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.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
  • Get to the point
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

No postcode? No vote

Floating voters

How living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin

By Reason of Insanity

Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin
Power dressing is back – but no shoulderpads!

Power dressing is back

But banish all thoughts of Eighties shoulderpads
Spanish stone-age cave paintings 'under threat' after being re-opened to the public

Spanish stone-age cave paintings in Altamira 'under threat'

Caves were re-opened to the public
'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'

Vince Cable interview

'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'
Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

Promises, promises

But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

The death of a Gaza fisherman

He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

The only direction Zayn could go

We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

Spells like teen spirit

A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

Licence to offend in the land of the free

Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

From farm to fork in Cornwall

One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

Robert Parker interview

The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor