By Chris Harris

If, as expected, Thierry Henry returns to the Arsenal line-up at Fratton Park tonight, the ovation when his name is announced over the tannoy will not be restricted to the away end.

The French striker has a rosy relationship with Portsmouth's fans which goes back over two years to when Arsène Wenger's team were in 'Invincibles' mode. Mark Storey of the Portsmouth News takes up the story.

"It all started in an FA Cup game when Arsenal won 5-1," he told "It got to the point that Henry was playing so well that the Pompey fans decided to savour what he was doing and appreciate that they were in the presence of a genius.

"At first they sang his name with irony but that soon developed into genuine applause for him. Henry got a standing ovation from all sides of the ground when he was substituted.

"The teams met at Fratton Park in the Premiership two months later. Arsenal were already champions, Pompey were safe from relegation and what happened at the Cup game spilled over into an Henry 'love-in'. It was great to see that from the fans.

"Henry put on the Pompey shirt at the end of the game and showed his appreciation to the fans. It really was something else."

Aside from the initial pleasantries, there is unlikely to be another 'love-in' tonight with so much at stake for both clubs. Arsenal need points to bolster their quest for fourth place, while Pompey are embroiled in a battle for survival.

Harry Redknapp is still in danger of taking a south-coast club down into the Championship in consecutive seasons after failing to save Southampton from relegation last year. However, a haul of 10 points from the last available 12 has made Pompey marginal favourites to avoid the drop ahead of Birmingham and West Brom.

Storey was confident that Pompey would survive even before their recent run. He sees no reason to change his mind now.

"Absolutely not," he says. "I think the only thing that's slightly changed is the tempo of the relegation fight. Birmingham have started to find form but there is more pressure on Pompey now.

"Before they came up on the rails from pretty much nowhere but now they are expected to stay up. I think they can, they have the best run-in with four matches at home and more 'winnable' games.

"Middlesbrough are at Fratton Park on Saturday and they have other things on their minds with the UEFA Cup and FA Cup to play for, it's Sunderland the week after and that should be three points for Pompey. They also go to Wigan and Charlton, teams with not too much to play for.

"If anything tonight's game is a bonus, in the sense that Pompey aren't counting on getting any points because their other games are more 'winnable'. However, the past few results means they are more confident going into it than they were 18 days ago [when the initial game against Arsenal was postponed]."

That FA Cup drubbing notwithstanding, Pompey have given Arsenal a run for their money at Fratton Park since returning to the top flight. It took a rare - if spectacular - strike from Sol Campbell to separate the sides last season.

Redknapp has done his homework on the club he supported as a boy and, as Storey says, the players have been made well aware of the dangers of letting Arsenal get into their familiar passing groove.

"The squad watched a video of Arsenal's recent 3-0 win against Charlton, basically so they could see how NOT to play them. The players saw how Charlton let Arsenal play and they know they've got to get into their faces, pressure them and deny them the space they use so well.

"Charlton just stood off them and let them do what they wanted, but doing that is like giving a painter a canvas. If Arsenal have half a chance they will produce a masterpiece."

Pompey's fans may have applauded the artistry of Henry in the past. Tonight, with vital points at stake, they will be hoping he has left his brushes at home.

12/1 - Portsmouth v Arsenal - Arsenal to win 3-1 at Fratton Park

Copyright 2017 The Arsenal Football Club plc. Permission to use quotations from this article is granted subject to appropriate credit being given to as the source
Chris Harris 12 Apr 2006