By Chris Harris
Thierry Henry is set to return to Emirates Stadium next week - and Theo Walcott will be at the front of the queue to greet him.
The England international admits he was a shy, starstruck 16-year-old when he first encountered the Arsenal legend on his arrival at the Club in January 2006. But the two forged a friendship before Henry moved to Barcelona 18 months later.
The Club's record goalscorer was reunited with Walcott when he trained with Arsène Wenger's squad in January ahead of the new MLS campaign and he is guaranteed a warm welcome when the New York Red Bulls face Arsenal in what could be the defining game of the 2011 Emirates Cup on July 31.
Walcott has always turned to Henry for advice and he is looking forward to their next encounter.
"He's been a great influence to me so it will be nice to see his face," Walcott told Arsenal.com. "I think he changes his phone number a lot so it's tough to keep in touch with him! So many people want a bit of him but he will always be there for me, definitely.
"Thierry has always given me advice, telling me just to enjoy my football and not believe what people say about you. He told me just to go out and play my football and not worry about the hype. That's what I've been doing and hopefully it's working."
Henry was the quickest player in the Arsenal squad in his pomp but that changed when Walcott was signed from Southampton. The quicksilver pair never got round to arranging a proper race but Henry's tendency to drift to the left could take him into Walcott territory at Emirates Stadium.
"It will be cool, it would be nice to have a little sprint race against him!" smiled Walcott. "We never had a sprint race. I beat his time in the 40 metres but never actually raced him. We didn't want to race each other but you might see it on the pitch at the Emirates Cup!
"We'll see what happens, he goes anywhere on the pitch because he's that sort of player. I'll have to make sure he doesn't get the ball."
By the time Walcott walks out at Emirates Stadium next weekend the Arsenal squad will have travelled thousands of miles on a pre-season tour of Malaysia, China and Germany. The 22-year-old has enjoyed the change of scenery but he admits it will be good to get back on familiar soil.
"It will be great to play at the Emirates again and hopefully show the fans what we can do, that we're ready," he said. "We won't treat the Emirates Cup games as friendlies, we don't treat any pre-season games like that, we like to go out there and win. If we win the Emirates Cup hopefully we can move on and win something bigger.
"We have two very exciting opponents. It's going to be an interesting battle on both days and, of course, it's nice to see Thierry come back as well."