LONDON — Thierry Henry stood in the middle of the pitch at Emirates Stadium, arms aloft as the ball crossed the Arsenal goal-line. New York players rushed to their talismanic forward to celebrate. They knew how much a winning return to Arsenal meant to Henry.
The Red Bulls captain, who had an emotional day returning to the club he still supports and loves, was extremely happy his current team could send out a message of intent to Europe and beyond.
“At the end of the day, we came here to compete,” Henry said after that match. “It was a friendly tournament, but the win is good for us. We are fighting to get into the playoffs in our conference. It is a good result for the MLS as a league and obviously for the Red Bulls.”
Henry set up the goal that secured the 1-1 tie and the Emirates cup by threading through a pass to left back Roy Miller in the 84th minute. Miller’s cross was then bundled into the Arsenal net by Gunners defender Kyle Bartley.
It was, in many respects, the perfect end to an emotional weekend for Henry, who was welcomed back to the Emirates Stadium by Arsenal fans in glorious fashion. A sellout crowd of 60,011 turned out to see their former striker perform. When his name was mentioned on the loud speakers before the game, a standing ovation from Arsenal fans showed just how popular Henry still is in North London.
Henry certainly found the support he received from the Arsenal fans humbling as he reflected on a victorious weekend in London.
“It was kind of weird; the fans were all cheering for me when I had the ball,” Henry said. “Then I am clapping them while I am playing at the same time. It was weird. I have a strong love for the club and have a great understanding with the fans here.”
“Welcome home Thierry” read just one of the many signs made by fans at the Emirates today. Even when the Frenchman scored a goal in the warm up, the crowd behind the goal celebrated. Henry has legendary status back in North London and is working hard to earn the same status in the US.
The current MLS-leading goal scorer also had a special surprise in store for home fans as both clubs agreed for Henry to play the final 10 minutes for Arsenal. Yet FIFA rules and the referee put a stop to what would have been a nice gesture from Henry to his beloved fans.
“There are some weird rules,” Henry said. “FIFA or the ref denied it. They are the bosses of the game now ... that’s just how it is. I was asked to do it and I said why not. It would have been nice. It doesn’t matter though, I think I played enough games in the Arsenal shirt!”
Henry’s homecoming could not have gone any better as he and his Red Bull teammates return to New York with the Emirates Cup in one hand, and a confidence boost from coming out on top against elite European opposition in the other.
The Red Bulls No. 14 singled out his teammates for special praise, some of whom played two full games two days in a row after a tiring journey to London.
“We don’t have a big squad, so it was kind of difficult for us to put two teams out there,” Henry said. “Some of the guys played two full 90s two days in a row, so you have to give credit to them. It is not easy. I definitely know what its like to run when Arsenal have the ball. I use to be on the other side.”
You can follow Joe Prince-Wright on Twitter on @JPW8