On the 6th of January 2012, Arsenal’s record top goal scorer returned to North London on loan to cover for Marouane Chamakh and Gervinho who were at the African Cup of Nations. Unable to take his old number 14 shirt, occupied by Theo Walcott since his departure, Thierry Henry opted for the number 12 he had won the 1998 World Cup and 2000 European Championships with for France. Arguably the greatest player to have ever played in the Premier League, TiTi left Arsenal for brighter pastures at Barcelona, but returned a crowd favourite and self-confessed fan of the club.
“When it comes to Arsenal my heart will always do the talking,” he said on his arrival.
“I always said I was never going to come back and play in Europe again but, when the team you love and support asks you back, it’s kind of hard to say ‘no’. I am not coming here to be a hero or prove anything. I am just coming here to help. People have to understand that.”
Henry was brought back as a squad member, with few expecting the player to reach his Highbury heights five year after leaving the club, and at 34 years of age. Arsène Wenger brought in his fellow countryman to add depth to the squad and bring leadership during his short two-month spell in the MLS off-season. However, one fateful night against Leeds became the highlight of Arsenal’s season, and quite possibly the moment that cemented Henry as the most iconic player to have ever donned the red and white.
Henry came off the bench as a substitute in Arsenal 9th of January FA Cup third-round tie against Leeds United, joining a team quite unfamiliar to the one he had left. Gone were the invincibles of Vieira, Pires and Bergkamp, replaced with the likes of Squillaci, Arshavin and Chamakh, in a struggling Arsenal side well out of reach of the title. However, on the 78th minute of the game, Alex Song, Arsenal’s chief deep lying creative player that season, picked up the ball in a central area outside the box and spotted Henry in his familiar outside left position, making a quick dart behind the opposition full-back. Song slid through a neat pass, and Henry found space with a bit of clever movement in the box despite his loss of pace. TiTi took one touch, and caressed the ball into the far corner of the goal in typical Va Va Voom style.
The rest, as they say, is history. Henry galloped off in celebration with his arms outstretched, first going to the fans, then looking to the sky, before finally reaching and embracing the man who had plucked him from relative obscurity on the wings in Juventus – Arsene Wenger. Henry later admitted that the celebration tired him more than anything else he had done in the game, but for that brief moment Arsenal fans were given a nostalgic glimpse at the pure passion of the two Frenchman most closely associated with Arsenal dominance of English football in the late nineties and early 2000s. For those in attendance it was a once in a lifetime opportunity to see their favourite player rescue a game, and remind everyone of the genius he had possessed as a younger forward.
Though Henry will always be remembered for the number 14 shirt he wore in his golden years at Arsenal, that moment in January will forever remain the lasting impression Henry left on the club. For many, Henry’s short period of being Arsenal’s number 12 cemented his legacy as not only an all-time great, but also as a true Gooner.