LONDON: Thierry Henry’s 100th goal for Arsenal on Sunday marked only the latest milestone in the French striker’s career since the 1998 World Cup winner failed to make the grade at Juventus.
Henry’s pace and finishing, which have made the 25-year-old one of the most feared strikers in European football, were clear for all to see on Sunday as he scored twice in the champions’ 4-0 victory over Birmingham City.
But Henry was not always the subject of dressing room celebrations and his success since swapping Turin for north London in August 1999 has as much to do with his manager Arsene Wenger’s tactical nous as the player’s talent.
After turning professional at Monaco in 1995 – the year Wenger left the Principality club to coach Nagoya Grampus Eight in the Japanese J-League – Henry soon won his spurs in the French First Division.
He also went on to international acclaim in 1998, helping France lift the World Cup on home soil, and was snapped up by Juventus the following January.
It was not to be rewarding spell in Serie A, with Henry relegated to a mainly chase-and-cross role on the flanks.
He made 16 appearances, scoring three goals, as he ultimately lost out to the tried and tested strikeforce of Alessandro Del Piero and Filippo Inzaghi.
By August, he had cut his losses and signed for Wenger and a new lease of life as the French coach gambled on moving him in from the wing and into the role of a central striker.
On Sunday, 100 goals later, Wenger conceded: “I didn’t think he would score so many goals but I thought he had the qualities to play centre-forward, which he hadn’t played before. But it’s fantastic what he’s achieved.”
That achievement was not lost either on Henry, whose experiences in Italy remain fresh in the memory.
“It means a lot because when I first arrived at Arsenal I wasn’t really looking like I was going to do that,” Henry, who also starred in France’s Euro 2000 triumph, told Sky Sports.
As one of Arsenal’s four French international musketeers with Robert Pires, Patrick Vieira and Sylvain Wiltord, he was also keen to divide out the plaudits.
“I always say that I have to give a lot of credit to Arsene, but I have to say as well my teammates are always working for me and I just have to finish the job.
“Today Sylvain and Dennis Bergkamp gave me two great balls.
“And obviously, the fans are always nice to me and at the end of the day the only thing I can give back is the 100th goal today and I hope that won’t be the last.”
That wish is bound to be granted to a man who finished up as the Premier League’s top scorer last season – he is currently one behind 15-goal James Beattie of Southampton – and who took his tally for the season in all competitions to 20.
Among the more memorable strikes was the hat-trick which demolished AS Roma in the opening match of their second phase campaign in the Champions League in November.
The Champions League, whose final in May will be held at Old Trafford – the stadium where Arsenal beat Manchester United to complete the English league and FA Cup double last season – is a prime target for Wenger’s men this season.
Five points clear of United at the top of the table and through to an FA Cup fourth round tie with minor league Farnborough Town, Henry’s form will be key to Arsenal’s search for a potentially unprecedented season. – Reuters