry wasn't signed in 2009... ;-)

GG 4:15 pm, 14-Feb-2013

Bergkamp = scorer of many great goals Henry = scorer of many great goals & great goal scorer

n1 gooner 4:15 pm, 14-Feb-2013

Big Dave trying to say Henry was not a great and you want people to take you serious ha ha

Stan Dalglish 7:14 pm, 15-Feb-2013

Thought they were both utter quality and even as a non Gooner, tough one to call. Fave Henry goal - v Man Utd at Highbury with a didding volley over Bartez. Fave Bergkamp - his equaliser at Leicester in 97/98. Toss of a coin - Bergkamp but only just.

Stan Dalglish 8:50 am, 16-Feb-2013

Didding? Can that be the new 'Rounding the Keeper' and lets get Captain Scarlet to say it MOTD.

DennisKing 5:28 pm, 18-Feb-2013

Bergkamp by a million miles! Actually Brady was a better player than Henry but that's one for us older fans. Henry was great, but his final two years were rubbish, arrogant, and very disruptive. he destroyed the career of Reyes who was a top player and championed Adebayor who was a plank.

Biddave 3:40 am, 25-Feb-2013

No can you even compare a the two Henry the great players he was not fit enough to lace Bergkamps boots

gunnerfan 7:24 pm, 10-Mar-2013

henry was class- speed,finishing,dribbles, but bergkamp was unique! noone in the history of football has ever playedhis style, he has his own unique style, i feel vieira and bergkamp were better than henry! as for henry comparing to the brazilian ronaldo, never!!! only del piero,zizou,rivaldo and figo could compare! if the original ronaldo joined us, we would have forgotten either henry or bergkamp within 2 months, he was tooo good for the premiership!!!

Kevin Silenzio 10:48 am, 13-Jun-2013

Ian Wright, Anelka, Wiltord, Kanu, Pires, Ljungberg and Henry.. Bergkamp made them all better. Remember when Adebayor said he played better when the team was no longer depend on TH14.. It's clear DB10 made his partners played better but TH14 didn't have this gift. I'm always sure TH14 is a great legend but there is always one greatest player behind the reason. And that greatest one never left us for Champions League Title.

Chris 3:11 am, 14-Aug-2013

Bergkamp, no douht.

DöubleDöubleDöuble 10:09 pm, 21-Sep-2013

Henry was an Aston Martin*. Bergkamp was a Rembrandt painting. Both amazing to look at, but for different reasons. *I couldn't think of a French sports car. Do they make any?

Jo 10:43 pm, 21-Sep-2013

This is not difficult at all. Dennis Bergkamp is not only Arsenal's Greatest ever player - he is also Arsenal's most important signing of all time and completely altered the ethos and perception of the club on the World stage. Henry was a great player - but arrived into a team of great players, and great French players whom he had worked with for the national team.

Steve 12:19 am, 22-Sep-2013

Agree , Not difficult-Henry played second fiddle to trezegeut ,(think that's how you spell it)Bergamp was a total master class .With bergkamp in the team we where able to turn Freddie and Pires into 20plus goals a year players .These players all left Arsenal thinking of greener pastures and where never really able to repeat these feats .I grew up remembering Brady and Alan Ball , my personal favorites for a long time .That is untill Bergkamp ..I can not speak high enough of the guy.A true awe inspiring legend,

AmericanGooner 6:52 am, 28-Oct-2013

This is like asking if you want Adriana Lima or Miranda Kerr in your bed. As a child of the 80's in America, Bergkamp made me a fan of Arsenal, an Thierry took it to new heights. Both legends, both deserve to be called the greatest ever, the joy the brought to me as footballers was unparalleled.

Adam 12:22 am, 4-Jan-2014

Bergkamp is a wizard, top class, pure magic. Favourite of all time, even above Zidane and R9. Also Bergkamp is way underrated by many, sadly.

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