Henry cements place among Europe's striking élite

Glenn Moore@GlennMoore7
Friday 29 November 2002 01:00

Even the man himself stressed the importance of teamwork but there was no escaping the individual role of Thierry Henry in Arsenal's conquest of Roma on Wednesday. Well though Gilberto Silva, Patrick Vieira, Pascal Cygan and other Gunners played, the French striker's sublime finishing was the decisive factor in the Champions' League win.

No wonder Arsenal sought to push on with plans to agree a new four-year contract, as Henry confirmed he is as happy in mind and body as he has ever been. "I wouldn't swap him for anyone," Arsène Wenger, the Arsenal manager, said.

Vieira, another widely coveted player who the club hope will realise his ambitions at Highbury (or Ashburton Grove), said: "I think Thierry is the best striker in the world because he can score the goals that make a difference. Even if he's not having a good day, he can give a pass or can still help us.

"I think by far he's one of the best at the moment. If they picked the European Footballer of the Year on club form he should win it but, because France didn't do really well at the World Cup, he might not. If he wins it I will be very happy."

Henry responded that while such honours were "nice", he was more interested in team performances. "The most important thing was to start the second stage well, not to score a hat-trick," he said. "It's a massive lift for us as we've been looking for that kind of victory for a while but nothing is done yet. We have three points but we have to keep our feet on the ground, be relaxed and carry on playing our game – being concentrated, defending from up front and helping everyone. This win doesn't mean anything if we don't do it against Valencia [at Highbury on 12 December]."

Henry added: "After the Auxerre game I said I was a bit tired and couldn't perform. I am only a human being. You always go through some periods when you can't deliver and it's a bit difficult, but now I have my legs back. I can run."

With Arsenal's main Group B rivals, Valencia, being held to a frustrating 1-1 draw by Ajax at the Mestalla, the stage already appears nicely set for the Gunners to stake an early claim for a place in the quarter-finals.

"Valencia are a very good team, they were much stronger than us," admitted the Ajax coach, Ronald Koeman. "Arsenal will probably give us the same problems. We may be glad that we drew here. That's a really good result."

Taking into the account the venue, and the quality of the opposition, Henry's hat-trick must be numbered among the best goalscoring performances in the competition's 11-year history. Andrei Shevchenko's treble during Dynamo Kiev's 4-0 win in the Nou Camp may remain the benchmark but Henry's trio stands comparison with efforts by players such as Rivaldo, Roy Makaay and Filippo Inzaghi.

Though it was the first hat-trick by an Arsenal player in the Champions' League it was the sixth by a player with an English club, one fifth of the overall total. Mike Newell (Blackburn), Faustino Asprilla (Newcastle), Andy Cole (Manchester United, twice) and, for Liverpool in Moscow this season, Michael Owen had previously hit three.

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