Thierry Henry was ranked at number one in our 100 greatest Premier League players. See the full list here.
Thierry Henry arrived at Arsenal with a point to prove in 1999. He left as a genuine legend of the football club eight years later, with over 200 goals to remember him by.
The Frenchman was the obvious choice for our all-time greatest Premier League player - someone who reached unprecedented levels in English football, stayed for his peak years and transformed the way we saw strikers on these shores.
He was central for the great Arsenal/Manchester United rivalry of the 2000s and how he never won a Ballon d'Or is criminal. So boiling Henry down into a small selection of moments is difficult - but we've picked six that we feel define the man behind those over-the-knee socks.
1. The Rams raid: When Henry netted his first brace
According to legend, Arsenal vice-chairman David Dein gave Thierry Henry a videotape when he walked in the door. It featured clips of Ian Wright, with a note reading, “This is what you have to do.” As if it were that easy.
In November 1999, after a tough initiation, the Frenchman moved Highbury to its feet for the very first time. Arsene Wenger was yet to start Henry and Dennis Bergkamp together at home, but did against Derby County; fire and ice, youth and experience in delicate harmony.
The Gunners went one down before Henry shuffled into the spotlight. Before this game, there had been just two goals in 16 matches for a player bereft of confidence on the wing.
But Arsene always had his plan in mind. Two coolly taken goals snatched the narrative on a night when Henry displayed Wright’s pace and poise from those crackly clips. On 72 minutes, he left the stage to a standing ovation. This was the moment Henry first held his adoring audience in the palm of his hand. He would keep them there for another seven exhilarating years.
2. Fergie left flabbergasted - that goal against Manchester United
By October 2000, Henry wasn’t only pouncing on opportunities – he was creating them from scratch.
Thirty minutes into Arsenal’s titanic tussle with defending champions Manchester United, David Beckham brought down Freddie Ljungberg. Sylvinho squared a simple pass to Gilles Grimandi, who found Henry lurking near the right edge of the penalty area, his back to Denis Irwin. United’s four defenders were flat in front of Fabien Barthez: the drawbridge firmly closed.
But where there was Henry, there was often a way. In a fluid movement, the Frenchman flicked the ball up and volleyed it over his left shoulder, like he had just pulled a pin out of a grenade and lobbed it at the castle walls. He peeled away in celebration while the ball was still mid-flight; it was arguably the most sumptuous goal in Highbury history.
“You can’t really do anything about a goal like that,” a baffled Alex Ferguson shrugged at full-time. He wasn’t wrong.
3. Get the bloke a statue: The goal against Tottenham
It’s November 2002, around 3.12pm on derby day, and Henry is about to do something brilliant. When the ball lands at his feet, the score goalless, he’s well inside Arsenal’s half.
It bounces, so he pirouettes 180 degrees and spins past Tottenham Hotspur’s Matthew Etherington. Now in the opposite direction, Henry cushions the ball down and slides into gear, leaning back and leaping away like a gazelle while prancing over the halfway line. As he hares towards the Tottenham penalty area, the Frenchman sidesteps three defenders as if they’re not there.
This box-to-box explosion was the defining image of Wenger’s early Arsenal sides. They played with such arrogance and elegance, power and balance: all encapsulated in their No.14’s exquisite one-man counter-attack that afternoon.
You wanna know why we love @ThierryHenry?THIS is why we love Thierry Henry ❤️❤️❤️ pic.twitter.com/i6npYSiH9DNovember 16, 2018
No one could get within five yards; the defence backed off like someone had unleashed a caged animal upon them. And yet, watching all of Henry’s 6ft 1in frame skate across the Highbury grass, there was such grace and beauty to his movement. The greatest goals during Wenger’s tenure felt choreographed like this.
To finish, Henry hammered home into the bottom corner, then legged the length of the pitch back again – shrugging off yet another defender en route, as Sol Campbell tried to embrace him. He slid on his knees in front of the travelling Spurs supporters, an enduring moment later immortalised in statue form outside the Emirates Stadium.
The Tottenham faithful cursed, cussed and clamoured – but none of them could get near Arsenal’s star man, either. Everybody else was more than used to the feeling.
4. Pass it on: The assist record
Ruud van Nistelrooy would sulk like a PS5-less kid at Christmas if Manchester United won a game without his name on the scoresheet. However, when boss Ferguson used the word “selfish” to describe the Dutchman, he meant it as the highest compliment.
In 2002/03, Van Nistelrooy went toe-to-toe with Henry for the Golden Boot: two talismen, bullish in self-assurance. But when it came down to it, spearhead vs spearhead, Henry simply did what he usually did. He stepped out of the box altogether.
On the final day of the season, the strikers one goal apart, Van Nistelrooy netted a 25th at Everton to snatch the individual award. Henry, meanwhile, scored but also assisted Ljungberg three times against Sunderland – twice, when he could have taken a shot himself. “To me, the most beautiful thing is making the pass when you are in a position to score,” he once said.
In a time before most people even looked at who had set up the goal, Henry finished with a record 20 assists that campaign – 18 of them from open play. Manchester City’s Kevin De Bruyne only matched it in 2019/20.
For Van Nistelrooy, football was about the goals and nothing else. But for Arsenal and Henry, the game was about more than that. In a trophyless season, he may have lost the battle but carved out his own unique piece of glory in one of the English top-flight’s finest individual campaigns. “None of the greatest goalscorers in history can compare with his assist record,” declared Wenger.
5. This guy looks invincible: The Liverpool comeback
In truth, Henry’s hat-trick clincher at home to Liverpool in April 2004 was quite fluky. It was, though, the only moment all afternoon that he wasn’t in abundant control.
Arsenal’s equaliser was a mirror to Henry’s first Highbury league goal against Derby, only less nervously placed – a first-time, left-foot strike. By now, however, such lethal finishing felt like vintage Thierry, rather than an Ian Wright tribute act.
Arsenal trailed 2-1 to the Reds at half-time, their Invincibles status in jeopardy, but Henry seemed to slow down time by the touchline after the break; jogging, his right leg hovering like a magician’s handkerchief over a dove, before passing to Ljungberg who looped Pires in to level proceedings.
A minute later, it was all over. Henry picked up the ball by the centre circle, then strode beyond Didi Hamann, bamboozled Jamie Carragher, folded Liverpool inside-out and buried home in the bottom corner.
Henry had immense power but made football look weightless. He put Arsenal on his back and, even with Steven Gerrard dictating play like a swinging pickaxe, possessed the ability to take away everyone’s breath – including that of the Merseysiders’ defence.
6. A goodbye kiss: Henry's final Highbury hat-trick
📂 Arsenal Archives└📁 Legendary Gunners └📁 Forwards └📁 Thierry Henry └❤️ All the feels The moment the King of Highbury said goodbye to our home 😘 pic.twitter.com/N4O5CPhm6EAugust 17, 2018
Highbury was modest. A garden of a ground, with a well-kept lawn, traffic and train sounds overhead. It made the Invincibles look giant – like they could stretch into the clouds at their brilliant best – and certainly helped to fuel Henry’s story.
Arsenal were losing 2-1 to mid-table Wigan when the Frenchman dug out a hat-trick for Highbury’s final sign-off; the final goal at the beautiful old ground a penalty in front of the North Bank. When the ball struck the back of the net, Henry – Gunners captain and record goalscorer – dropped to his knees, kissed the turf and saluted the crowd.
It had to be him. No one else could close that chapter. We’re all just stories in the end – but Henry’s was one hell of a tale.
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