The Return of The King

If someone had told me beforehand how things would have played out in the Arsenal v Leeds FA Cup tie yesterday, I'd have accused them of being overly optimistic, even sentimental. Because that's really only the sort of thing that happens in sports films, right?

The beloved figure, looking past his prime, returning to the club where he made himself a legend? Check. An encounter with an old rival? Check. A must-win scenario, the once-great player called upon to rescue his team one last time? Check. An immaculate goal that sends the crowd and players into euphoric frenzy? You better believe that's a Check. That's a Check like Tom Rosicky is a Czech.

For the match itself, I was surprised to see Arsenal fielding such a strong lineup to start; Gervinho having gone to bless the rains down in Africa, we started Arshavin on the left and The Ox was given a rare start on the right. Theo began on the bench, next to his idol, and Robin van Persie was given a well-deserved night off with Chamakh taking his place. Otherwise, the only other change from the strongest available side was Squillaci for Mertesacker.

As it turned out, we needed a strong side, so difficult to break down were Leeds. Arsenal dominated possession (not exactly shocking), but despite a number of chances in the first half were unable to find the breakthrough. It was dismaying, largely because of the players' unwillingness to shoot when we got the ball in the box. Chamberlain and Ramsey seemed be the only ones unafraid to have a go, while everyone else, once they had the ball in scoring range, seemed to be looking for Robin to pass to. Leeds rarely threatened at all, and the match remained scoreless at the half.

The biggest event of the first half was a negative for Arsenal, when promising young midfielder Francis Coquelin, deputizing at right fullback on the night, pulled up lame with what appeared to be a hamstring injury with just a half hour gone. The even younger (and more untested) Nico Yennaris replaced him, and played fairly well, I thought. Otherwise, while Arsenal were bossing the game, the players were certainly far too casual, sloppy even, in their passing and possession. Arshavin didn't look as lethargic or hopeless as he has otherwise this season, and The Ox was the most direct and exciting player on the pitch in the first half, in my opinion.

However, it felt that in the absence of van Persie, Arsenal had fielded a cigar store indian. Marouane Chamakh's form has completely deserted him, and he is so bereft of confidence that when he gets the ball, his first instinct seems to be to get it away from himself out of fear that he'll botch the job... and one thinks that one will fail, one inevitably does. I don't want to spend any more time than I have to on the state of Chamakh; we know where he stands for us and how poor he's been, and harping on about it solves nothing. We can only hope to find a buyer for him this month and ship him out, for his sake and for Arsenal's.

The second half began much the same way as the first, with Arsenal in control despite carelessness, yet unable to make anything happen in the final third. Arshavin continued to look dangerous, and Chamberlain's slashing runs into the box looked like he just needed a bit more time and a goal would come of it. Sadly for the youngster, that time was fleeting. The crowd roared to life when Arsene Wenger had Arsenal's all-time leading goalscorer, in his first appearance in an Arsenal kit in five years, warm up to come on. In the 68th minute the legend himself, the King of Highbury, Thierry Henry, came on for the struggling Chamakh:

henrycomeson by arsenalist

Seconds earlier, Theo had come on for Chamberlain, which I disagreed with at the time. Surely one of them can play on the left? In any event, we now had a front line of Arshavin, Walcott, and Henry. Arsenal was in a goalless draw with the 8th-placed side in the nPower Championship. If something was going to happen, it had to happen soon.

And then it did:

<a href='' target='_new' title='Thierry Henry makes his mark'>Video: Thierry Henry makes his mark</a>

A vintage goal by Titi. Makes the run in behind the defenders from the left (brilliant pass by Song, btw, who was otherwise not great), takes one touch to settle, another to side-foot it past the 'keeper to score inside the far post. C'est magnifique. If I'm honest, I don't recall the next few minutes after that ball went in, other than screaming and jumping up and down with the rest of the Gooners in the pub. Henry's celebration is what I imagine my own would be like if I were ever to score a goal for Arsenal. There was a sense of delirious happiness that accompanied that goal, and once Henry scored for us again, surreal as the whole thing seems even now, I felt sure the only outcome that day would be an Arsenal win.

As it turned out, there would be only that one goal on the day. Leeds had only one real chance on the night, which Szczesny handled without issue, and while Arsenal continued to press their advantage, a few opportunities went begging. In the end, everyone but the away support got what they wanted: An Henry goal, an Arsenal win, and plenty of shots of David Beckham in the crowd for the ladies at home. Also, I think I saw KD Lang in the stands, although it might have been Samir Nasri... tough to tell.

Henry's postmatch interview when he was named Man of the Match was simply fantastic as a fan, and did nothing to lessen the man-crush I've got on Thierry Henry. He just seems to be a genuine, likeable person, and that he is really an Arsenal Legend who is sincerely an Arsenal fan is evident from his words and his actions. Do give the video a look if you have a few minutes free.

Finally, to those Arsenal fans who seem incapable of enjoying Henry's second and final run with Arsenal because it's only for six weeks, please, please please lighten up. Yes, he will be gone in a month and a half, and no, we haven't signed anyone else yet. Because it's the 10th of January and no one else has either. One of the reasons I believe TH12 (still feels weird to write that) signed was to give us cover while Arsene looks at other options on the market. That's not to say he WILL sign anyone... No one else knows Arsene's mind but Arsene himself. And since it's only six weeks that we'll have him back for, you're really only hurting yourself by not enjoying the time he has with us.

Arsenal have drawn Aston Villa in the next round of the FA Cup, which, oddly, might be an easier match. It seems we have a harder time beating lower league opposition for whatever reason. It's a funny old game, this football. Back in the Premier League, we play away at Swansea on Sunday, so if anyone is attending the match, wear some kind of body armor. Those Welsh fans are not fucking around.

Ciao for now. COME ON YOU REDS!

Player ratings: SZCZ 6, Coquelin 6, Squillaci 6, Koscielny 7, Miquel 6, Song 6.5, Arteta 6.5, Ramsey 7, Arshavin 7, Chamakh 4 (And I do mean 4), Chamberlain 6.5.
Substitutes: Yennaris 6.5, Walcott 6, Henry 7.5
MAN OF THE MATCH: Who else? Thierry Henry.