Thierry Henry: France’s Finest

Thierry Henry, arguably the best player in Premier League history, made a living by shredding defenses and scoring goals. His time at Arsenal brought him into the spotlight as he and Arsene Wenger worked together to help shape the Frenchman into one of the most dynamic strikers in football history.

The Early Days: AS Monaco, Juventus, and France

Thierry Henry began his storied career as a winger for AS Monaco under Arsene Wenger, long before the Golden Boots and golden Premier League trophy.

His trip to the top of the world began with the six-goal game a Monaco scout happened to attend. He signed the striker on the spot, and four years later, in 1994, Thierry Henry made his professional debut. Wenger, still a relatively inexperienced manager at that point, used the 6-foot-2 Frenchman on the wing thanks to his pace and dribbling ability, similar to how managers have used Kylian Mbappe in recent seasons.

By 1997, the dynamic forward earned himself a spot in the French national team, meaning he helped his nation lift the 1998 World Cup trophy. Henry was just 20-year-old during the tournament, but he led his country with three goals as they took the spoils home, earning himself plenty of hype and headlines in the process.

Henry netted 20 goals in five years and 105 appearances in the principality before departing for Italian giants Juventus in January of 1999 for a £10.5 million transfer fee. Unfortunately, his time in Italy saw the momentum of his meteoric rise slow down. He spent merely half a season in northern Italy, playing 16 games and scoring three goals as a winger.

Arsene Wenger watched Henry struggle to break down defenses in Serie A, so he reunited with his former Monaco player at Arsenal, bringing him to north London for £11 million. He quickly proved to be one of the biggest bargains in football history.

Glory and Dominance with Arsenal

Wenger saw something in Henry that someone should have seen long before. He moved the tall winger to the center, where the forward could use his height and strength as well as his skill and pace to affect games, and the decision changed the Premier League.

Henry burst onto the scene in his first season, ending the campaign with 17 goals in the league, but he took eight matches to put his name on the scoresheet. The forward led Arsenal to two straight second-place finishes in the league in his first two seasons in north London and failed to break 20 league goals until his third season, where Arsenal won the league and Henry claimed his first of four Premier League Golden Boots.

In his fourth season, the Gunners failed to repeat as champions, but the forward had an amazing season. He netted 24 league goals for the second straight year and assisted 20 goals, a league record that still stands today.

With Henry leading the team with 30 goals, his side ate up the league on the way to the only undefeated season recorded in Premier League history. The French forward had the likes of Dennis Bergkamp, Robert Pires, Patrick Vieira, and Freddie Ljungberg helping him out, but he owned the league that season.

For better or worse, the King set expectations sky-high for Arsenal fans. The supporters became used to watching the Frenchman tear up the league with the Arsenal superteams in the late-90s and early-2000s, and the fans had a big adjustment to make once the superstar left for FC Barcelona at 28-years-old in 2007.

Style of Play

Henry relied on his athleticism just as much as his technical ability to score goals. He could outpace anyone in the world at his peak, but he had no problem dropping back into midfield or out to a wing to play a killer ball or run at the opposite back line. He singlehandedly sliced up defenses when running with the ball and routinely dribbled past multiple defenders at a time to break open the back line for a chance for himself or a teammate.

At the peak of the Wengerball era, Henry benefitted from the quick passing of his teammates to send him through on runs toward goal. He had a cockiness about his game which helped him transcend the status of a footballer and earn the status of an icon. He led the team from the front with confidence and demanded excellence from his teammates, but he demanded perfection from himself.

Nobody’s perfect, but at his peak, Thierry Henry was close. He is by far the most prolific scorer in Arsenal history and holds the single-season record for assists in the Premier League, and those unmatched qualities of his tend to overshadow his dribbling ability when people look back on his career. Some of the best dribblers in the history of football played in his era, such as Ronaldinho, Zinedine Zidane, Kaka, Dennis Bergkamp, Ronaldo, Marc Overmars, and Luis Figo, yet the Frenchman stood shoulder to shoulder with those giants in that department.

He loved to latch onto the ball in the center of the park and run through gauntlets of defenders, making all of them look silly before finishing his movement with a goal or assist. He didn’t have the ball on a rope on his foot like Leo Messi does, but his combination of speed, strength, and technical ability made him one of the toughest players to stop in history.

In his prime, Henry could fill any role his team needs: he could destroy defenses with a run on the ball, find teammates with a perfect pass, or, as he is best known for, scoring goals. His skill set is hard to match, and the uniqueness of his game as well as his accomplishments have cmeented him as one of the greatest to ever play the game.

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