Arsenal.com editor Richard Clarke saw Thierry Henry's first goal for Arsenal, his 186th and the majority of the ones inbetween. Here's his take on the French striker's evolution from also-ran to thoroughbred.
Like many of us, Thierry Henry may have forgotten the name of Marco Almeida but the former Southampton defender played a small yet significant role in kick-starting the Frenchman's Arsenal career.
The departure of Nicolas Anelka had dragged through the summer of 1999 and left Arsène Wenger with little time to sign a replacement. In the end he signed two. Davor Suker arrived on August 2, Henry followed a day later. One was a Croatian of world renown, the other a 22-year-old winger who had somewhat lost his way since winning the World Cup the previous year. Unsurprisingly, the manager started the season by pairing Suker or the established Kanu up front alongside Dennis Bergkamp.
Henry was being used in fits and starts so he had not scored by the time Arsenal went to The Dell on September 19. After 71 goalless minutes, the Frenchman and debutant Almeida stood beside one another on the touchline waiting for their introduction as substitutes.
Eight minutes later, they were standing together again just outside the Southampton area when Henry received a pass from Tony Adams. He cushioned it with his right foot but his second touch was slightly heavy. Fortunately Almeida stumbled allowing the tumbling Henry to wrap his foot around the ball and send a rocket of a shot into the far corner of the Southampton net.
Although he scored in his next game, against AIK Solna at Wembley, it would be wrong to say that opened up the floodgates for Henry. That happened after his brace against Derby on November 28. But the Southampton goal bought him time - and he has been cashing in ever since.
Back then Henry was a old converted winger, spoke little English and in the shadow of our strikers at Highbury. Exactly 185 goals later he is the top-scorer, top assist-maker, captain, chief spokesman, penalty-taker, corner-taker, free-kick taker and icon.
Henry is driven, a quality he has attributed to a father who was hard to please in terms of sporting achievement. According to Arsène Wenger, he wants to play every minute of every game and hates being substituted. He has the same approach off the pitch. He is an articulate and incessant talker after a game but has been known to address journalists personally if he feels his words have been misinterpreted. He immerses himself in English football and has armed himself with an anorak-full of facts and figures.
And now, after scoring in Arsenal's last game, he owns one of the greatest statistics. The one held by two players rightly given that overused label of "legend" - Cliff Bastin and Ian Wright.
But, even if you ask him now, Henry will always talk about the
importance of that first goal when, by his own admission, he was
struggling. The career path of Almeida just goes to proves how
fickle football can be. Those 19 minutes against Arsenal were the
sum total of his career in English football.
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