Thierry Henry marked his return to Arsenal, where he scored a club-record 226 goals before leaving for Barcelona in 2007, by grabbing the winner in an F.A. Cup match against Leeds.
Arsenal won 1-0 at the Emirates Stadium in north London last night to set up a fourth-round home meeting with Premier League rival Aston Villa. Henry joined the game as a second-half substitute and scored in the corner of the net after collecting Alex Song’s pass in the 78th minute.
“I never thought I was going to play for Arsenal again or score a winner,” Henry told broadcaster ESPN. “I hope it won’t be the last one. The feeling I had when I scored was amazing.”
Henry, 34, rejoined Arsenal four days ago on a two-month loan from the New York Red Bulls. He moved to the Major League Soccer team in July 2010 after three years with Barcelona, where he scored 49 goals in 121 league appearances. He was third in MLS with 16 goals last season.
Henry was brought in to provide coverage for strikers Gervinho and Marouane Chamakh, who will shortly leave for the Africa Cup of Nations, which runs Jan. 21 to Feb. 12 in Gabon and Equatorial Guinea.
Henry was loudly welcomed onto the field by Arsenal fans with 22 minutes remaining in last night’s game and the stadium erupted 10 minutes later when he slid the ball past Leeds goalkeeper Andy Lonergen for the goal. Henry was engulfed by teammates before running to embrace manager Arsene Wenger.
“You could see Thierry brought his class but also how much it means to him to come on and make the difference,” Wenger told ESPN. “When he gets in these kind of positions, we’ve seen it so many times, him finishing at the right moment. It looks easy, but it’s not.”
Henry joined Arsenal in August 1999 after seven months with Juventus in Italy. He won the Premier League twice as a Gunner and the F.A. Cup three times, including the last time Wenger’s team won a trophy in 2005.
During his time in Spain, Barcelona won trophies including the European Champions League, two Spanish league titles and the FIFA Club World Cup.
A member of France’s World Cup-winning squad in 1998, Henry scored 51 goals in 123 appearances for his country and also was part of the European Championship-winning team in 2000.
Henry scored twice against Sparta Prague in October 2005 on his return from a month-long layoff with a groin injury to surpass Ian Wright’s Arsenal record of 185 goals.
Since Henry’s departure from north London, the top striker’s role has been taken on by captain Robin van Persie, who didn’t play against Leeds. The Dutchman leads the Premier League with 17 goals this season and scored 35 in 2011, one shy of the league mark set by Alan Shearer in 1995.
During Henry’s stay, Arsenal is scheduled to play AC Milan in the Champions League, European soccer’s elite competition, as well as Premier League champion Manchester United.
“I love the club and I hope I can do more,” Henry said. “Now I know how some of the guys who played for Liverpool or Man United or Chelsea felt when they scored a goal for the club they support.”