Henry's fireworks turn Arsenal into genuine contenders

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The Independent Football

The day after orchestrating the heaviest home defeat ever suffered by a Serie A side in Europe the plaudits kept coming for Thierry Henry. Just as the Arsenal chairman, Peter Hill-Wood, insisted he was not interested in selling "the most complete player I have seen at Arsenal" even if the price tag was "£50m, £70m or £100m" the striker was nominated as Fifa World Player of the Year alongside two previous winners - Real Madrid's Ronaldo and Zinedine Zidane. Such is the company he now deservedly keeps.

The 5-1 Champions' League destruction of Internazionale, with Henry, 26, scoring his 125th and 126th goals for Arsenal, resonated around Europe. In Milan the verdict was pithy and abrupt - it had been a humiliation and Henry was the tormentor for the second time on Italian soil, having scored a hat-trick against Roma last November. For a player who was misused and misfired while at Juventus, before his £10.5m transfer in 1999, it was a sweet affirmation of his phenomenal talent.

"He is irreplaceable," said Hill-Wood who revealed he was asked at a dinner what he would do if Chelsea's Roman Abramovich came calling: "My reply was that we have no intention of letting him go. It was a great coup for us to sign him on a new four-year contract in May. He is not only a great player but he also has great character and he is a lovely boy. Of course, we pay him a hell of a lot of money but he has never come across to me as a greedy person."

The former Scotland coach Andy Roxburgh, now Uefa's technical director, was at the San Siro and described Henry as "simply awesome". On this display, he said, Arsenal were among the competition's favourites. That may be a little premature - but it was the first time in 42 years that an English side had beaten Inter at home and the result transformed Group B. Having been down and out, Arsenal - so recently unable to win, unable to score in the Champions' League - now know that if they beat Lokomotiv Moscow at home they are through. And everyone knows that it is Henry who is the key.

His team-mate Edu was equally effusive. "He has everything to be the best player in the world. He has power, he has pace, he has a good right foot, a good left foot and he can head the ball. His technique is brilliant. He has it all."

Henry, amazingly, went into the match suffering back pain and a sore hamstring. At the start he appeared distracted - before scoring two and creating two goals. Was it his most memorable match for Arsenal? "Yes, possibly," he said. "But last season we won 3-1 at Roma and everyone was saying the same things.

"At Highbury, Milan were better than us when they won 3-0. They had more desire, more commitment. In Italy, we had those things."

He added: "But we could still go out and although we will enjoy this moment, we have to stay down to earth." A tough task for such a jet-heeled player.