Henry has Arsenal in height of happiness

Arsenal 1 Leeds 0

Emirates Stadium

His statue outside the Emirates is very nice and all that, but when it comes to honouring Thierry Henry at Arsenal there really is no substitute for the real thing.

The real thing is four years older than when he left, bearded, a little thicker set and no longer possessed of a reputation that induced mild panic in opposing defenders in the pre-match warm-up. He is not the Henry of Arsenal's salad days of the previous decade but with the ball at his feet and the goalkeeper to beat there are few better.

His winning goal as a substitute last night in the FA Cup third round was the kind of moment that will rank among the happiest memories many Arsenal fans will take from a season that had brought some crushing lows. For a while last night they were simply lost in the moment, the moment that even Arsene Wenger said was "a little bit like a dream".

Let's be honest: Henry is a born exhibitionist. He is a man who loves being centre of attention even more than he loves being centre-forward. But it would take a flinty heart, or a loyalty to Tottenham Hotspur, not to be exhilarated by the goal he scored with 13 minutes remaining and subsequently celebrated like a maniac including a full-on man-hug for Wenger himself.

Somehow, you could not imagine Paul Scholes reacting in the same way had he done the same for Manchester United on Sunday, but then Henry has always thrived on the love-in he has with the Arsenal fans. He pointed at the ground beneath his feet as if to indicate that this was where he belonged and it seemed inappropriate in the circumstances to point out that it was he who had buggered off to Barcelona in 2007.

Last night, none of this mattered for the Arsenal support. Henry was back and for an evening at least they could forget the club's hesitance in the summer transfer market, the 8-2 hammering at Old Trafford, Tottenham's ascendancy, Wenger's blind-spots and the nagging fear that they are being slowly edged out the elite of English football.

This was Henry's 227th goal for Arsenal last night – one touch to kill the ball with his right foot, another to sweep it past Andy Lonergan – and the home crowd were transported back to another time, and another stadium, when they reigned supreme. Who cares that it was against the eighth-placed club in the Championship when it felt this good?

When they do finally come back down to earth, there will also be the realisation that – as with Scholes' return to United – it will take more than just the occasional vintage Henry moment to solve all the problems in this Arsenal team. Until Henry and Theo Walcott were introduced to the game, Arsenal were contemplating a second Elland Road FA Cup third round replay in consecutive years.

In the absence of the rested Robin Van Persie, Marouane Chamakh was his usual ineffective self. He is off on African Nations duty today with Morocco and although he makes up the numbers for Arsenal it is hard to say he will be missed. On the bench, the lesser-spotted August signing Ju-young Park was predictably overlooked. Is Wenger really going to rely on a 34-year-old to see him through the lean days of the next six and a half weeks?

Asked whether he could play Van Persie and Henry in the same team, Wenger pointed out that he had once done that as a matter of course. But things are different now that the boy has become a man. "He [Henry] could play behind, in front of Robin, or on the flank," mused Wenger. "Robin can play on the flank ..."

With respect, those words are likely to send a chill down Van Persie's spine. "The flank" is where Arsenal's strikers have been banished when they have not proven good enough to fill Henry's shoes. Walcott has been begging for two years to be called in from the wing but the centre is where Van Persie plays now. And it is in the centre that he will wish to continue.

The first half was so bad that when the cameras picked out the injured Jack Wilshere in the crowd towards half-time he was yawning. The lack of quality was summed up by Chamakh missing the target with an open goal from four yards out. He was offside, but in the circumstances that did not even matter. It epitomised the laboured efforts off Arsenal's perpetually disappointing centre-forward.

Wenger made five changes to the team that lost to Fulham a week earlier last night with the likes of Sebastien Squillaci, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Ignasi Miquel coming into the team. Leeds did not help matters by sitting back with five in midfield and inviting Arsenal to find a way through. The away team had a chance on 24 minutes. Mika Varyrynen did well to retrieve a free-kick that Arsenal only half-cleared and Luciano Becchio had a sight of goal. He blazed it over.

Wenger lost Francis Coquelin to a hamstring injury on the half hour. The best of their attacking work came from Andrei Arshavin and Aaron Ramsey. In Andros Townsend, Leeds, had one player at least who looked a genuine threat to Arsenal when he got the ball in wide positions. The Spurs loanee had special dispensation from his parent club to play last night.

The start of the second half was a barrage of Arsenal chances with Oxlade-Chamberlain looking increasingly dangerous until finally things got desperate and Wenger sent on Henry and Walcott in place of Chamakh and the teenage winger.

It was Song who made Henry's goal with an incisive right foot pass that the old master needed just one touch to control and another to slip past Lonergan. He did not just score. Minutes later Henry was so excited he sprinted 40 yards to cover for Arshavin who had wandered out of position. It truly was a remarkable night.

It would have been a dreadful shame for the sheer drama of the occasion if Arsenal had messed it up from there. They did need a good save from Wojciech Szczesny from the substitute Mikael Forssell in the late stages to preserve their victory and a place in the next round against Aston Villa. But given the circumstances, you could hardly begrudge them it.

Match facts

Arsenal: SZCZESNY, COQUELIN, SQUILLACI, KOSCIELNY, MIQUEL, ARTETA, SONG, OXLADE-CHAMBERLAIN, RAMSEY, ARSHAVIN, CHAMAKH

Leeds: LONERGAN, O'DEA, LEES, WHITE, PUGH, THOMPSON, CLAYTON, VAYRYNEN, TOWNSEND, BECCHIO, NUNEZ

Goals: Henry, 78

Substitutes: Arsenal Yennaris (Coquelin, 33), Walcott (Oxlade-Chamberlain, 68), Henry (Chamakh, 68). Leeds United Brown(Vayrynen, 60), McCormack (Becchio, 74), Forssell (Nunez, 81)

Booked: Arsenal Arshavin Leeds United O'Dea, Townsend.

Man of the match Oxlade-Chamberlain Match rating 8/10. Possession: Arsenal 63% Leeds United 37%.

Attempts on target: Arsenal 8 Leeds United 4.

Referee M Clattenburg (Co Durham). Att 59,615.

Suggested Topics
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Extras
indybest
Arts and Entertainment
Judi Dench appeared at the Hay Festival to perform excerpts from Shakespearean plays
tvJudi Dench and Hugh Bonneville join Benedict Cumberbatch in BBC Shakespeare adaptations
Arts and Entertainment
Exhibition at the Centre Pompidou in Metz - 23 May 2012
art
Sport
Is this how Mario Balotelli will cruise into Liverpool?
football
News
Ronahi Serhat, a PKK fighter, in the Qandil Mountains in Iraqi Kurdistan
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Alfred Molina, left, and John Lithgow in a scene from 'Love Is Strange'
film
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

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

Day In a Page

10 best men's skincare products

Face it: 10 best men's skincare products

Oscar Quine cleanses, tones and moisturises to find skin-savers blokes will be proud to display on the bathroom shelf
Middle East crisis: We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

Now Obama has seen the next US reporter to be threatened with beheading, will he blink, asks Robert Fisk
Neanderthals lived alongside humans for centuries, latest study shows

Final resting place of our Neanderthal neighbours revealed

Bones dated to 40,000 years ago show species may have died out in Belgium species co-existed
Scottish independence: The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

Scotland’s immigrants are as passionate about the future of their adopted nation as anyone else
Britain's ugliest buildings: Which monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?

Blight club: Britain's ugliest buildings

Following the architect Cameron Sinclair's introduction of the Dead Prize, an award for ugly buildings, John Rentoul reflects on some of the biggest blots on the UK landscape
eBay's enduring appeal: Online auction site is still the UK's most popular e-commerce retailer

eBay's enduring appeal

The online auction site is still the UK's most popular e-commerce site
Culture Minister Ed Vaizey: ‘lack of ethnic minority and black faces on TV is weird’

'Lack of ethnic minority and black faces on TV is weird'

Culture Minister Ed Vaizey calls for immediate action to address the problem
Artist Olafur Eliasson's latest large-scale works are inspired by the paintings of JMW Turner

Magic circles: Artist Olafur Eliasson

Eliasson's works will go alongside a new exhibition of JMW Turner at Tate Britain. He tells Jay Merrick why the paintings of his hero are ripe for reinvention
Josephine Dickinson: 'A cochlear implant helped me to discover a new world of sound'

Josephine Dickinson: 'How I discovered a new world of sound'

After going deaf as a child, musician and poet Josephine Dickinson made do with a hearing aid for five decades. Then she had a cochlear implant - and everything changed
Greggs Google fail: Was the bakery's response to its logo mishap a stroke of marketing genius?

Greggs gives lesson in crisis management

After a mishap with their logo, high street staple Greggs went viral this week. But, as Simon Usborne discovers, their social media response was anything but half baked
Matthew McConaughey has been singing the praises of bumbags (shame he doesn't know how to wear one)

Matthew McConaughey sings the praises of bumbags

Shame he doesn't know how to wear one. Harriet Walker explains the dos and don'ts of fanny packs
7 best quadcopters and drones

Flying fun: 7 best quadcopters and drones

From state of the art devices with stabilised cameras to mini gadgets that can soar around the home, we take some flying objects for a spin
Joey Barton: ‘I’ve been guilty of getting a bit irate’

Joey Barton: ‘I’ve been guilty of getting a bit irate’

The midfielder returned to the Premier League after two years last weekend. The controversial character had much to discuss after his first game back
Andy Murray: I quit while I’m ahead too often

Andy Murray: I quit while I’m ahead too often

British No 1 knows his consistency as well as his fitness needs working on as he prepares for the US Open after a ‘very, very up and down’ year
Ferguson: In the heartlands of America, a descent into madness

A descent into madness in America's heartlands

David Usborne arrived in Ferguson, Missouri to be greeted by a scene more redolent of Gaza and Afghanistan