Jack Pitt-Brooke: Not just a goal, more a plot device in a dream scenario

 

How else could it possibly have gone? Arsenal's recent years have been a tale of frustrations, disappointments and love-sickness but last night they were reunited with their king and their script.

Arsène Wenger said afterwards that it was a story "you would tell some young kids who you wanted to tell a story about football". That used to be how almost everything was at Arsenal: winning the league at Old Trafford, an unbeaten season, winning the league at White Hart Lane, securing Champions League football on the last day at Highbury.

But, since the move to the Emirates, there have been five and a half thwarted seasons. Until last night, when a fantasy was finally realised again.

With 12 minutes left Thierry Henry, Arsenal's greatest ever player, received the ball from Alex Song. In that channel, that inside-left channel, from where he hunted so many of his first 226 Arsenal goals. With a twist of the hips, he opened his body, opened his right boot, and struck the ball into the far corner.

It prompted the most ecstatic celebration the Emirates has seen, certainly since the defeat of Barcelona last year. Henry himself, the consummate actor, reacted perfectly: beating the badge on his chest, embracing Wenger, doing everything possible to demonstrate that he means what he says about love.

The most magical Arsenal moment since Henry's 2007 departure, perhaps, and one that, on this special night at the Emirates, could only have been delivered by one man. This was less a cup tie than a plot device for a restoration, a scene written into the script for just one reason, a necessary mechanism for the re-crowning of Arsenal's king.

The fans might not share Wenger's placing of the cup so far down Arsenal's priority list, but last night they were, for an hour at least, less than desperate about the battle to earn a fourth-round home tie with Aston Villa.

The first thrilled roar of the evening came when the stadium announcer confirmed Henry's presence in the wings. From then on, it was a case merely of passing time before the main event. Around 68 minutes of football relegated to the status of undercard, of preamble, of patient, polite throat-clearing.

When he did ascend from the bench, to replace Marouane Chamakh, the massed devotion was astonishing. For the 10 minutes before his goal, it was a notable high-point in the history of noise in this ground. After then, though, it was obviously and utterly dwarfed.

There was a moment in the first half when it felt as if the plot might be short-circuited. Francis Coquelin, galloping down the right, pulled up holding his hamstring and went down: unable to continue, and requiring replacement.

The whole stadium turned to the bench and when 18-year-old right-back Nico Yennaris was the player clambering out of his tracksuit, there were nearly 60,000 disappointed sighs.

Leeds United, certainly, started the game like a team with Henry on its mind. And not just 2012's 34-year-old New York Red Bull but the 2004 model, the sports car forward who scored seven times past Leeds in the season when he became an Invincible.

Four of those goals came in a 5-0 win at Highbury nearly eight years ago, his last match against Yorkshire's proudest. Simon Grayson's back line defended so deeply they can only have imagined Henry, in his most fearsome form, was running at them. It took nearly half an hour for Leeds to realise they were seeing ghosts, and to push higher up.

But they, like their opponents, were merely playing out time. And like any actors, they were powerless to change the script.

PROMOTED VIDEO
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
Independent Dating
and  

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

Day In a Page

Greece elections: In times like these, the EU has far more dangerous adversaries than Syriza

Greece elections

In times like these, the EU has far more dangerous adversaries than Syriza, says Patrick Cockburn
Holocaust Memorial Day: Nazi victims remembered as spectre of prejudice reappears

Holocaust Memorial Day

Nazi victims remembered as spectre of prejudice reappears over Europe
Fortitude and the Arctic attraction: Our fascination with the last great wilderness

Magnetic north

The Arctic has always exerted a pull, from Greek myth to new thriller Fortitude. Gerard Gilbert considers what's behind our fascination with the last great wilderness
Homeless Veterans appeal: Homeless in Wales can find inspiration from Daniel’s story

Homeless Veterans appeal

Homeless in Wales can find inspiration from Daniel’s story
Front National family feud? Marine Le Pen and her relatives clash over French far-right party's response to Paris terror attacks

Front National family feud?

Marine Le Pen and her relatives clash over French far-right party's response to Paris terror attacks
Pot of gold: tasting the world’s most expensive tea

Pot of gold

Tasting the world’s most expensive tea
10 best wildlife-watching experiences: From hen harriers to porpoises

From hen harriers to porpoises: 10 best wildlife-watching experiences

While many of Britain's birds have flown south for the winter, it's still a great time to get outside for a spot of twitching
Nick Easter: 'I don’t want just to hold tackle bags, I want to be out there'

'I don’t want just to hold tackle bags, I want to be out there'

Nick Easter targeting World Cup place after England recall
DSK, Dodo the Pimp, and the Carlton Hotel

The inside track on France's trial of the year

Dominique Strauss-Kahn, Dodo the Pimp, and the Carlton Hotel:
As provocative now as they ever were

Sarah Kane season

Why her plays are as provocative now as when they were written
Murder of Japanese hostage has grim echoes of a killing in Iraq 11 years ago

Murder of Japanese hostage has grim echoes of another killing

Japanese mood was against what was seen as irresponsible trips to a vicious war zone
Syria crisis: Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more refugees as one young mother tells of torture by Assad regime

Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more Syrian refugees

One young mother tells of torture by Assad regime
The enemy within: People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back – with promising results

The enemy within

People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back
'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

Survivors of the Nazi concentration camp remember its horror, 70 years on
Autumn/winter menswear 2015: The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore

Autumn/winter menswear 2015

The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore