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Premier League heroes: Thierry Henry

Wenger and Henry joined forces in 1999 and went from strength to strength together.
Thierry Henry was signed by Arsene Wenger in 1999.

A winner of Premier League titles and FA Cups, Thierry Henry was the man who brought "va-va-voom" (a nod to his appearance in a car advertisement) to England and led an invincible Arsenal team to unbeaten glory.

Born in a tough neighbourhood in Paris in 1977, Henry rose to prominence in France, Europe and the world as he began his professional career at Arsene Wenger's Monaco. Winning the Trophée du Meilleur espoir -- or French Young Footballer of the Year -- in 1996, Henry helped Monaco to the Ligue 1 title in 1996-97 and starred in the Champions League the following season before scoring three goals in the group stages as France lifted the 1998 World Cup on home soil.

In January of the following year, he headed off to Juventus, where Carlo Ancelotti used him as a winger with little success. After a miserable few months in Italy, Henry left Serie A to reunite with Wenger at Highbury in August 1999 for a fee of 10.5 million pounds.

Henry failed to score in his first eight games in England, and there were concerns that "Le Professeur" had overpaid. However, Henry broke his duck in a 1-0 win over Southampton in mid-September, superbly holding off his marker before swivelling to fire home from 20 yards. He added his second goal for Arsenal in the following match against Swedish side AIK but then endured another seven-game barren spell.

Any lingering doubts about his ability to thrive in the Premier League were dispelled as he scored 19 goals in 24 games for his club in the first half of 2000 before helping France to European Championship glory. A hero was reborn.

The following season, he topped Arsenal's scoring charts, but the club ended up empty-handed. As would become the trend over the years, Henry expressed his disappointment that the club was not winning trophies.

In 2001-02, he got his wish, topping the Premier League scoring charts with 32 goals in all competitions as Arsenal won the title at a canter and beat a pre-Roman Abramovich Chelsea 2-0 in the FA Cup final. The next year, they retained the FA Cup with a 1-0 win over Southampton, and Henry was the runner-up to France teammate Zinedine Zidane for the FIFA World Player of the Year award.

As a man who craves perfection, Henry's Premier League annus mirabilis came in 2003-04 as he reached the peak of his form to lead Arsenal to an unbeaten season in the league. He fired in 39 goals in all competitions as the "Invincibles," featuring the likes of Dennis Bergkamp, Patrick Vieira and Robert Pires, became the first team in over a century to complete a league campaign without defeat.

It was Henry who dragged the players back into contention when the achievement looked to be slipping out of their grasp. In early April 2004, Arsenal had lost 1-0 in the FA Cup to Manchester United and exited the Champions League with a 3-2 aggregate defeat to Chelsea. When they returned to the Premier League, they found themselves down 2-1 at half-time to Liverpool. But they emerged as 4-2 winners, thanks largely to Henry's hat trick, which included a spectacular solo effort.

That goal epitomised Henry at his brilliant best -- pace and close control combined with the confidence to create something from nothing and the coolness under pressure to pull it off. Again, he was named runner-up for the FIFA World Player of the Year award, this time trailing Ronaldinho, and added the Golden Boot.

Henry scored 31 goals the following season and became the first player to win the Golden Boot in successive years, but Arsenal lost out to Jose Mourinho's Chelsea in the league and Henry was absent for the team's FA Cup triumph over Manchester United on penalties.

Freddie Ljungberg (L) and Thierry Henry with the Premier League crown.
Henry brought plenty of silverware to Arsenal.

The following season, Arsenal again lost out to Chelsea in the title race, and hopes of ending both Wenger's and Henry's long wait for the Champions League fell through with a 2-1 defeat to Barcelona in the final in Paris. By this stage, Henry had clearly become frustrated by the club's failure to match his ambitions -- namely, that it win all available trophies. He did sign a new four-year deal with the club following the Champions League final despite strong interest from Barca, seemingly cutting his ties with his postmatch rant against the club's stars.

Yet although he had pledged his long-term future to the Gunners, he moved to Barcelona after an injury-ravaged, trophy-less 2006-07 campaign, ending a spectacular eight-year association with Arsenal in which he helped transform English football.

The English game has rarely seen a talent like Henry. His 228 goals in 377 games mean he made his mark on Arsenal to etch his name in the record books as the club's all-time top scorer, and arguably, they have struggled to replace him since. The Frenchman grew into one of the country's finest players, and others will do well to come close to his achievements.

This article originally appeared on ESPNsoccernet in November 2009.


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