Jack Pitt-Brooke: Not just a goal, more a plot device in a dream scenario - News & Comment - Football - The Independent

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.

News
Residents of James Turner Street such as White Dee will have a chance to share their experiences of benefits on a Channel 4 spin-off show
peopleBenefits Street star says mixed-race children were subjected to trolling
Sport
Angel Di Maria
Football
News
Piers Morgan tells Scots they might not have to suffer living on the same island as him if they vote ‘No’ to Scottish Independence
news
Life and Style
techIndian model comes with cricket scores baked in
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
i100Exclusive interview with the British analyst who helped expose Bashar al-Assad's use of Sarin gas
Arts and Entertainment
Keira Knightley and Benedict Cumberbatch star in the Alan Turing biopic The Imitation Game
film
Arts and Entertainment
Rob James-Collier, who plays under-butler Thomas Barrow, admitted to suffering sleepless nights over the Series 5 script
tv'Thomas comes right up to the abyss', says the actor
News
newsIn short, yes
Extras
indybest
News
Denny Miller in 1959 remake of Tarzan, the Ape Man
people
Sport
BoxingVideo: The incident happened in the very same ring as Tyson-Holyfield II 17 years ago
Life and Style
Jourdan Dunn gave TopShop’s Unique show some added glamour at London Fashion Week
fashion week
News
Groundskeeper Willie has backed Scottish independence in a new video
people
Arts and Entertainment
The Doctor poses the question of whether we are every truly alone in 'Listen'
tvReview: Possibly Steven Moffat's most terrifying episode to date
News
i100
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

These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

The Imitation Game, film review
England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week
The fall of Rome? Cash-strapped Italy accused of selling its soul to the highest bidder

The fall of Rome?

Italy's fears that corporate-sponsored restoration projects will lead to the Disneyfication of its cultural heritage
Glasgow girl made good

Glasgow girl made good

Kelly Macdonald was a waitress when she made Trainspotting. Now she’s taking Manhattan
Sequins ahoy as Strictly Come Dancing takes to the floor once more

Sequins ahoy as Strictly takes to the floor once more

Judy Murray, Frankie Bridge and co paired with dance partners
Wearable trainers and other sporty looks

Wearable trainers and other sporty looks

Alexander Wang pumps it up at New York Fashion Week
The landscape of my imagination

The landscape of my imagination

Author Kate Mosse on the place that taught her to tell stories