Tactic Talk – Henry return has a familiar feel for Arsenal

Thierry Henry made a fairytale return to Arsenal, introduced from the bench to score the winner as Arsene Wenger’s side advanced to the fourth round of the FA Cup with a 1-0 win over Leeds United at the Emirates Stadium. While Henry’s cameo appearance was brief, the Frenchman’s performance was enough to secure the sponsors’ Man of the Match award, with glimpses of the form that saw the club acknowledge his legendary status at the club, by unveiling a statue in his honour just weeks earlier.

Entering the field on 68 minutes to rapturous applause, alongside Theo Walcott, who took on the famous 14 shirt in the wake of Henry’s departure for Barcelona in 2007, Henry would resume the lead striker role that saw him score 226 goals in 370 appearances in his previous stint with the Gunners. Flanked by Walcott and Andrey Arshavin, Henry looked to display the movement to elude a stubborn Leeds defence, and 10 minutes after his arrival, the former Barcelona man did just that.

With expectation filling the air, Henry would take his chance to dominate the Tuesday morning back pages. Latching onto Alex Song’s pass, the 34-year-old would roll back the years, advancing beyond the visitors’ back four, opening up his body to sidefoot past Andy Lonergan. With much of the pre-match build-up comparing the vetaran’s physical condition with his unquestionable ability, what proved to be the decisive goal in this match was a finish which typified the forward’s glittering career. As Arsenal looked to control the closing stages of the game, the experience of Henry proved vital, looking to move the ball into channels as the hosts retained possession to see out a famous win.

While the sceptics will question the long-term impact of Henry, pointing to the greater challenges than a home cup tie against lower league opposition, the on-loan striker’s introduction at 0-0 proved to be a shrewd tactical move from the manager. In previous years, Henry was often omitted from the Arsenal starting line-up for cup ties, with Wenger preferring to rotate. However, had Henry’s most recent performance come at any point during his previous time at Arsenal, his winning goal would have been likely to have received an equal level of acclaim, albeit on this occasion, the sentiment of such an occasion would somewhat mask the frustration of the visitors’ near-80 minute resistance.

Henry’s continued involvement in the side remains to be seen, with the returning Frenchman unlikely to be preferred to the in-form Robin van Persie in the Arsenal side. However, the short spell on the pitch in the FA Cup tie showed that Henry can certainly make an impact in the short-term, in this case, as an impact sub. While all eyes will be on Wenger ahead of his upcoming team selections, Arsenal fans will be delighted to have their hero back.

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