Belfast Telegraph

Friday 29 August 2014

Arsenal return bittersweet for Henry

Theirry Henry was asked this week what the 3,000 or so Barcelona fans in London today should go and see before they go home. “Well I would say Highbury, but they knocked it down and built apartment blocks”, came back the bittersweet reply.

Ever since the Champions League draw matched Arsenal with the holders, the Catalan press have spoken of a nostalgic Henry preparing to ‘go home'. Except it isn't quite home. It's the Emirates, and as Henry plays out what looks like being a disappointing last season at Barcelona there are parallels with his last campaign for Arsenal on the very same ground.

It was at Highbury where Henry played himself into the record books and into the hearts of the fans who voted him the greatest player in the club's history. In contrast the enduring image of the Emirates Henry is of a frustrated forward down on his knees banging the newly-laid turf after not receiving a pass from Cesc Fabregas or an uncomfortable captain counting down the days to his inevitable end of season departure to Barcelona.

Even his most adoring Arsenal fans would perhaps admit Henry stayed one season too many, and Barcelona supporters now believe history might be repeating itself at the Nou Camp.

After last year's renaissance as he helped the side to a grand-slam of trophies and allowed Henry to tick his last remaining trophy box by winning the Champions League, this year's campaign has so far been flat.

When Henry talks of tonight's game he speaks of playing out of a duty to the Barcelona fans who dream of contesting the May 22 final at the home of their great rivals Real Madrid, more than of a desire to show what he is still capable of. As if he thinks the memory of 226 goals in eight seasons is best left as it is without any need for a Barcelona postscript.

“When you play in a team and you give everything, then the people pay you back for all the effort you have put in,” he says of that vote which named him the club's greatest ever player.

“I had a special relationship with the Arsenal fans. That honour was like another trophy for me. A trophy from the heart. They are incredible supporters.”

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