Sparta Prague 0 Arsenal 2

Henry's record revives Arsenal
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The Independent Football

But it was much more than about Henry collecting his 185th and 186th goals in Arsenal colours, just six years after he joined the club. It was a restorative result and a sign that, following a six-week lay-off from a groin injury, and barely fit, the talisman had made a vibrant return. It was simply extraordinary.

Henry said: "It sounds great to hear Thierry Henry as record goalscorer of Arsenal. Ian Wright was a great player and will always be a legend for Arsenal, so to beat him was tremendous." But Henry would not be drawn over speculation linking him with a move to Barcelona at the end of the season, saying only that he was dedicated to Arsenal when he played. "You can never doubt my commitment on the pitch... I play with my heart," he said.

The alacrity with which he seized the captain's armband from Gilberto Silva also spoke volumes, although Arsenal fans would be even more relieved if he shows such haste in signing the contract extension on offer. How they need him and need to keep him and if it costs a king's ransom to secure his future then so be it.

The only blight, as Arsenal took a grip on Group B with their third successive victory, meaning they probably only need one more point to go through, was the departure of the man Henry replaced in the 15th minute, Jose Antonio Reyes, with a suspected cracked rib. Given Arsenal's extended injury list the loss of another, for up to a month, is a severe blow even if it is softened by the captain's return.

"It is nearly unexplainable that a guy who is not just interested in scoring goals can score so many goals," Arsenal manager Arsène Wenger said of Henry's continually amazing contribution. "I think he does not fit only into the history of the club. He will be in the history of football, too. He is 28 only and Ian Wright broke the record when he was 33 or 34. He has a long time ahead of him and there is a lot more to come."

It was a purr of contentment more than just an indisputable comment, but the extraordinariness of Henry's contribution should not be underestimated. Even he was surprised to be called on so early by Wenger - "I did not intend to play him," he said - after Reyes was forced off. But he set about his task with a ravenous, focused hunger. "I felt that when he came on he wanted to score a goal straight away," Wenger said.

Henry's action was a statement of intent. And it worked. After just six minutes on the field, he was picked out by Kolo Touré with a lofted pass. Henry cushioned the ball, spun his marker Adam Petrous and struck the ball in one movement with the outside of his right foot beyond Jaromir Blazek. It was both balletic and brilliant and allowed Arsenal to seize a degree of control they had only fumbled at previously. "His class allowed him to score," Wenger said and it summed up the difference.

Sparta, in fairness, pushed despite their own disarray. The Czech champions are struggling, with their third manager in just over 12 months, and facing their 11th Champions' League match without victory. Touré stood firm, twice using his pace to stamp out danger from lone striker Miroslav Slepicka, while Gaël Clichy struggled to deal with deep crosses to the far post. But it was another young defender, Philippe Senderos, who had paid the price for recent failings although his replacement, Pascal Cygan, looked barely more comfortable.

A third of the 20,000 capacity stadium was closed - as a punishment for racist abuse of Ajax's black players last month - which allowed the travelling Arsenal support to dominate. Their team did not quite do so, however, with Jens Lehmann, back from suspension, pushing over a drive from Martin Petras soon after the restart before Karol Kisel screwed another shot from the area's edge wide.

A momentum was building and Arsenal needed to arrest it. Inevitably, it was Henry who struck again. With 16 minutes to go his clever diagonal run was picked out by Robert Pires and the striker's movement took him away from two challenges, allowing him to clip another right-foot shot from the angle, to beat the goalkeeper and secure the record, the victory - and his 38th goal in 69 appearances in this competition.

Sparta's under-pressure coach, Stanislav Griga, simply spluttered: "Phenomenal. Absolutely unbelievable," after the final whistle. No one would disagree. The Arsenal fans were exuberant and Henry was last off the pitch, saluting them as he went. "We've got the best striker in the world," they sang. Last night that appeared beyond dispute and, maybe, Arsenal's season has started again.

Sparta Prague (4-1-4-1): Blazek; Pergl (Matusovic, 71), Petrous, Lukas, Kadlec; Petras; Pospech, Zelenka, Kisel, Polacek; Slepicka (Dosek, 78). Substitutes not used: Bicik (gk), Hasek, Herzan, Loucka, Jeslinek. Pospech,

Arsenal (4-4-2): Lehmann; Lauren, Touré, Cygan, Clichy; Fabregas (Owusu-Abeyie, 89), Flamini, Gilberto, Pires; Reyes (Henry, 15), Van Persie (Eboue, 73). Substitutes not used: Almunia (gk), Senderos, Song, Larsson.

Referee: W Stark (Germany).

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