Sunday 18 February 2018

Thrilling fling may not be end of Henry Gunners love affair

Sunderland 1 Arsenal 2

Luke Edwards

It is always hard to say no to your one true love and Thierry Henry has pledged to come running back to Arsenal for as long as they still want him.

His stoppage-time winner at the Stadium of Light was his 176th Premier League goal and supposedly his last for the club, but Arsenal remain infatuated with him and he with them.

He will be 35 in August, but his two-month loan move from New York Red Bulls has stirred up old passions. Nobody has promised anything, but Henry is fit enough and good enough to come back and few believe his return to America later this week will be anything more than a temporary separation.

"Always I say, it's kind of difficult for me to say no," said Henry after stretching his club record to 229 goals in 375 appearances. "If they need some help one day, I'll be around.

"It was so emotional. I knew when the final whistle blew that this was my last game in the Premier League, but I guess you can never say never.

"I never thought I was going to come back and play for Arsenal. Who knows if I can say that this was definitely the end? It could be different. Who knows? When it comes to Arsenal I am always emotional."

The Frenchman has been in other relationships -- those formative lustful years at Monaco, an unhappy dalliance in Italy with Juventus and then eight blissful years in north London. He was briefly bedazzled by Barcelona and continues to flirt with New York, but Henry's heart belongs to Arsenal. However, he will have to spend Valentine's Day away from his beloved Gunners, leaving the cards with cheesy lines, the box of chocolates, the overpriced flowers and the candlelit dinner to the rest of us.

Henry, who was applauded on to and off the pitch by Sunderland's supporters -- despite the fact he condemned them to a first home defeat under Martin O'Neill -- again showed his love for Arsenal with a goal and a victory that lifted Arsene Wenger's side back into the Champions League qualification places.

"It has always been a pleasure to come here to Sunderland," added Henry, who will play against AC Milan in midweek before flying back across the Atlantic.

"When I was warming up, the fans near me started clapping. I have always found this a very special place to play football.

"It was a fantastic atmosphere and overall it was so special for me. It really was magical. Looking at the results, everything seemed to go our way and now people need to keep on going and make sure we stay where we are."

The most likely scenario for Henry's return would be another loan move during the Major League Soccer off-season. He has enjoyed his two seasons in New York and has a contract with the Red Bulls until 2014, but Wenger talked about seeing what may happen at the end of the season when asked whether he will try and re-sign him.

"It is a difficult question to answer (if he'll be brought back again)," said Wenger. "I didn't think I would bring him back at all, but when he asked if he could do some fitness work, I realised he is still all there, especially the appetite.

"He is a happy boy, he is intelligent, he has the respect of players because he has done it all before, so they listen to his advice. He gives a lot of positives.

"We had gone through a crisis when he came, but he came in and the spirit in the camp was raised."

Arsenal appeared to be heading for another away defeat when Per Mertesacker -- lucky not to concede a penalty in the first half for handball -- fell with an ankle injury as he attempted to control the ball and James McClean took advantage to fire home.

Aaron Ramsey equalised, but the day, as so many have done before, belonged to Henry, on for Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain. The Frenchman got in between Sunderland's centre-backs to prod in Andrey Arshavin's excellent cross.

"Thierry is one of the greats, without question," said O'Neill. "To me he is one of the top five who have played since the Premier League began.

"He is 34 now, but didn't Ryan Giggs just sign a new one-year contract? And look at Scholes -- you wouldn't be surprised if he comes back (should he retire) again." (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Irish Independent

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