It’s been an extremely good week for The Arsenal, with two 4-1 victories and a favourable Champions League draw providing exactly the kind of boost to morale required as we head into the busy festive period, which kicks off with a visit to Anfield this Sunday.
The first of our 4-1 victories came in Istanbul, with a comprehensive win over Galatasaray. Both Podolski and Ramsey bagged a brace, with the German’s first (a thunderbolt strike from an acute angle at the near post) and the Welshman’s second (an outrageously sweet volley from 30 yards) staking their claim for goal of the season. The comfortable nature of proceedings also allowed Arsene to make some youthful changes, with the introductions of Zelalem, Maitland-Niles, and O’Connor which was also great to see.
So a positive end to the group stage, albeit not enough to secure top spot. However, top spot has proven to be irrelevant on this occasion as a favourable draw (for once) has seen us handed a tie against AS Monaco. Of course the French side must be respected, not taken for granted, etc. But when you consider the level of opposition we could have been drawn against (Madrid, Barcelona, and Bayern) and when you consider that group winners Chelsea and Dortmund have drawn PSG and Juventus respectively, then you have to be pretty pleased.
People say to be the best you have to beat the best, but why do you have to beat them now? At this stage of the competition I’d much rather be facing Monaco; the big guns can wait a little longer. And who knows, what if we beat Monaco and then draw and beat the winner of the Basel vs. Porto tie? All of a sudden you’re in a Champions League semi-final, without having met any of the true European giants, dreaming of what might be. I know that scenario involves a lot of ifs, buts, and maybes, and I’m in no way saying “oh my God, we’ve drawn Monaco so we’re going to win the Champions League!”. But after years of difficult draws and early exits it’s nice to being feeling positive and optimistic about the knock-out stages of the Champions League.
Our second 4-1 of the week came at home to Newcastle, with another set of braces – this time bagged by Giroud and Cazorla. I didn’t get to see the game in its entirety as I was away for the weekend, but from what I saw it looked an impressive performance and it was important to get back to winning ways in the league after our disappointment at Stoke.
I particularly liked the look of the front three of Giroud, Alexis, and Welbeck. Giroud is a key component of our attack, holding the ball up and linking so effectively with others. Any issues with Giroud last season seemed to be related to fatigue (due to overuse) and lack of runners (following the injuries to Theo and Ramsey). But having spent most of this season injured and with Alexis and Welbeck now flanking him, neither fatigue nor isolation appears to be an issue. It’s still early days, but the signs are encouraging.
Other positives include the return of Debuchy this week, the performances of Oxlade-Chamberlain (especially in a central role), and Bellerin starting to find his feet. While on the flip side, the news of Ramsey’s injury, just as he appeared back to his best, and the ongoing concerns with Koscielny’s Achilles are a blow. From a Koscielny perspective, let’s just hope we can muddle our way through to January when reinforcements must be made!
Finally for today, a few words for the legend that is Thierry Henry. Yesterday he announced his retirement from playing football and confirmed he will be returning to London to take up a role in the Sky Sports studio. I feel truly blessed and honoured to have watched every one of Thierry’s home games in an Arsenal shirt, plus so many on the road too.
He is not only an Arsenal great but a football great. His two league titles and three FA Cup winner’s medals with The Arsenal sit alongside league and cup medals from France (with Monaco), league and Champions League medals from Spain (with Barcelona), not to mention the small matters of the World Cup, the European Championships, and the Confederations Cup at international level with France. And all this whilst scoring phenomenal goals, at a rate of one every other game, plus a lifetime worth of assists.
But for us, and for Thierry, he will always be Arsenal. Favourite goals that spring to mind include the volley over Barthez against United, his solo efforts against Sp*rs and Real Madrid, and the back-heel against Charlton to name but a few. But his hat-trick against Liverpool and his four against Leeds (both at Highbury) during the unbeaten season are without doubt his stand-out performances in an Arsenal shirt for me. For his fourth against Leeds I love how Gary Kelly tried to foul him, but how Thierry (despite falling to the turf) still managed to stretch out a leg and guide the ball into the net. He was, quite simply, unstoppable.
His stand out season will always be 2003/04, the year of The Invincibles. That season Zidane was voted World Player of the Year and Nedved European Player of Year. As extraordinarily talented as those two players were, especially Zidane, neither was a patch on Thierry at that time and to this day I still can’t believe he didn’t receive the world recognition his talents deserved. But we knew we had a very special player in our ranks and Highbury was often treated to a chorus of “We’ve got the best player in the world” and “Thierry Henry, Thierry Henry…”.
One of the greatest players in our club’s rich history – our record goal scorer. So many fantastic memories. And a statue of bronze outside The New Home of Football in his honour. Thank you, Thierry.