Arsenal 1 Leeds United 0

It was to be a night of pure raw emotion at the Emirates. After an absence of seven years, Thierry Henry returned to north London to score his 227th goal for Arsenal, and that was to prove to be the winner against Leeds in the 3rd round of the FA Cup. Arsenal is the club he calls home, and for Henry it was a real welcome home from the fans to the player they are calling “the King.” On a tense night and with the Gunners lacking any early incision or cutting edge, and frustrated by a disciplined Leeds side, the game was headed for a goal-less draw and a replay at Elland Road. That dynamic was to change on 68 minutes however, when Henry came on from the substitutes’ bench.

Henry resonance

Henry has spoken of the humility and with dignity of the way in which he is revered in north London, and from the very first moment he came out to warm up, to when he took to his place on the substitutes’ bench, chants of “Thierry Henry, Thierry Henry,” resonated over the near 60,000 inside the Emirates. A lot has been made of Arsenal’s inability to close out games from positions of strength, or to fathom the task ahead when dogged sides such as Leeds come to defend. Such was the scenario here, until the 68th minute when the introduction of Henry gave Arsenal safe passage to the 4th round of the FA Cup and the visit of Aston Villa.

Emotion

Alex Song was having his normal indomitable game in midfield, and his clever pass on 78 minutes fell right for Henry. One touch later, and Henry passed the ball beyond Andy Lonergan, and Leeds were not to recover. The crowd erupted into roars of pure emotion, their hero was back and had scored, and with fists pumping he raced away to celebrate with an embrace for Arsene Wenger. After the way this season has proceeded for Arsenal, the introduction of Henry resembled something more than hope, and for once, there seems to be the real experience and desire in the Gunners’ dressing room. And from that there may be a question for Wenger. Did he disband the ” Invincibles” too soon and should he have tried harder to hold on longer to Henry, Robert Pires, Dennis Bergkamp and company?

Discipline

Back to the present, and the visitors did try to rally, and against another makeshift Arsenal defence, you never really could feel sure of the win. Francis Coquelin had had a positive 30 minutes at right back, but his evening was cut short after he pulled a hamstring. On came Nico Yennaris, normally a midfielder, the 18 year old performed admirably with discipline and maturity that will bode well for his Arsenal future.

Leeds substitute Mikael Forssell threatened with a late chance for the leveller, but Wojciech Szczesny was well placed to make a comfortable save.

Transmit

The first half could easily be called the poorest 45 minutes seem at the Emirates. The push and desire that came from Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain would not transmit to Marouane Chamakh or Andrey Arshavin, although the Russian did try to make a fist of things in the second half. Leeds had kept the ball well and tried to press high up on the pitch. Luciano Beccchio saw their best chance go wide of Szczesny’s upright.

Sebastien Squillaci made a rare start at the heart of the Gunners’ defence, and almost had a headed goal, from Mikael Arteta’s free kick. Aaron Ramsey has a game that continues to develop and the Wales captain had a run and shot that just sailed wide. Arshavin had earlier had a shot that he ballooned wide after some neat build up play, but the score remained 0-0.

Target

Playing with more purpose and with momentum building, Oxlade-Chamberlain and Arhsvain continued to ask questions, but either Lonergan held firm of the finishing was off target. Wenger’s double substitution saw perhaps the master and the apprentice in Henry and Theo Walcott who came of for Chamakh and Oxlade-Chamberlain.

Every Henry touch was cheered, and twelve minutes before time, the Arsenal record goal scorer notched another to his target and re-open another chapter in his incredible Arsenal career. Welcome home Thierry!