"AFTER TODAY, I WILL NEVER BE ABLE TO RETURN AND FEEL THE SHIVERS I GET WHEN I RUN OUT ONTO THE HIGHBURY PITCH."
When the editor of the matchday programme, gave me free licence to write about anything for this final Highbury programme the theme of 'Goals Day' seemed at first thought just too good to spurn, writes Colin Benson.
Great goals, crucial goals, match-winning goals, the mind was flooded with flashes of glory. However, on further consideration where does one start? There is so much history attached as well as countless memories, no doubt many somewhat distorted by time, to record in this single feature.
Where best to start than with Arsenal's all-time record goalscorer Thierry Henry? A master craftsman who simply has everything when it comes to finishing. The skipper mixes art with power, subtlety with pace, precision with perfect timing.
All these attributes were exploited to the full when he scored in the 1-0 victory over Manchester United here in October 2000. It was a strike you will never forget for with his back to goal, and with Denis Irwin tightly marking him, the French master on receiving the ball from Gilles Grimandi flicked it up, swivelled in the same movement, and with Irwin and Paul Scholes seemingly frozen in amazement, smashed an unstoppable volley from some 20 yards past goalkeeper Fabien Barthez.
The essence of a great artist is originality and there was no better example of Thierry's creative fluency than in the 4-0 victory over Charlton. With the ball at his feet on the six-yard line and his opportunity to shoot seemingly covered from all angles by the visiting defence, he took two touches to the left to create space. It seemed obvious he would lay the ball off but then the obvious is not Thierry's style and with the defence wrong-footed he unleashed an incredible back-heel through the legs of the startled Jonathan Fortune and beyond goalkeeper Dean Kiely.
Goalscorers are always the headline makers and when George Eastham, who was more a maker than taker of goals, made what was described in one paper as "the most discussed Highbury debut for many years," in December 1960, after holding out against the restriction on the movement of players, he was the key figure scoring twice in Arsenal's 5-1 victory over Bolton.
First he moved like lightning to get goalside of the visitors' defence to meet Danny Clapton's free-kick with a goal scoring header. Then, a minute from time, George deftly controlled Geoff Strong's pass and hammered the ball into the net off the far post.
Alan Smith was among the First Division top scorers for seven years and clinched 'The Golden Shoe' for the second time in three years when he put the icing on the League Championship title celebrations that Monday night in 1991 with a hat-trick in the 3-1 victory over Manchester United.
He scored from Lee Dixon's centre and again from Kevin Campbell's pass before completing his threesome from the spot.
An unassuming hero Alan recalls: "Once we knew Liverpool had lost at Forest to make us champions, the lads decided in the dressing room that I should take a penalty if we got one. Lee would usually take them but the lads wanted me to get the Golden Shoe. It was the first penalty I had taken!"
Another 'Golden Shoe' winner of course was Ian Wright who opened his League account for Arsenal with a hat-trick on his League debut at Southampton and clinched the coveted 'Golden Shoe' award at the end of his first season at Highbury with another three goals in a 5-1 victory over the Saints in the last home game of the campaign.
Goals could be expensive mind you. Back in 1925 Herbert Chapman signed the great Charles Buchan agreeing in addition to the transfer fee to pay Sunderland £100 for every goal he scored during his first season at Arsenal.
Buchan wrote: "I hadn't scored a goal until we met Liverpool at Highbury in what must have been my fifth game.
"Midway in the first-half, Sammy Haden, our outside left, got through and shot for goal. It looked as if it would go into the net but I followed up and saw Elisha Scott, Liverpool's goalkeeper, making a desperate effort to get to the ball. So I just tapped it with the side of my foot over the goal-line to make sure."
Clearly not a spectacular affair that people remember, but it was, Buchan admitted, a great relief as he recalled: "As I was travelling by tube to the game, I sat next to two Arsenal supporters who were discussing the game's prospects. I heard one of them say: "Hundred pounds a goal! Why, that big fellow couldn't score if you gave him the Bank of England!"
Charlie netted 19 in the League and two in the Cup, to hand Sunderland a much appreciated windfall of £2,100.
David Jack, a scorer of great goals, was tall and graceful with a curious high-stepping run and Cliff Bastin, the boy wonder winger, were two of the great scorers of the 1930s while in the post-war years the power of centre-forwards such as David Herd who I recall scoring against Manchester United with a flying header from 18 yards in front of the North Bank; and the opportunism of strikers like John Radford, Ray Kennedy, Frank Stapleton and Malcolm Macdonald, have all given us so much pleasure.
Macdonald, of the super goals class, was not always the Highbury hero however.
In February 1978 he scored a bizarre own goal which went in off his head via goalkeeper Pat Jennings' fist to leave Aston Villa as 1-0 winners.
The irony of the goal that left everyone feeling stabbed in the back was made worse by the fact that the game should hardly have started for as one scribe recorded; "Highbury was a good imitation of a beach with the tide out."
In the eighties Tony Woodcock, signed from Cologne, brought a touch of German precision to Arsenal's restyled attack.
His goal in the 1-1 draw with Norwich, struck with lightning speed on the turn from Paul Davis' nod-down, was world class.
Dennis Bergkamp spearheaded Arsenal towards the 'double' in 1998 and his classics have been a feature since arriving at Highbury in 1995. How fitting it was for him to crown 'Dennis Bergkamp Day' with another ice-cool finish, unleashing a superb shot that curled round the West Bromwich Albion goalkeeper to make it 3-1 - his 120th goal for Arsenal.
One can't sign off without mentioning Kolo Toure's first ever goal as our last European strike at Highbury against Villarreal has subsequently booked us a final in Paris.
Finally, I round up where I began with more nostalgia of Henry magic - his equaliser against Spurs. Absolutely sublime. Receiving the ball from Emmanuel Adebayor to the left of the box the French genius drifted inside, opened his body and without breaking stride caressed the ball around 'keeper Paul Robinson.
Today will be an emotional farewell for the captain who sadly remarked: "After today, I will never be able to return and feel the shivers I get when I run out onto the Highbury pitch."
Many share these sentiments it is the end of a glorious romance with the old stadium.
George Jobey and Archie Devine (pen) scored Arsenal's first ever goals at Highbury who will score the last? The smart money is on...guess who?4 May 2006