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Referendum: Is Thierry Henry Arsenal's greatest ever player?

30 October 2005, Lenny Antonelli

Adampembrey: Forum member

The greatest ever debates are always very difficult because it is impossible to have any actual proof. Therefore we work solely on opinion. The problem there is that not one single person has seen every Arsenal player in action, so who are we to judge? I can say quite easily that Henry is the best player I have seen in an Arsenal shirt. Ian Wright and Tony Adams are all-time heroes of mine and were absolutely fantastic footballers, but for me Henry’s attributes add up to slightly more than theirs did.

This leads me into the next issue which I feel makes naming the “best ever” player impossible, and that is eras. Henry has played every second of his Arsenal career under Arsene Wenger. He has very rarely been asked to play on his own up front and in fact has the team more or less built around him. The left side of Arsenal’s team over the last few years has been extremely strong, Cole at left back and Pires at left midfield have linked up very well with Henry and allowed him to look good, or rather allowed him to be good. There is also the well-documented partnership and understanding he has with Dennis Bergkamp.

Another component that goes hand in hand almost with the Wenger era is the fitness and diet of top players in today’s game. What if Henry had been playing in the 60’s or 70’s when players had a drink and a fag after every match without a thought to what it did to their bodies? Also pre-match meals consisting of such fattening foods as sausage and chips right up until Wenger was appointed.

This leads me into my next point which regards comparisons. If we are deciding if Henry is the best ever Arsenal player we have to compare him to all the other Arsenal players. We can compare him quite easily to some, i.e. Wiltord. Sylvain joined the club one year after Henry and played either with him or in his place most of the time. Sylvain would have had the same training and similar diet to Henry, however he scored less, was not as fast, did not get as many assists, was dropped more often and failed to get the fans behind him as Thierry.

The real comparison of course is with our other great goal scorer, Ian Wright Wright Wright. The statistics show that Henry has scored more goals but has taken longer to do it, Wrighty has the better strike rate. Henry of course has more assists but statistics do not tell the whole story. If Wrighty had played his entire Arsenal career under Wenger and had eaten the foods that Wenger advised him to eat and trained how Wenger has trained Henry what with all the stretching and what not, perhaps he would have had that ounce more energy and that yard extra pace that would have allowed him to drift out wide and run at and past people in the way that Henry does now. If he had left backs and wingers charging into the box in support of him like Henry has, perhaps he would have more assists.

So far I have compared striker with striker as they are, at the end of the day expected to do the same or at least very similar job. But how on earth do we compare Henry as the greatest ever player against Tony Adams or Patrick Vieira?

Would Henry have done as well in the 30’s with a heavier ball and different offside rule? Would he have done as well in the 1960’s Arsenal side who were by most accounts pretty poor. In this piece I have asked a lot of questions and to be honest the answer to most of them is… no one knows. Henry is in my opinion the best player in the world today, however he is also in the right team with the right manager, at the right point in history. Is he the best player in our history? No one knows.

Rebanut: Forum member

Well I have supported Arsenal since 1968 and seen a lot of very good players wearing the shirt, and of course there were lots of great players before my time, but I have to say that Henry is the greatest of all of them that I have seen. The guy is just a great sportsman, he is a great striker, one of the best in the world in most peoples’ eyes, and how many Arsenal players past or present could we say that about? He has given me so much excitement with a lot of his individual brilliance, more than anyone has before. Some of his goals just leave me breathless, I don’t think we will see his like again. For me he is the best ever, and an all round nice guy too, I pray to God he signs a new deal.

Karuda: Forum member

For me Thierry Henry is the greatest Arsenal player that I’ve ever seen, but then he’s the greatest player I’ve seen period. I’ve only been an Arsenal supporter since c1989, so anyone who watched Arsenal before then may be able to shed light on a different opinion, but for my generation I’d say he’s unmatched.

There have been a few greats in that period of time like Bergkamp, Adams (in fact any of that famous back four), Wrighty etc. Undoubtedly all of these players have given many great years for the club and it is indeed Ian Wright who is my personal favourite, but the simple fact remains that for all-round contribution to the team, with undoubted quality and an amazing level of consistency, Henry stands above the others (in my opinion).

Looking at players beyond our marble halls, such illuminaries as Cruyff, Maradonna, Pele; Henry’s achievements stand up well when compared with theirs. Cruyff had skill, amazing passing ability and great leadership, Pele was a goal scorer supreme and there’s really no need to explain the qualities of Maradonna. Henry brings all of those abilities to the table.

Arsene Wenger’s years in charge have been some of the most successful and entertaining and much of that is embodied in the play of Henry. In modern times he has taken the game to another level: Thirty plus goals in one season, coupled with fifteen plus assists is an amazing achievement. Henry has achieved that for about four seasons running!

The statistics speak for themselves, but at the same time Henry has been a great ambassador for both the club, and football in general away from the pitch. In a time when many footballers are being ‘caught with their trousers down’’, with tales of rape, alcohol and drug abuse, adultery; arguably the biggest star of them all remains a respectable, approachable guy. A junior gunner who lives on my street informs me that, out of all of the players, Henry is the most likely to be still signing autographs hours after a game’s finished, while other players call it a day and leave. Add to that his personal crusade against racism, both in the stands and general life (an effort sadly sullied by Nike) and you see that he is not only a great player, but a great person.

In my eyes he stands as our greatest ever player, and arguably one of the best to grace the game. It will be a sad day when he finally leaves, but he’ll have left me with more than enough great memories to consider him a true Arsenal great.

Andy Summers: Staff member

Firstly I’d like to state that I think a direct response to the question is unattainable; inter-generational comparison of players is unfeasible beyond a mere discussion of the relative attributes of the two (or more) players in question. Football is an evolution, as styles of play are introduced then rejected, and philosophies change. In microcosm this can be illustrated with the shift in many sides over the past two years from a standard 4-4-2 to a more tactically solid (defensive?) 4-5-1. How do you feasibly directly compare players that graced the turf when a potentially opposing footballing ideology prevailed? Not only this, but we also have the fact that memories of players fade as time passes, and modern footballers can end up with a slight ‘overrating’ based upon this. Conversely, it can also lead to the over-emphasis of past players in the pantheon of Arsenal (or indeed world) greats.

Then we have the thorny issue of the fact that the oldest members of the Arsenal-Land forums possibly only began to support Arsenal from the 60’s/early 70’s onwards. What then of players who plied their trade in the famous colours prior to this time, we as fans relying on history books and hearsay alone for an indication of their talents? No, it is not possible to claim Thierry Henry as Arsenal’s greatest ever in light of such factors.

Yet what we can do is discuss the merits of Henry as an Arsenal great, and his talents in modern football. It is oft claimed that Henry revolutionised the way a striker can operate, a 30+ goal a season man who acts not as an orthodox striker (or even second striker), but spends a great deal of time drifting from wide left. Such a claim would again be potentially unfounded in a ‘history of football’ argument, for the reasons given above, but it’s a fair claim when targeted at football of the modern era.

I cannot remember seeing a striker who plays like Henry, in my 15 years as a fan not only of Arsenal but football in general. A style of play that pulls defenders into areas that they just do not want to go, creating space for the one-touch football we are famed for, allowing the likes of Bergkamp to thread incisive through balls to Ljungberg or Pires running from midfield. Henry is an absolute nightmare for the individual and collective to defend against; and when his somewhat unique style of play is coupled with frightening pace, a devastating shot, and an ability to control the ball unmatched against 99.9% of footballers that I’ve yet witnessed, then you have one awesome attacking thrust.

This is borne out by his superb goalscoring record, and it is testament to the ability of past legends like Ian Wright that they reached similar totals in quicker time than Henry. This is partially once again attributable to the nature of Henry as a footballer; on how many occasions have we seen this sublime finisher spurn clear goalscoring opportunities in order to allow a team mate an open goal or better chance of scoring? It is a characteristic virtually unique to Henry amongst the top strikers in world football. Van Nistelrooy, Adriano, Makaay, Ronaldo, Owen, and Shearer to name but a few over the past decade, all famed for their goalscoring prowess. Strikers like these do not act in such a way, they take the chance for themselves. Yet Henry at Arsenal has a comparable goalscoring ratio, if not even better? Remarkable. Take away Henry’s unselfishness and you could probably tack on another 6 or 7 goals a season to his tally.

This style defines Henry; a man not only top scorer in the Premiership last year and previously, but a player who also shattered Beckham’s assists record two seasons ago. A striker…assist leader? Virtually unheard of. Simply, Henry is much more than a striker or pure finisher, he’s nigh on a one-man attack. I would like to say at this point, though, that Wenger is often over credited in ‘transforming’ Henry into a prolific scorer. Henry actually played as a striker under Wenger at Monaco.

With Henry’s ability you also have a humble attitude to football and an inspiration on the pitch – see again the recent Sparta game where he was introduced after a six week lay off and was immediately at the travelling Arsenal fans, encouraging them. It’s often stated that strikers don’t make good captains, but when the ‘striker’ in question is such a talisman and role model, then what better choice?

To my mind Henry is the greatest Arsenal player I have had the privilege to witness in my lifetime, but cannot be claimed to be the greatest ever Arsenal player. In a wider aspect, the only strikers who I’ve seen at that level are Romario, pre-injury Ronaldo, and the modern day Shevchenko.

Thierry Henry, I salute thee.

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