What more can you say about the great French Striker in the Premier League era?
He was the complete modern-day striker. He had lightning pace, was an agile and graceful dribbler, had power with the ball and lethal in front of the goal.
We can go through the different types of goals he scored from his famous lob over Barthez against Manchester United at Highbury in 2000, his powerful whole pitch run and goal through the Spurs team in 2002 to his last-minute header against again fierce rivals Man United in 2006. He scored them all and always had an elegance to the way he finished his chances. He was just unplayable on his day!
His honours and awards at Arsenal were second to none with him winning the Golden Boot in 4 seasons (2001/02, 2003/04, 2004/05, 2005/06), the Premier League Player of the Season in 2003/2004 and 2005/2006, Premier League Assist Leader in 2002/03 and Premier League Winner in 2001/2002 and 2003/2004.
He was the main dominant force in an Arsenal team in their best years in the Premier League.
When in 1999, Arsene Wenger signed a then 22-year-old struggling winger from Juventus for £11 million; no one knew that in eight seasons, he would be one of the best forwards to grace the Premier League. Wenger always saw the huge potential in young players and this was no different from the young French forward.
The former manager had seen promise with Henry when he managed Monaco in the early nineties. He gave him his first start for the team as a 17-year old but he was ruthlessly sacked not long after that in 1994. He was famously a left-winger who had raw pace, power and dribbling ability but was far from the finished article in terms of finishing ability.
It was inevitable that their paths were going to cross again as soon as Wenger became the new Arsenal Manager in 1996. Wenger wanted to shift the winger to a more central role even though the young French forward was resistant to the change in position at first.
The start to his Arsenal career was a tough one as he failed to score in his first seven Premier League games in his new centre forward position. However, as his partnership grew with Dennis Bergkamp, the goals started to flow and he completed the 1999/2000 season with 17 goals. Not a bad return for a player who didn’t believe that they could mould themselves into a central striker’s role.
The French continued his fine scoring form in the next season scoring another 17 goals but again finishing runners up to champions Manchester United in 2001. He knew that if he wanted to be remembered as one the best premier players to grace the league, he needed to win the Premier League title and that’s exactly what they did in the 2001/2002 season.
Since his debut for the gunners, the 98’ World Cup winner had slowly grown into his role as a deadly forward and he took it to a new level by scoring 24 goals during such a successful season securing him the Golden Boot. He also led the team to a historic cup double as they beat Chelsea 2 – 0 in the FA Cup Final.
His style of play was memorising to see at the time. He showcased his vastly improved finishing ability with him developing his famous curled finessed shot around the keeper. He rarely missed those chances. Also, Henry’s ability to dribble past opponents with impressive pace, composure and skill, meant that he could regularly get in behind defenders to score.
His style of play was also formed by the partnership he had with players like Robert Pires and Ashley Cole on the left side of the pitch where he loved to float towards the wing to draw out the defenders. This led to the aforementioned players who would make underlapping and overlapping runs past the striker to unsettle the defence line.
He would wander in midfield and also link-up play with deep-lying forward Dennis Bergkamp in a 4-4-2 formation which caused havoc for teams during that season. Henry made it seem that the Gunners played with no strikers at times.
He knew in his next season that Manchester United would come back for their title and he was ready for that challenge. However, a late-season dip in form led Manchester United to their 13th Premier League title even though the prolific striker showcased that he was not only a scorer of amazing goals but someone who had vision on the field. To this day, his record of 20 assists in the 2002/03 season has not been beaten but only equalled by Manchester City’s golden boy, Kevin De Bruyne last season.
He was an unselfish player and would sometimes get pleasure from giving a goal rather than scoring one. His thought process was of a player that loved to help his teammates get the win.
“I’m not only a goalscorer,” he told The Guardian. “Sometimes people put me in the same league as Owen or Van Nistelrooy, but I’m not at all like this type.”
Instead, Henry mentioned other players such as Romario, George Weah and Ronaldo who not only relied on the service of others but took charge of the game. “They were the first to drop from the box to pick up the ball in midfield, switch to the flanks, attract and disorientate the central defenders with their runs; their accelerations; their dribbling,”
We can all agree that the 2003–2004 invincible season was where Henry was reaching his peak as a prolific forward for Arsenal. He was the talisman player in a squad full of talented players who hit their peak at the right time. They ran away with the league undefeated that season with the forward scoring a staggering 30 goals which won him the Golden Boot that year. It’s hard for any other modern-day team to rival that special achievement and it could be a long time before any team could come close to that record.
In 2005, he surpassed Ian Wright’s goalscoring record to become Arsenal’s leading goal-scorer and in their final game of the in the 2005-2006 season at the famous Highbury stadium he was the last player to score (scoring a hat trick in 4 – 2 win against Wigan) in an emotional farewell game. He became the first player to score more than 20 goals in the league for five consecutive seasons (2002 to 2006). It’s just another achievement to add to his collection of accolades in a prolific 7 years at the club.
Thierry Henry is currently sixth in the list of all-time Premier League goal scorers, behind Alan Shearer, Andy Cole, Sergio Aguero and Frank Lampard and is currently Arsenal’s all-time leading goal scorer with 228 goals in all competitions with this record to likely not be beaten for quite a while.
Loved by all Arsenal fans and respected by football fans around the world, he always will be considered a Premier League great.