When it was announced that a certain Thierry Henry was to return to Arsenal on a two-month loan deal, a slight doubt lingered even with the general excitement amongst Arsenal fans.
For you see, this was not the footballing juggernaught who left the club in 2007 in search of filling the one gap- a Champions League medal- in his impecable trophy cabinate. This was an aging 34-year-old, void of the blistering pace which struck fear in Premier league defenders all those years ago. A player who was winding down his career in the MLS and hadn’t played a competitive game in over two months. Could he deliver?
The answer was an emphatic yes. Although this turned out to be a very different Thierry Henry to the one that left Europe in 2010…
In his last season at Arsenal, Thierry Henry was much the focal point of the build-up play, with his teammates often being accused of continuously “looking” for their talisman rather than the best pass.
However, Henry has remolded himself this season into more of a “fox in the box” rather than the complete forward he used to be. In just over 90 minutes of Premier league football, he completed just 23 accurate open play passes as he perhaps passed the mantle of linking up the play to the excellent van Persie, who has established himself as one of the finest false nines in Europe. There were also no dazzling solo runs, with just one successful dribble to be seen over the course of his Premier league return.
His open play passing accuracy- 61%- was one poor aspect of his game as he perhaps struggled to adapt to the tempo of the league once again after last playing a competitive game in the inferior MLS way back in early November. The direction of his passes were perhaps another factor, passing a sizable 61% of his passes forwards as he tried to make something happen in games where Arsenal were often running out of time to clinch three points.
Although dazzling runs, blistering pace and a huge influence on games weren’t to be expected, competent cover for van Persie and positive performances were. Although, as it turned out, he was often brought on as van Persie’s strike partner as Arsenal chased games through a poor run, he certainly delivered with the performances.
Delivering expertly in the most important role of a “fox in the box”, Henry has converted chances presented to him ruthlessly. With just 3 shots, Henry propelled himself to 6th in the Arsenal scoring charts with 2 goals- a chance conversion rate of 67% (the average for a Premier league striker is 16%). He has also scored at a rate almost 3 times better than van Persie’s usual deputy- Marouane Chamakh- with a goal every 47 minutes. Not bad for a 34-year-old MLS loanee.
From a footballing point of view, it was a big risk taking the man widely considered Arsenal’s greatest player back to the club. However, it has payed off dividends, with Henry not so much tarnishing but more enhancing his reputation as a Premier League great by adding a fitting final chapter and, in the words of Arsene Wenger, completing “the story of a legend”.