Remember the kid in the playground who was better than everyone else with a football at his feet? That's what Thierry Henry was like in his pomp.
The Frenchman had exquisite technique, searing pace and surprising strength. And like the typical schoolboy superstar, he did pretty much everything for his team. Henry was the captain, the talisman, the dead-ball expert, the penalty-taker and the assist-maker.
Thierry Henry Profile
|Arsenal Career||1999 - 2012|
|Appearances||377 (337 starts, 40 as a sub)|
Then there's the goals, a club record 228 of them to be precise. And what a portfolio Henry built up during his eight years as Arsenal. Thumping drives, delicate chips, jinking runs, audacious backheels, even the odd header - the Frenchman had a myriad of ways to find the net.
Everyone has their own Henry highlights but here's just a few to whet the appetite: that flick-up and lob over Fabien Barthez, the slaloming run against Liverpool, the 60-yard surge against Spurs, that cheeky clip against Charlton, that beauty in the Bernabeu. Etcetera, etcetera, etcetera.
And remember, Henry wasn't even a bonafide striker when he arrived at Highbury in the summer of 1999. Remember when he came off the bench for his debut against Leicester and threatened the North Bank regulars with his scattergun shooting? Surely Henry wasn't the natural replacement for Nicolas Anelka?
Arsène Wenger thought otherwise and, with the help of his eager French student, transformed Henry from erratic winger into striker extraordinaire. Henry took nine games to open his Arsenal account but a brace against Derby announced his arrival as a decent finisher. By the end of the season he was scoring at will and within a few years he was regarded as the best striker in the world. The North Bank could stop ducking and start celebrating.
They had plenty to celebrate too as Henry's goals came hand in hand with trophies. There were disappointments at first - the Uefa Cup and the FA Cup slipped agonisingly through Arsenal's grasp at the turn of the century - but a Double in 2002 made amends. Henry's contribution was emphatic: 32 goals in all competitions.
The Frenchman raised the bar even higher in the following two campaigns. Arsenal had to settle for the FA Cup in 2003 but 42 goals, 23 assists and both Player of the Year awards summed up just how influential Henry had become. He scooped both awards in 2004 as well and contributed 39 goals as Arsenal completed an unbeaten title season. Of all the 'Invincibles', Henry was surely the most indispensable.
In hindsight, this was probably Henry's prime and he can count himself unlucky to miss out on the FIFA World Player of the Year award in 2003 and 2004, finishing runner-up on both occasions. The Frenchman was unplayable at times, capable of scoring from anywhere and terrorising defences all over the continent, especially when he drifted out left to pick up possession and run at retreating opponents.
As football became increasingly big business, Henry became the Arsenal 'brand'. This attractive, charismatic figurehead was now a global superstar, admired by all and feared by opponents. He even received standing ovations at away grounds and had a special affinity with Portsmouth's fans after sporting a Pompey shirt after an FA Cup tie at Fratton Park. Rival fans wished he was theirs, but Henry was ours.
Patrick Vieira's surprise departure in the summer of 2005 took Henry onto an even higher plain - he was now Arsenal captain. He celebrated in style, eclipsing the Club's scoring record with a brace at Sparta Prague in October of that year. Henry had learned so much about forward play from Ian Wright; now he was leaving the ultimate finisher in his wake.
Two League titles, three FA Cups, four Golden Boots, five Player of the Year awards and that Club record represented a major haul, but one thing was missing from Henry's CV. The Champions League had eluded him after an agonising defeat in the 2006 Final but he made amends three years later when he was part of the Barcelona team which beat Manchester United.
New York is where Henry now plies his trade. But he will always be an Arsenal man. In 2007 the fans voted for the Gunners' Greatest Moments and Henry was involved in five of the top 10. A year later, he eclipsed Bergkamp, Adams et al to win our Gunners' Greatest Player poll.