The stage was set after 68 minutes of frustrating football with Arsenal brought to a standstill by a Leeds Utd team that parked the bus. The moment everyone was waiting for with bated breath. Number 12 strode in to a standing ovation - Thierry Henry had arrived home to a flood of good time memories. And it could not have been written better. In a seamless series of moves, he moved inside as Song released the ball perfectly, controlled it deftly, and curled it into the far corner. Vintage Henry. And he knew and everyone knew how special this was. Tremendous goalscorers have a way of making it look so simple. After the match Henry stood soaking in the Emirates adulation as thousands transmitted their love to a favourite son.
The script was made familiar by an Arsenal side that dominated the match but just could not come up with the finished product. Wenger went with Sebastien Squillaci and Laurent Koscielny at center with Ignasi Miquel and Francis Coquelin at left and right back, respectively. Disaster struck in the 29th minute as Coquelin exited after pulling his hamstring. The makeshift defense already stretched thin was forced to induct Nico Yennaris making only his second appearance in the senior squad. Arsenal's attacking thrust came from Andrey Arshavin who was a handful all evening and Alex Oxlade Chamberlain, always a threat with his pace.
There were too many chances to enumerate and there was continued set piece futility from a dozen corners. But as they say, it was all written in the hand, scripted perfectly for Henry to score on his return. His 227th goal for Arsenal, the 12th against Leeds, and the first goal for the club since his header in a 2-0 win against Utd in 2007.
As heartwarming as this moment was, as dream like the finish, the inescapable fact is Arsenal before Henry came on, did not have anyone capable of finishing off a chance. Mikel Arteta in the starting XI had the distinction of topscorer with 3 goals. And Chamakh at this stage is just poor. He looks enervated.
But more on Henry because this was his evening:
"It's all kind of weird," Henry said. "When I came back from holiday in Mexico, 15 days ago, I never thought I'd play for Arsenal again, let alone score the winner. I don't know what to say, to be honest. The feeling I had when I scored was amazing."
His return makes Wenger look like a genius who said he was impressed with what he saw in training.
"He's sharp, physically. I'd seen that in training and I wouldn't have used him if he wasn't ready. But he was already a legend here. Now he's added just a bit more to the whole story."
Henry's current contract has him at Arsenal for six weeks extendable to eight weeks which will see him do duty in a mouthwatering encounter with Spurs as well as AC Milan in the Champions League round of 16. But with his instant impact there is all kinds of talk that Arsenal could find a way to keep him till the end of the season. Which of course is not fair to the Red Bulls and more seriously does not solve the need for a long term partner to RVP up front.
With this result, Arsenal are spared a trip to Elland Road, and through to the 4th round where they will meet Aston Villa. Today, Arsenal fans can sleep well after an evening written in the stars.