Thierry Henry is back.
And the Arsenal manager, Arsène Wenger, knew from his former striker's first day back at training that he still had something to offer the club. Henry, 34, will sign a two-month loan deal beginning on Monday, pending insurance agreements with his parent club New York Red Bulls, six weeks after he arrived at Arsenal to maintain his fitness in the Major League Soccer off-season.
Henry first joined in training on 17 November – and it was then that Wenger claims he knew Henry could be the answer to his problem of losing Marouane Chamakh and Gervinho to the African Cup of Nations next month.
The appearance of Arsenal's all-time leading goalscorer, who made over 250 League appearances and won two Premier League titles and three FA Cups, back in the red-and-white strip of the Gunners, four-and-a-half years after he left for Barcelona, will no doubt send fans with a propensity for romance into ecstasy.
He is, after all, one of only three people connected to the club in the 125 years of Arsenal's existence that has been immortalised by a bronze statue outside the Emirates Stadium. But for Wenger, the decision was purely practical. "We need a short-term solution," the Arsenal manager said. "He has the quality and capacity to help us out. You do not find players on the planet of this quality who are available for two months.
"I knew on the first day he trained with us. I met him when he was 17 years old. I had him here at 22 so I know every movement that he can make. He is a super-intelligent guy and he is a special talent."
Henry is the third old boy in as many seasons to return to the club, following Sol Campbell and Jens Lehmann, who both signed similar short-term contracts at the Emirates. Then, Wenger admitted, he was signing players for their influence in the dressing room as much as for what they could add on the pitch.
This time, though, the signing is for footballing reasons. And, Wenger pointed out, there is no chance that Robin van Persie, the captain, will face competition for his role as leading striker.
"I've done it with players who have a special attitude, special weight in the dressing room," Wenger added. "I've done it at periods where experience can play a big part in the dressing room, from January to March. Before I did it with a very young side and you can feel that when it comes to March they get a bit nervous. Players who have won before can help them keep calm. Now I do it for footballing reasons because I need a striker for two months and I don't have one at the moment.
"Robin van Persie is our main striker and it will remain like that. When they play together we will do very well. They are two good players who can give the ball and score, so why should they not do well together?"
Wenger believes Henry needs "at least two weeks" before he is match-fit, meaning he could be involved against Swansea on 15 January – and is highly likely to be in the squad to face Manchester United at the Emirates the following weekend.
The meeting with Sir Alex Ferguson's team is the first of five crucial games that will help shape the second half of the season for Wenger. "In the last three months we have not lost any points on them but we have to catch up. There is one difference: we have played at United, City, Chelsea and Spurs. That means they all come to us," Wenger said. "This season will be decided by how well we do at home against the big teams. The target for us is to win our home games because we have it all in our hands, as long as we manage to beat these teams at home."
In a curious footnote, especially on a day when Wenger announced Henry's signing before the deal had actually been completed, he clarified whether QPR captain Joey Barton, who Arsenal face today, ever held any interest for the manager. Barton claimed he was close to an Emirates move move last summer, before opting for QPR, and had even held conversations with the Gunners manager. But Wenger said: "I didn't try to sign him. I don't know why he says that. Certainly it's not linked to him directly because I've never spoken to him directly."
Henry The Hitman
*Thierry Henry's 226 goals in his original, eight-year, spell at Arsenal made him the club's record scorer.
Games / Goals / gpg
Monaco (1994-99): 141 / 28 / 0.20
Juventus (1999): 19 / 3 / 0.16
Arsenal (1999-2007): 369 / 226 / 0.61
Barcelona (2007-10): 121 / 49 / 0.40
NY Red Bulls (2010-11): 41 / 17 / 0.41