football

Henry's confirmation of where his Arsenal loyalties lay led to widespread panic



The Gunners icon hit a hat-trick on May 7, 2006 as Arsenal beat Wigan 4-2 in the final ever game at Highbury, a place he saw as his ‘garden’

It is tempting to say that it was the perfect finale, and really in many ways it was.

But there was just so much doubt in the air.

May 7, 2006 is a date that lives on in Arsenal history as the one that brought the curtain down on Highbury.

Wigan Athletic were the visitors, and while Thierry Henry didn’t exactly need to dominate another page in the club’s history books, he took it upon himself to do just that.

For Henry, the idea of just scoring the final goal at the grand old stadium wasn’t enough. He had to go bigger.

Wigan did threaten to spoil the party though.







Henry pulled the curtain on Highbury in the perfect fashion
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PA)

After Robert Pires, a player around whom there was mounting transfer talk, just as with Henry, had given Arsenal the lead, goals from Paul Scharner and then David Thompson turned the tables. Arsenal were losing on their big day.

With the Gunners also needing to better Tottenham’s result at West Ham to finish in the top four – but at that stage unaware that Spurs were suffering from the after-effects of some dodgy lasagne – then suddenly there was peril, but Henry specialised in puncturing nervy moments.

He equalised before Wigan had even had a chance to enjoy their lead, before then scoring again in the second period and completing his hat-trick from the penalty spot. A finale fitting for a wonderful theatre.

Perfection. Right?







Henry scored a hat-trick on Highbury’s final day
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Daily Mirror)

“When you are the best player in the world you want to play in the best competition in the world,” said Arsene Wenger after the game, batting off the latest in a long line of questioning about Henry’s future. “I want to keep everyone.”

He’d become used to this now, the Arsenal boss, but at least securing Champions League football could help make up the minds of Henry, Pires and Ashley Cole, all of whom were being linked with moves away ahead of the upcoming Champions League final against Barcelona in Paris.

Arsenal fans had come to accept that they were saying goodbye to Highbury, but they couldn’t countenance saying goodbye to Henry too.

As the Frenchman made his way around the ground at full-time he waved and kissed the turf, leading to widespread concern among the fanbase that he was saying goodbye to the club whatever happened in the Champions League final.

For Henry though, it was clear where his loyalties lay.

They lay with Highbury itself.







There was speculation that Henry would leave for Barcelona
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Reuters)

“It’s difficult to put into words what Highbury represented to me or any Arsenal fans,” he told Sky Sports when reflecting on the game last year.

“I kissed the ground for a reason and at the time, people thought I was going to leave Arsenal and go to Barcelona and that’s why I kissed the ground.

“I actually kissed the ground goodbye because I knew it was over.

“I was never going to play in my garden again. I was never going to see that grass early in the morning when we were in the meeting at 11am and I used to walk by the field and I would say to it ‘see you later my man’.

“I had great memories there, bad memories although they were more good than bad. Everyone loves to play at Highbury. I don’t know what it was.”

So goodbye to Highbury, but not goodbye to Henry.

He and Arsenal would lose the Champions League final to the Catalan giants, but the Frenchman stayed on for one more year at the Emirates before eventually moving to the Nou Camp.

It wasn’t the same there.

Nothing has been since.

This was the perfect union between player, club and stadium, and it ended that day.





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