Each month in the Arsenal Magazine, we pose a club-related question for fans, bloggers, former players and those who write about the Gunners to argue.
This month’s debate is Dennis Bergkamp v Thierry Henry: Which modern-day legend had more of an influence at Arsenal?
THIERRY HENRY - BY ARSENAL LEGEND ALAN SMITH
The obvious thing that stands out when I think about Thierry Henry is just his volume of goals over the years. He scored an outstanding amount and, while he was helped by playing in a very good team, he went through a phase where he was unstoppable. He almost set new standard for strikers in this country with his speed and strength, as much as his skill.
I think a lot of defenders in this country had never faced anyone like him before. Of course he was a great finisher to boot, and that made him almost impossible to stop. He could score all sorts of goals and was such a complete striker.
Despite his ability in front of goal, you could never describe Thierry as being blinkered. He was always aware of those around and he had faith in his team-mates too. Sometimes with strikers, they don’t have so much belief in their team-mates and try and do most things themselves, but that wasn’t the case with him, although of course that trust in others was helped because he had the likes of Bergkamp, Pires and Ljungberg alongside him.
He was fairly young when he arrived in London and had been playing in a position at Juventus that he found fairly difficult and wasn’t ideal for him. He wasn’t able to blossom in Italy in the same way that he did at Arsenal when Arse?ne Wenger let him loose through the middle. I don’t think anyone could have predicted just how much of a legend he would become, both for Arsenal and France, but it was wonderful to watch.
I’m a massive admirer of Dennis Bergkamp but I’ve always believed that the hardest thing in football is to put the ball in the back of the net – and Thierry did that better than Dennis. Of course Dennis’ first thought was often to create rather than score – although he was a very good goalscorer – but for me Thierry just had this cutting edge that sets him apart. Just the number of goals – everyone tried to stop him from scoring but he made defenders’ lives an absolute nightmare.
DENNIS BERGKAMP - BY ARSENAL WRITER TIM STILLMAN
Bergkamp v Henry is one of the great debates among Arsenal fans over the last decade. It’s our answer to the chicken and egg conundrum. It would probably be impossible to offer an argument for either player that would offend, given the esteem in which both are held. The two formed one of the most symbiotic strike partnerships in the club’s history. Those of us fortunate to have seen their genius twinned have been truly blessed.
"The Iceman could produce exploits that belonged to a different sphere of footballing thought altogether."
They were complementary, yet different talents. For me, Bergkamp edges our record goalscorer for the greatest Arsenal player of my lifetime. The signing of the Dutchman elevated the club to a different plateau, immediately after a stagnant season in 1994/95. Henry was something of a gamble that paid off handsomely. Bergkamp was a bona fide, gift- wrapped superstar that straightened the backbone of a club sagging towards mediocrity.
Much like Cristiano Ronaldo, Henry was a machine. His physical gifts and the scorching pace with which he was blessed seemed robotic, like a custom-built footballing prototype. Dennis may have an engineering degree but, as a footballer, he was an artist. I think it’s true that Henry was more consistent. With the Frenchman, you saw eight and nine out of 10 performances most weeks. Bergkamp was more mercurial. He may have thrown in the odd five or six out of 10.
However, Bergkamp was more capable of 10 out of 10 performances. Henry managed audacious feats regularly. Bergkamp occasionally produced the impossible. The Iceman could produce exploits that belonged to a different sphere of footballing thought altogether.
Take that goal at Newcastle. But focus not only on the execution of it, but the speed of thought as the ball arrives at his feet. It’s verging on ridiculous. How did he think of that so quickly, let alone achieve it?
A phrase jumps out at me when I think of Bergkamp. After smashing the ball past Roy Carroll against Manchester United in 2005, Sky commentator Andy Gray instantly remarks, “Exactly what was required.” That was just it with Bergkamp – he always did exactly what was required. Whether the ball needed dinking, stroking, smashing or lofting, he applied the appropriate action. His was a servitude to the football.
But why take my word for it? Let Thierry himself settle the debate. Just ask him to identify the best player he ever played with. On this occasion, Henry would be obliging with an assist for his old strike partner.
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