Henry does it his way, ending on a high note
Sunderland 1 Arsenal 2
Thierry Henry called it his last game in the Premier League, but then Frank Sinatra used to say something similar about each of his farewell tours. Time will tell on that one; like Arsène Wenger, he was ambiguous.
But when Henry, applauded on to the field of play in the 66th minute by all four sides of the Stadium of Light, later called it "a magical day", there were no arguments; a bit of Wearside angst perhaps in that the home side were genuinely unfortunate not to pick up at least a point, but a 92nd-minute winner, for a player who has illuminated so many grounds up and down the country, felt the perfect way to say goodbye.
Of course it was in front of the travelling support. "To be able to celebrate with all the Arsenal fans, who have come such a long way, it really was magical," he said. "It was a fantastic atmosphere and overall it was so special for me, with it being my last game in the Premier League.
"Emotional? When it comes to Arsenal I am always emotional. I don't want to think about it too much, to be honest. I just want to do my best to help the team. Looking at the results, everything seemed to go our way and now people need to keep on going and make sure we stay where we are.
"I knew when the final whistle blew that this was my last game in the Premier League, but I guess you can never say never. I never thought I was going to come back and play for Arsenal. Who knows if I can say that this was definitely the end? It could be different. Always I say it's kind of difficult for me to say 'no'. If they need some help one day, I'll be around. Who knows? That's why I celebrated so much with my team-mates and the fans. We will see. We have another game now against AC Milan and we have just got to try and get some momentum going. I said that to the lads in the dressing room."
It was interesting to listen afterwards to Wenger, whose decision to bring Henry back was justified in that moment, in injury time, when he slipped between Michael Turner and John O'Shea to score the winner.
"When you have done what he has done in the game, players are just happy to listen to him," said Wenger. "He gives a lot of positives, he makes sure to keep the confidence level high because we had gone through a crisis when he came and when you are young, players' confidence drops quickly, but he came in and the spirit in the camp was raised.
"Every player is different; with Thierry, I gave him his start when he was 17 at Monaco, then he came to Arsenal, then after Barcelona he came back here, so there are three chapters to our story in the book and the history we have had together is a bit special. You do not often meet the same player three times. Now he has to go back to the Red Bulls. We will see next season; maybe he might want to stop at some stage as well."
Sunderland's bravery could easily be forgotten. They led for five minutes through James McClean before another Arsenal substitute, Aaron Ramsey, equalised. That they felt so disappointed to lose to a team with genuine ambitions for the top four seems highly significant, given where they were two months ago when Martin O'Neill was appointed manager.
"It was a great effort from the lads, but obviously we're disappointed with how we've lost the game in the first minute of injury time," said their captain, O'Shea. "It's a bitter pill to take because we've done well in the game." Still, this was not their day; perhaps it was never supposed to be.
There has to be a hope that this really is it for Henry; scoring the winning goal in a real game, against the Premier League's form team. Reviving Arsenal, as he always did. Leaving the kind of memories that can be cherished.
Sunderland: MIGNOLET 7/10; BARDSLEY 7; O'SHEA 6; TURNER 7; RICHARDSON 7; LARSSON 6; GARDNER 8; COLBACK 7; CAMPBELL 6; SESSEGNON 6; McCLEAN 7
Scorers: Sunderland McClean 70 Arsenal Ramsey 75, Henry 90.
Substitutes: Sunderland Ji (Campbell, 87). Arsenal Henry 8 (Oxlade-Chamberlain, 66), Ramsey (Mertesacker, 72), Arshavin (Walcott, 87). Booked: Sunderland Richardson, Campbell. Arsenal Rosicky.
Man of the match Gardner. Match rating 7/10.
Possession: Sunderland 47% Arsenal 53%.
Attempts on target: Sunderland 6 Arsenal 8.
Referee N Swarbrick (Lancashire) Attendance 40,312.
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