The night a glorious past forged dreams of a brighter future
To think Arsene Wenger had been provoked by the 125th Arsenal anniversary celebrations to consider the sometimes difficult balance of accommodating nostalgia amid ambition, to ponder the transition from a cherished home like Highbury to a sponsored stadium such as the Emirates. To think it all made him open the January transfer window and sign a statue.
A month ago that was what most thought Thierry Henry had become to Arsenal, part of their past and far from unhappy about it. When Wenger spoke about history it was around the unveiling of the bronzes of Henry, Tony Adams and Herbert Chapman.
‘Part of the thing I like in England is the recognition of history,’ Wenger said then. ‘People here never forget.’
Idol: An Arsenal fan takes a photo of the Thierry Henry statue
But as of Monday night Henry is not just part of the past. He is, once again, a piece of the here and now. And how.
If the FA Cup thought it had seen the
comeback of the weekend when Paul Scholes made a remarkable return to
the colours of Manchester United on Sunday, even that was not comparable
to this. Scholes may yet show United what they have been missing, but
Henry is already one up on that score.
Arsene knows What he knew was that
Henry’s return to the squad would at the very least help inspire the
young men of the future. What he could only hope to know was that Henry
would receive the ball in the penalty area 12 minutes from the end of a
deadlocked third-round FA Cup tie and would steer it into the far
corner. Henry had not forgotten: one-nil to the Arsenal.
The house that Arsenal are striving
to turn into a home was brought down. Henry sucked in the noise as he
was entitled to do, after the goal and at the end.
Arsenal legend: Herbert Chapman
‘It’s not about me,’ he had
protested beforehand. But it was. Robin van Persie would have been
delighted to have re-revealed such cool.
Submerged somewhat amid the
acclamation for Henry was the fact that the goal had taken Arsenal
through to the fourth round. There they will host Aston Villa, who may
well have Robbie Keane on their books. That represents another comeback
but not quite like Scholes, and definitely not like Henry.
That statue of the Frenchman makes a
difference. It is part of a process the club call ‘Arsenalisation’,
which entails Arsenal trying to make the Emirates Stadium feel in some
way like the home that Highbury used to be.
It means that the ground is enveloped
by a fascinating circular wallpaper showcasing the club’s finest
playing talents, where Henry links arms with Liam Brady; it means the
North Bank and Clock End have been brought back as names; and it means
Long before kick-off last night there
were Leeds United fans surreptitiously taking photographs of
themselves beside the sliding figure of Henry. His statue has been
placed beside another slice of Arsenalisation, a superb collage called
The Spirit of Highbury. It is a photo-montage of the 482 players and 14
managers who played for Arsenal at their former home and it appeared to
have cemented Henry’s place in history.
Instead, he has the No 12 shirt.
‘What I like at Arsenal is something that we find hard in modern
society,’ Wenger said last month. ‘You always move forward, but the
price is to lose a bit of tradition.
‘Arsenal manages fantastically well
to respect history and tradition — there is a lot to learn from history
and the club is brave enough to move forward at the same time.’
Guess who's back: Henry (right) makes his second debut for Arsenal
Going backwards into the future will
have raised the eyebrows of those sceptical about the real effect
players such as Henry and Scholes can have. Simply their re-recruitment
can be seen as some kind of admission by Wenger and Sir Alex Ferguson.
The idea seemed to be that Henry’s principal contribution would be a
cultural one on a dressing room deemed young, quiet and inexperienced. A
man who has won two league titles with Arsenal, and three FA Cups,
could also reconnect today with Highbury, and today with victory. He is
in the Champions League squad.
The spark Henry lit last night may
have eclipsed that aim. There is already a tangible reward. Part of the
Arsenalisation process is to create new memories and Henry delivered at
the first time of asking. Whatever happens, this will not be remembered
alone as the season Arsenal shipped eight at Old Trafford.
Pure delight: Henry celebrates after his goal earned Arsenal the win
That is another that cannot be
forgotten but Henry’s return may alter the ranking, and it may also act
as a cheerful link to Highbury. Wenger’s hope will be that in turn this
leads to Arsenal changing the Emirates Stadium’s trophyless status.
Given Barcelona’s strength, the
Champions League looks beyond Arsenal, as does the Premier League. But
the FA Cup It is part of Arsenal’s history and Henry’s history. His
contract with New York Red Bulls means that he will not be around were
Arsenal to reach Wembley in May. But if that is the case, he will have
done his bit. The third-round result will for ever show that.
Wenger need not have worried, he has a
history man in the team again. Thierry Henry: from player to statue to
player, from North Bank to memory bank and back again.