By Chris Harris at Emirates Stadium
It took him a while but Thierry Henry has finally got his hands on a trophy at Emirates Stadium.
The Arsenal legend only spent a year at the Club’s new home before leaving for Barcelona in 2007 but he was back on Sunday in the colours of the New York Red Bulls to lift the Emirates Cup.
Robin van Persie’s first-half header seemed sufficient to keep the silverware in north London but a late own goal from the unfortunate Kyle Bartley scuppered home hopes as Arsenal paid for their profligacy.
Typically, Henry was the catalyst for the decisive goal and no one will begrudge him this moment of glory. The Frenchman received a rapturous reception on his return and, while his pace is not so frightening now, he retains the vision and eye for goal that made him the Club’s record goalscorer before his departure in 2007.
Indeed, only the agility of Wojciech Szczesny denied Henry a dream return: the Pole was at full stretch to push aside a trademark free kick.
Arsene Wenger, of course, will be more concerned about his team’s preparations for the new season. They look sharp enough but there was one scare when Jack Wilshere left the field to nurse a minor ankle injury.
For once the most notable name on the teamsheet was not an Arsenal player but, for the record, Wenger did make seven changes from the side that started Saturday’s 2-2 draw against Boca Juniors.
Szczesny, Bacary Sagna, Thomas Vermaelen, Tomas Rosicky, Aaron Ramsey, Alex Song and Kieran Gibbs all started as their manager fielded what looked suspiciously like the team that could start at Newcastle on August 13 – give or take a couple.
Henry provided a few glimpses of magic in the early stages – one cute backheel foxed Arsenal’s back four and an instant turn and shot had Szczesny scrambling to his right – but the hosts were soon into their stride.
Wilshere’s early departure furrowed a few brows but Rosicky dropped into midfield and pulled the strings alongside Ramsey while Benik Afobe got his first chance to impress the Emirates crowd. The teenager, back from a successful loan spell at Huddersfield, showed pace and persistence on his home debut.
The Red Bulls crowded the midfield, planting two men in front of their back four, so Arsenal looked to the flanks to do some damage. Gibbs got forward on the left but most of the early chances were sparked by Sagna.
Laurent Koscielny headed the right back’s cross high and wide after 15 minutes and another well-judged delivery was brought down by Afobe before goalkeeper Frank Rost came out to block.
Ramsey got into a scoring position moments later but tried to pick out Gervinho when he should have gone for goal, then Van Persie dummied past two markers before unleashing a shot that lacked his usual power.
It was all Arsenal by now and the Red Bulls were indebted to Rost for keeping their goal intact. He came out to smother after Ramsey was put clear by Van Persie – although an offside flag was raised – and Rosicky was the next to test Rost from the edge of the box.
The MLS side did venture forward to earn a free kick 20 yards out that Henry was never going to relinquish. He curled the ball towards the corner – as we’ve seen so many times – but Szczesny was equal to it. Some home fans were disappointed: ‘Let him score, let him score, let him score!’ they chanted.
Back down the other end Arsenal had two decent penalty shouts turned down: Van Persie was blocked off as he tried to get between two defenders and Gervinho was clipped after outstripping the last man. Nothing doing.
You could tell this was a better game than Saturday’s – the first Mexican wave came ten minutes later. Unlike Saturday it wasn’t cut short by an Arsenal goal but the deadlock was eventually broken three minutes before half time.
It could not have been simpler: Rosicky clipped a free kick into the six-yard box and Van Persie ran clear of the defence to plant a header past Rost.
It should have been two within a minute. Rosicky’s inch-perfect pass released Gervinho and his touch took the ball away from a defender but Rost was alert and made another timely block.
The second half brought more of the same.
Van Persie curled one effort just over the bar and almost converted Afobe’s cut-back after the teenager’s pace had taken him past a defender to the byline.
Gervinho got into a similar position moments later and Rost was forced to concede a corner, but generally speaking Arsenal’s final ball was slightly out of sorts. That will hopefully come good when the serious business starts.
Henry still fancied a goal and his first-time shot tested Szczesny with 20 minutes left, but the smart money was on Rost being beaten again. Song blazed a long-distance effort well over the bar and substitute Emmanuel Eboue shot wide as the clock ticked down.
But in the end Arsenal paid for their wastefulness when Henry sliced open their back four with a perfect pass for Roy Miller and his cut-back was diverted into the roof of the net by Bartley.
It was harsh on the young centre back but Henry was happy enough and the old master lifted the Emirates Cup as his old fans gave him one final ovation.
It was Thierry's day; let’s hope it’s Arsenal’s season.
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Referee: Kevin Friend
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