Even Arsene Wenger, one of Thierry Henry's greatest supporters, has been underestimating his countryman's scoring feats. "He has scored 51 goals in 102 games," the Arsenal manager said after Henry's double had brought about an invaluable first victory in this season's Champions' League campaign, 3-2 against Schalke at Highbury on Wednesday. The ratio of one every two games was correct, but the actual figures are 54 goals in 108 appearances, 19 of them as a substitute.
Henry finished last season on a low note, missing a number of chances in the FA Cup Final defeat by Liverpool, and remarking poetically that Arsenal needed "a fox in the box, like Michael Owen".
Although Francis Jeffers, another Merseyside fox, was duly signed, making competition for places fiercer than ever, Henry seems to have taken on the role himself and this season has recorded six goals in seven matches. He is also one of only four players to have started each game; despite Wenger's increased options and propensity towards rotation, the only question in the manager's mind has been to decide who will be the best partner to play alongside his French poacher.
"People are sometimes a little bit harsh with Thierry because he has such big potential," Wenger said after the Schalke game. "Tonight he was outstanding. He's world-class, it's as simple as that."
Bought for what briefly seemed an extravagant £10m from Juventus in August 1999 as the replacement for Nicolas Anelka, Henry, on his own admission, took time to settle and managed only one goal before the end of November. By May he had 26 to his name and had equalled Alan Shearer's Premiership record of scoring in seven successive games. Angered last week by reports that he would leave Highbury if Wenger did not sign a new contract, Henry again emphasised his loyalty yesterday. "I want to make it clear I don't want to leave. I owe a lot to Arsenal because I will never forget how everybody gave me a hand when I was down."
The whole team were down after last week's defeat by Real Mallorca, following Ashley Cole's early dismissal. Cole's subsequent suspension meant that two midfield players, Lauren and Giovanni van Bronckhorst, had to be employed at full-back on Wednesday, and it showed against a dangerous, if profligate Schalke. The victory, although fortuitous in many ways, has rectified much of the damage, which will be repaired altogether if Arsenal can win away next Wednesday to Panathinaikos, now the only unbeaten team in the group.
Before then they must meet the challenge of the improbable Premiership leaders Bolton at Highbury tomorrow with Martin Keown joining Tony Adams and Sol Campbell as absentee central defenders.
That offers an opportunity to either Matthew Upson, or Igor Stepanovs, who has been seen only once since the 6-1 debacle at Old Trafford last February.Reuse content