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
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

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

Day In a Page

Turkey-Kurdish conflict: Obama's deal with Ankara is a betrayal of Syrian Kurds and may not even weaken Isis

US betrayal of old ally brings limited reward

Since the accord, the Turks have only waged war on Kurds while no US bomber has used Incirlik airbase, says Patrick Cockburn
VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but doubts linger over security

'A gift from Egypt to the rest of the world'

VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but is it really needed?
Jeremy Corbyn dresses abysmally. That's a great thing because it's genuine

Jeremy Corbyn dresses abysmally. That's a great thing because it's genuine

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, applauds a man who clearly has more important things on his mind
The male menopause and intimations of mortality

Aches, pains and an inkling of mortality

So the male menopause is real, they say, but what would the Victorians, 'old' at 30, think of that, asks DJ Taylor
Man Booker Prize 2015: Anna Smaill - How can I possibly be on the list with these writers I have idolised?

'How can I possibly be on the list with these writers I have idolised?'

Man Booker Prize nominee Anna Smaill on the rise of Kiwi lit
Bettany Hughes interview: The historian on how Socrates would have solved Greece's problems

Bettany Hughes interview

The historian on how Socrates would have solved Greece's problems
Art of the state: Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China

Art of the state

Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China
Mildreds and Vanilla Black have given vegetarian food a makeover in new cookbooks

Vegetarian food gets a makeover

Long-time vegetarian Holly Williams tries to recreate some of the inventive recipes in Mildreds and Vanilla Black's new cookbooks
The haunting of Shirley Jackson: Was the gothic author's life really as bleak as her fiction?

The haunting of Shirley Jackson

Was the gothic author's life really as bleak as her fiction?
Bill Granger recipes: Heading off on holiday? Try out our chef's seaside-inspired dishes...

Bill Granger's seaside-inspired recipes

These dishes are so easy to make, our chef is almost embarrassed to call them recipes
Ashes 2015: Tourists are limp, leaderless and distinctly UnAustralian

Tourists are limp, leaderless and distinctly UnAustralian

A woefully out-of-form Michael Clarke embodies his team's fragile Ashes campaign, says Michael Calvin
Blairites be warned, this could be the moment Labour turns into Syriza

Andrew Grice: Inside Westminster

Blairites be warned, this could be the moment Labour turns into Syriza
HMS Victory: The mystery of Britain's worst naval disaster is finally solved - 271 years later

The mystery of Britain's worst naval disaster is finally solved - 271 years later

Exclusive: David Keys reveals the research that finally explains why HMS Victory went down with the loss of 1,100 lives
Survivors of the Nagasaki atomic bomb attack: Japan must not abandon its post-war pacifism

'I saw people so injured you couldn't tell if they were dead or alive'

Nagasaki survivors on why Japan must not abandon its post-war pacifism
Jon Stewart: The voice of Democrats who felt Obama had failed to deliver on his 'Yes We Can' slogan, and the voter he tried hardest to keep onside

The voter Obama tried hardest to keep onside

Outgoing The Daily Show host, Jon Stewart, became the voice of Democrats who felt the President had failed to deliver on his ‘Yes We Can’ slogan. Tim Walker charts the ups and downs of their 10-year relationship on screen