Champions League: Henry - the homecoming

Arsenal's 'greatest' returns tonight – but this season at Barça, the problems he suffered at the Emirates have returned

Thierry Henry was asked this week what the 3,000 or so Barcelona fans in London today should go and see before they go home. "Well I would say Highbury, but they knocked it down and built apartment blocks", came back the bittersweet reply.

Ever since the Champions League draw matched Arsenal with the holders, the Catalan press have spoken of a nostalgic Henry preparing to "go home". Except it isn't quite home. It is the Emirates, and as Henry plays out what looks like being a disappointing last season at Barcelona, there are parallels with his last campaign for Arsenal on the very same ground.

It was at Highbury where Henry played himself into the record books and into the hearts of the fans who voted him the greatest player in the club's history. In contrast the enduring image of the Emirates Henry during his final season with Arsenal – 2006-07 – is of a frustrated forward down on his knees banging the newly-laid turf after not receiving a pass from Cesc Fabregas or an uncomfortable captain counting down the days to his inevitable departure to Barcelona.

Even his most adoring Arsenal fans would perhaps admit Henry stayed one season too many, and Barcelona supporters now believe history might be repeating itself at the Nou Camp.

After last year's renaissance helped the side to a grand slam of trophies and allowed Henry to cross off the last remaining trophy on his CV by winning the Champions League, this year's campaign has so far been flat.

In 2008-09 he hit 18 goals including two memorable strikes in a superb performance at the Bernabeu as Barça beat Real Madrid 6-2 at the end of the season. This time he has scored just three goals in 14 starts. He was taken off at half time a week ago in Barcelona's 2-0 home victory over Osasuna and at the weekend he was on the plane to Mallorca but then left to watch Barça's 1-0 win from the stand despite being fully fit.

Tonight he is expected to start, with coach Pep Guardiola calling on his experience and the added motivation of performing in England again to help his side establish a first-leg lead in the Champions League quarter-final.

But when Henry talks of tonight's game he speaks of playing out of a duty to the Barça fans who dream of contesting the 22 May final at the Bernabeu, the home of Real, their great rivals, more than of a desire to show what he is still capable of. As if he thinks the memory of 226 goals in eight seasons with Arsenal is best left as it is without any need for a postscript.

"It is like Xavi leaving Barcelona and then having to go back one day to play against his old club," he said. "You are prepared but it is a strange feeling. If I'm picked of course I will give everything. We are playing a Champions League quarter-final and I know that for Barça fans it is very important to reach the final this year and if possible to win it. For them it is a dream to reach Madrid but for me it is strange to have to cross with Arsenal on the way."

The comparison with Xavi who started at Barcelona as a 13-year-old might be exaggerated but it illustrates the "one-man club" feeling Henry has despite his years at Monaco, a brief spell with Juventus and his time at Barça. "When you play in a team and you give everything, the people pay you back for all the effort you have put in," he says of being named Arsenal's greatest ever player.

"I had a special relationship with the Arsenal fans. That honour was like another trophy for me. A trophy from the heart. They are incredible supporters. They always help you and the team, and at Highbury the atmosphere was superb."

"He is a player who still has Arsenal in his heart," his Barcelona manager, Pep Guardiola, said last night. "He is the best player who has ever played for Arsenal, he scored more than 200 goals, it's amazing. He is a huge part of the history of this club."

Henry speaks of Arsenal's "Invincible season" – 2003-04 – with more passion than he has ever spoken of last season's league, cup and Champions League treble with Barcelona. "In today's football playing against Chelsea, Manchester United and Liverpool and all those games away from home that are difficult to win, it is almost impossible to go unbeaten and yet we achieved it. That will always stay in the history books, but losing the Champions League final was very hard to take."

Losing that final in 2006 to, ironically, Barcelona, was perhaps the key to Henry's original U-turn on a deal to join Barça that had been set up with the club's financial president at the time, Ferran Soriano. He was informed while the two teams were still in Paris that Henry would not be coming after all. Even Arsène Wenger was surprised.

Henry felt he could not walk out on the club after losing in such a way. The debt to the supporters and to Wenger was perhaps too great. "I started with Wenger. He gave me my debut when I was just 17, and after that we met again in London," he remembered this week. "He had a lot of confidence in me and I have a very special relationship with him. He has done a lot for me. Without him I don't know what would have happened to me.

"Wenger changed the way Arsenal play. He has changed the lives of the fans. Before, they went to the games knowing that their team would win and nothing more, but right now Arsenal and Barcelona are the two teams who try to play football and for me that is so important. He has changed the way the team play but still won trophies. He will always be the best coach the club has ever had."

So this is the Gunners' greatest ever manager against their greatest ever player. Wenger will know not to take Henry's return this season of a paltry three goals too seriously. Some of this term's dip has been down to bad luck in front of goal and the emergence of young winger Pedro. He admitted to feeling off the pace after France's recent friendly defeat to Spain but said: "I am training well and feeling much better. I think you could see the improvement the other day against Valencia and Stuttgart."

Arsenal fans will just hope it is the Emirates form and not the old Highbury style that he has brought with him tonight. "Now I am an Arsenal follower and always will be," he said. If that's the way he plays this evening then that will suit his adoring supporters in north London just fine.

0.13 goals per game

Henry average this season. In 2008-09 his rate for Barcelona was 0.62.

Voices
Lucerne’s Hotel Château Gütsch, one of the lots in our Homeless Veterans appeal charity auction
charity appeal
Arts and Entertainment
Tony Hughes (James Nesbitt) after his son Olly disappeared on a family holiday in France
tv
News
people

Jo from Northern Ireland was less than impressed by Russell Brand's attempt to stage a publicity stunt

Sport
Scunthorpe goalkeeper Sam Slocombe (left) is congratulated by winning penalty taker Miguel Llera (right)
football
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
The Apprentice candidates Roisin Hogan, Solomon Akhtar, Mark Wright, Bianca Miller, Daniel Lassman
tvReview: But which contestants got the boot?
Life and Style
A woman walks by a pandal art installation entitled 'Mars Mission' with the figure of an astronaut during the Durga Puja festival in Calcutta, India
techHow we’ll investigate the existence of, and maybe move in with, our alien neighbours
Arts and Entertainment
Jim Carrey and Jeff Daniels ride again in Dumb and Dumber To
filmReview: Dumb And Dumber To was a really stupid idea
Arts and Entertainment
Sir Ian McKellen tempts the Cookie Monster
tvSir Ian McKellen joins the Cookie Monster for a lesson on temptation
News
i100
Travel
Tourists bask in the sun beneath the skyscrapers of Dubai
travelBritish embassy uses social media campaign to issue travel advice for festive holiday-makers in UAE
Arts and Entertainment
Jennifer Saunders stars as Miss Windsor, Dennis's hysterical French teacher
filmJennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress
Life and Style
tech
Sport
Nabil Bentaleb (centre) celebrates putting Tottenham ahead
footballTottenham 4 Newcastle 0: Spurs fans dreaming of Wembley final after dominant win
Voices
Jimmy Mubenga died after being restrained on an aircraft by G4S escorts
voicesJonathan Cox: Tragedy of Jimmy Mubenga highlights lack of dignity shown to migrants
Life and Style
Sebastian Siemiatkowski is the 33-year-old co-founder and CEO of Klarna, which provides a simple way for people to buy things online
tech
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas
La Famille Bélier is being touted as this year's Amelie - so why are many in the deaf community outraged by it?

Deaf community outraged by La Famille Bélier

The new film tells the story of a deaf-mute farming family and is being touted as this year's Amelie
10 best high-end laptops

10 best high-end laptops

From lightweight and zippy devices to gaming beasts, we test the latest in top-spec portable computers
Michael Carberry: ‘After such a tough time, I’m not sure I will stay in the game’

Michael Carberry: ‘After such a tough time, I’m not sure I will stay in the game’

The batsman has grown disillusioned after England’s Ashes debacle and allegations linking him to the Pietersen affair
Susie Wolff: A driving force in battle for equality behind the wheel

Susie Wolff: A driving force in battle for equality behind the wheel

The Williams driver has had plenty of doubters, but hopes she will be judged by her ability in the cockpit
Adam Gemili interview: 'No abs Adam' plans to muscle in on Usain Bolt's turf

'No abs Adam' plans to muscle in on Usain Bolt's turf

After a year touched by tragedy, Adam Gemili wants to become the sixth Briton to run a sub-10sec 100m
Calls for a military mental health 'quality mark'

Homeless Veterans campaign

Expert calls for military mental health 'quality mark'
Racton Man: Analysis shows famous skeleton was a 6ft Bronze Age superman

Meet Racton Man

Analysis shows famous skeleton was a 6ft Bronze Age superman
Garden Bridge: St Paul’s adds to £175m project’s troubled waters

Garden Bridge

St Paul’s adds to £175m project’s troubled waters
Stuff your own Christmas mouse ornament: An evening class in taxidermy with a festive feel

Stuff your own Christmas mouse ornament

An evening class in taxidermy with a festive feel
Joint Enterprise: The legal doctrine which critics say has caused hundreds of miscarriages of justice

Joint Enterprise

The legal doctrine which critics say has caused hundreds of miscarriages of justice
Freud and Eros: Love, Lust and Longing at the Freud Museum: Objects of Desire

Freud and Eros

Love, Lust and Longing at the Freud Museum