My Thierry Henry Mea Culpa

I sit here in a hotel room in Rocklin, CA - a brown and barren place accurately described by my boss as looking like Tatooine from Star Wars. The journey here sadly coincided with Arsenal's home FA Cup tie against Leeds United, the talking points of which have already been rightly discussed to death in the last few days. Why then do I add my belated voice to the chorus?

A fair question, that.

Here's the thing - it is the realm (and arguably the responsibility) of a blogger to hold strong opinions and express them in an entertaining enough fashion that people want to read it. Sometimes, those opinions will be controversial or unpopular. Other times, it will spring from emotion and a knee-jerk reaction to events in the topic at hand.

Back on December 28th, I wrote a piece entitled "Let the Past Stay in the Past", which I concluded as follows:
This season has felt like it's been one crossroads moment after another, and yet this transfer window may be the most crucial of the lot. Our identity, our place in the hierarchy of the league, our cachet with future transfer targets...all of it is at stake. If the manager's big idea is a left back whose last encounter with us saw him responsible for three goals conceded and a striker who with all due respect is a museum piece at this point, then I fear we may find ourselves bringing a knife to a gunfight as the season approaches the serious bit.
I don't regret writing those words - it was an accurate representation of my thoughts at the time, and my feeling that additional bodies need to come through the Arrivals gate of Heathrow still remains.

However, there is nothing easier for a blogger than to cherry-pick their greatest prognostications and trumpet them to the heavens as evidence of their great genius. It is inversely just as difficult for the same blogger to hold their hands up and admit their moments of failure.

In this case, I was wrong. Dreadfully, horribly wrong.

Don't get any crazy ideas, now - all of our problems are not solved, we're certainly not title-chasers because Thierry Henry scored one goal against second-tier opponents. Wins and results and trophies are all inexorably important, and nothing will change that.

Sometimes you have to take a step back and wonder what you're in this for, though. I don't want to travel the same treacle-thick sentimentality that the better corners of Fleet Street have produced in reaction. You can get diabetes reading some of that. But, at some level, they aren't wrong, either.

The moments that stick with us and have the greatest meaning are rarely unblemished in their perfection. I will take Landon Donovan's game-winner against Algeria at the last World Cup to my grave, but ultimately it was just the prelude to a punchless loss against a Ghana side that they frankly should have beaten. At my own humble 7-a-side level, the championship I'm proudest of had a final that finished 1-1 and went to penalties - their goal is perhaps the single worst I've conceded and I didn't actually save any of the spot-kicks (they hit the bar twice).

This is no movie - we're not going to see Henry parading a shiny metal thing around Ashburton Grove at the end of the season. To that, I would ask why must that be our only focus?

Long-time readers of this blog know that no club inspires visceral hatred in me quite like Barcelona. It's not just their galling conduct in the Cesc Fabregas saga, or their endless supply of cash, or even their rank arrogance in the way they carry themselves. Believe it or not, their off-pitch antics contribute far less to my river of bile than how they play the game on it.

In one sense, what they've contributed to our knowledge of what is possible in team play has been invaluable - like a high-powered telescope probing the edges of the known universe, the Catalans represent our best guess as to the game's ceiling. I just don't know how anyone can watch it. They are soulless and joyless in their perfection. Except for the too-rare wobble, they are metronomic in their predictability. If you were to replay this season 100 times in Football Manager, there would be precious little variation in their results, personnel or the sheer amount of desire I would have to beat Xavi about the head and shoulders with a cricket bat.

In a world embodied by Barcelona, Ivan Drago knocks Rocky out, the high seeds always survive to the Final Four in March Madness, the girl miles out of your league always tells you to sod off.

How crushingly dull.

There are two things that filled me with the most joy when watching the highlight of the goal. First, I imagined what the reaction must have been like at the Blind Pig when Henry's slide-rule shot beat Andrew Lonergan in the Leeds goal. My mind's eye watches with jealousy and longing as I see friends, acquaintances and merely familiar faces jumping in full-throated joy...a wave of sound that wordlessly exclaims "Holy shit, that just happened!" I can't tell you how much I regret not being part of that...I can only wish that this business trip happened at some other time.

Second, it was so deliriously unpredictable. The Premier League annals are filled to the brim with tales of desperate sides turning to faded heroes in order to turn their seasons around. The overwhelming majority of these yarns end not with a Roy of the Rovers flourish, but with the faded thud of inevitable failure.

This one? This one ends with Thierry Henry pounding his chest in adrenalized fury and an FA Cup win that his red-clad compatriots hardly deserved. One last time, Henry single-handedly decided the result of a game of football.

For that alone, this transfer was worth it. We may finish outside the top four, and/or behind our nearest and dearest at season's end. Perhaps AC Milan embarrasses us in the Champions' League, and we tamely go out to the worst Aston Villa side in living memory in the next round of the FA Cup. Unlike the Spanish champions, all things are possible in our world. The flip side of that is that in our world, all things are indeed the second-greatest attacking player in our history (Praise be Bergkamp's Name) coming back and scoring a goal that maybe...just fucking maybe...might be the fillip our season needs.

Early on in the first Henry piece, I wrote: "Necromancy never ends well." Perhaps it doesn't, but this goal reminded me that sometimes Chaos does.