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27 February 2024

Henry rejoins Arsenal on two-month loan

Henry scored a club-record 226 goals for Arsenal in 370 appearances from 1999 to 2007. (FILE)

By Agencies

Thierry Henry attempted to dampen expectations among Arsenal fans after finalising a two-month loan to the English club where he is among its most beloved players.

The French forward could begin his second spell with the Gunners in Monday's FA Cup third-round match against Leeds. He scored a club-record 226 goals for Arsenal in 370 appearances from 1999 to 2007.

He is held in such high esteem by the club's fans that he was voted the team's greatest player in a poll on its official website in 2008. There also is a bronze statue of Henry outside Emirates Stadium, but the 34-year-old warned supporters not to expect the same player who terrorised defenses in his first stint.

"I am not coming here to be a hero or prove anything. I am just coming here to help. People have to understand that," Henry said. "I'll be on the bench most of the time. If I can make the bench, that is."

Henry had to wait a week to secure the temporary switch while Arsenal finalised insurance agreements with the New York Red Bulls, his club in Major League Soccer. He will return to the United States for his team's MLS opener at Dallas on March 11.

Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger is turning to Henry to fill the gap left by the departure of Gervinho and Marouane Chamakh for the African Cup of Nations.

"It is unreal, to be honest. But when it comes to Arsenal, my heart will always do the talking," Henry said. "I always said I was never going to come back and play in Europe again, but when the team you love and support asks you back, it's kind of hard to say no."

Henry will be available for January and most of February. He could appear in six league games, including the home match Jan. 22 against Manchester United.

There is a chance he also could feature in the north London derby against Tottenham on Feb. 26, although he said he may choose to return to New York before then to prepare for the MLS season.

"Even if it is just five seconds, one second, or just talking in the dressing room, I will give my best, whatever it is," Henry said.

Without a major trophy since 2005, Arsenal (11-6-3) is fifth in the Premier League, 12 points behind leader Manchester City (15-2-3) and one behind Chelsea (11-5-4), which holds the fourth and final Champions League spot.

"I am sure during these two months he will be a massive asset to the team in the dressing room and on the pitch," Wenger said. "He can be relaxed, not under too much pressure and be a tremendous help to the team."

Henry will act as one of the backups to Robin van Persie, who has taken over the Frenchman's mantle as Arsenal's star attacker and scored 17 league goals this season.

In 2011, van Persie scored 35 times in the league, one more than the previous club record for a calendar year set by Henry.

"Right now Robin is flying. I can be around and talk to him but he is doing what he does best - scoring goals," Henry said. "When the boss spoke to me about coming back, I wanted to make sure I didn't disturb the team that was in place. That was important to me."

Wenger believes Henry's return can only be good for all involved.

He said: "You cannot take away from people what they have done, and what he has delivered will stay forever. It can just make the statue a bit bigger. Let us hope he will do that.

"Thierry is a world-class player and even at this club a player of that dimension is always very difficult to find, especially at this period of the season. He can just add something more to the team.

"Who would turn down a player of his quality?

"We have a good spirit in the side and he will add something more, experience-wise, and on the nervy side as well, when we are under pressure.

"That is a good addition because he knows the club, he knows the league, and it is only positive."

Wenger is in no doubt Henry still has the quality to compete at the highest level, the striker having trained at his old club since the end of the Major League Soccer season, where Red Bulls were knocked out of the play-offs by David Beckham's Los Angeles Galaxy.

The Arsenal manager said: "Thierry is like everyone who develops in life, he is more open to people.

"When you are a young striker you are more focused on yourself and today, what he can give to others is of a higher level than he could do five or six years ago.

"Thierry is in a position where has done it all and is under less pressure than five or six years ago."

Wenger added: "We want him to perform. I want him to help the team and do well.

"I don't even have to say a word because he will want to do that himself."

Henry, though, is conscious of how he has changed as a player.

He added: "I am not 25 anymore, I am not going to take the ball from the middle of the park and dribble past five or six players. Don't expect that."

Arsenal's Barclays Premier League ambitions took a knock with defeat at Fulham, where they lost 2-1 in stoppage time after having defender Johan Djourou sent off when they were in front.

Wenger expects a response from his injury-hit squad. He said: "The schedule was very tough for us and I feel as well we were really unlucky over the Christmas period.

"I cannot fault the players' attitude or spirit and that's why I'm still optimistic and I think in the end the quality of that spirit will come through.

"We have to take it on the chin and come back even stronger."