Arsenal 1 (Henry 78) – 0 Leeds United
Man of the Match – Mikel Arteta (Arsenal)
It had to happen. It was in the script. The perfect return. Just hours before the game, I had predicted a late Henry winner to seal the deal in the FA Cup 3rd Round against Leeds United. And Thierry Henry didn’t dissapoint me, or millions of Gooners around the world.
Arsenal came into their 3rd Round match against Championship side Leeds United, with all pre-match headlines surrounding the return of a 34 year old Frenchman, named Thierry Henry. The man, a legend in the parts, reiterated that he isn’t the same as he was 4 years ago, when he was the Premier League’s supreme individual talent. But, the proceedings on the night would suggest otherwise.
Arsenal came into the game, with Arsene Wenger insisting that his side had learnt their lessons after being held by the same team a year back, at the same stage in the competition. The Gunners started with a mixture of first-choice and second-string players. Sebastien Squillaci replaced Per Mertesacker in the heart of defense, while Francis Coquelin switched from left-back to right-back, Ignasi Miquel getting the vacant post. In midfield, Andriy Arshavin and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain were handed starts, alongside the triumvirate of Song, Ramsey and Arteta. Morocco forward Marrouane Chamakh played the sole striker, ahead of his trip to Gabon and Equatorial Guinea, for the African Cup of Nations.
Meanwhile, Leeds themselves, suffering from injury problems had fielded a makeshift defense. On the bench, they had two potent threats, the clinical Ross McCormack, and Finnish forward Mikael Forsell, formerly of Chelsea and Birmingham City.
The game started at a decent pace, with most Arsenal attacking onus falling on Andriy Arshavin and Marrouane Chamakh. Arshavin, though with good build-up play throughout the first half, was poor with his finishing, as he blazed over 2 fine opportunities, after being set up by Chamakh. Squillaci saw his header go wide, while Ramsey had a couple of shots blocked.
Squillaci was guilty of giving away possession on a couple of ocassions and Leeds almost took advantage, but striker Becchio smashed wide. Arsenal’s defensive crisis loomed when Coquelin was replaced by young Nico Yennaris, who had a promising outing.
The second half started the same way as the first, with Arsenal creating more of the opportunities, but this time more dangerous ones. Arteta had his shot saved by Lonergan, and so did Arshavin. The atmosphere in the stadium went up a few notches, when Henry started his stretching routine on the sidelines.
Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, who had a quiet first-half, came to life in the second, as he fashioned a couple of chances, that went wide. Soon enough, Arsene Wenger threw on Theo Walcott, and Thierry Henry, who was rapturously recieved by the Emirates faithful. True to character, his first touch was in an offside position.
And the moment of joy, came 10 minutes later, as Song spotted Henry in a perfect position. Henry took the ball in his stride and finished with a panache, that rolled back the glory years.
His celebration told it all, as he thumped his chest, while racing to embrace the boss. Leeds weren’t done yet as they threw on forwards McCormack and Forsell, who both had chances to level the tie, but had their shots well saved by Szczesny.
As the final whistle blew, all cameras focused on Henry, who stood with his arms raised towards the heavens. The King had re-arrived at his home.
Szczesny (8) – Didn’t have much to do, but made two vital saves at the end.
Coquelin (7) – Had his evening cut short by injury. Hoping, he will be back soon.
Squllaci (6.5) – Lost the ball in dangerous positions, but overall a decent game.
Koscielny (8) – Rock at the back.
Miquel (7.5) – Was found wanting a couple of times, but good game overall.
Song (7.5) – Neat play, and set up the winner.
Arteta (8) – Led the team brilliantly, and controlled the tempo well.
Ramsey (7.5) – Needs to work on his composure. Gave the ball away on numerous ocassions and also missed few chances, but link up play was good.
Oxlade-Chamberlain (7) – Quiet night for the young England winger.
Arshavin (7) – Slowly regaining his confidence. A goal would do him a world of good.
Chamakh (7) – Again, held up the ball very well allowing the others to play. Also needs a goal soon.
Yennaris – (7.5) – Impressive performance from the young lad.
Walcott – (7) – Hardly got the ball to make an impact.
Henry (9) – He is back. Period.
Overall Team Rating – 7.46