The return of that smug prick Thierry Henry might be just what the doctor ordered to make Sunday’s game more like the fiery encounters we used to enjoy. Whilst the Arsenal official site claims this match will be “epic” and one of the biggest games on the clubs’ calendars, I can’t help but think they’re living in the past. This game hasn’t been a biggie for years. Arsenal don’t win anything and they don’t pose a serious threat to us winning the title, so why would we care any more? Don’t get me wrong, I do enjoy beating them more than most clubs, mainly because of their fans, who no longer have any right to be as arrogant as they are, but I’d rather see us beat Chelsea, Liverpool or City.
Gone are the days when you could expect a fight, whether that be on the pitch or in the tunnel, with characters like Keane, Vieira, Ruud, Cole, Neville, Lauren etc. no longer proudly donning our shirts. Arsenal are more like Reyes than they are Vieira these days, namby pamby no marks who just don’t have the bottle for the title or success. Would the Arsenal of old have lost to Birmingham in the League Cup final? Would they fuck. I hated that team because they were as brilliant as they were egotistical and like United, had the determined spirit to go and get games won. They had bags full of confidence and self-belief which made them incredibly annoying and incredibly tricky to beat.
I look at United’s current squad and whilst in actual fact 2006-2007 was the last time we had amounted more points on 21 games than we have this season, we hardly have the players we used to who’d be up for a scrap or be capable of blowing every other team away to win the title. But however far away United are from their best ever squads, it’s nothing like the difference between this current Arsenal team and the one that went unbeaten. That doesn’t mean Sunday will be a walk in the park, obviously not, they do have players who can cause damage and a one off result means little. I’m sure no Arsenal fan would argue that Swansea, Fulham, Blackburn or Liverpool were better teams than them, even though all of them have got three points against them this season. But their fans do have to seriously contemplate the fact they probably won’t be playing any Champions League football next season, illustrating just how far their expectations have shifted.
Looking back, the 6-1 victory over Arsenal probably ranks as my favourite in recent years, with United going 16 points clear of them with three months of the season left to go back in 2001. The 3-1 victory over them in the Champions League semi-final was also great, with us ripping them apart and giving them a lesson on impressive attacking football.
However, when you think of great games between the two clubs it’s hard to look past that 4-2 at Highbury. Both clubs had been displaced from the top spot by Chelsea, who looked as though they were going to dominate English football indefinitely at the time, leaving us two to battle it out for 2nd place. This game though was like a film. In fact, if it was a film, you’d roll your eyes at the plot.
It started with our captain charging down the tunnel after Arsenal’s captain. At that point, nobody really knew what had gone on, although Roy was gibbering on about Gary Neville. “I’ll see you out there!” he said, pointing at Vieira over the referee’s shoulder. He meant business.
It was Vieira who struck first though, putting Arsenal 1-0 up with less than ten minutes played. Ryan Giggs levelled the score ten minutes later, only for Dennis Bergkamp to put them 2-1 up before half-time. After the restart, Cristiano Ronaldo, who was still referred to as a “one trick pony” back then, scored two goals in four minutes and we were ahead. He held his finger to his lips, incensing the home crowd, and United looked good for the points. Then, with 20 minutes to go, Mikael Silvestre only went and bloody headbutted Freddie Ljungberg! “I have seen it but I can’t believe it,” said Ferguson after the game. “Mikael has such an impeccable disciplinary record.” That was the first and last red card of his career, and what a way to get it.
United replaced Ronaldo with Brown, Giggs with Saha, and looked to cling on to the 3 points with ten men for twenty minutes away from home. A draw wouldn’t have been the end of the world but if Arsenal equalised quickly, we would have then been left fighting not to lose.
Then, without warning, something magical happened. It wasn’t Henry or Rooney, it wasn’t Bergkamp or Scholes, it was John O’Shea. Yes, there he was, shock all across his face, eyes out on stalks, after putting away the most delightful chip to secure our 4-2 win. God bless him.
Beating them 8-2 this season felt a fraction as good as that result in 2005 did. I was laughing by the end of that game, thoroughly enjoying the pain they must be feeling as yet another goal was scored, but the rivalry between the clubs is nothing like it was. Beating Arsenal 8-2 was better than doing the same to Bolton but there is nothing like the intensity of feelings between the clubs now. I hated that Arsenal team. Pires, Henry, Bergkamp, Ljunberg, Cole, Lauren, Campbell, Lehmann, Keown, Reyes, Vieira… I hated them. Now? I’m fairly indifferent. Wilshere is a bit of a cock, Van Persie can punish you, but I’m not going to get too worked up about any of their players and that’s why the 8-2 didn’t feel like it would have a few years ago.
So, just as you start to prepare for another less than special “clash” between the two clubs, Henry signs for them again! What a fantastic way to add a bit of spice to the occasion. He scored 8 goals in 14 league games against us during his first stint at Arsenal, some of those incredibly painful to even think about, let alone watch again. Remember that ridiculous goal he scored against us in 2000 from outside the box, flicking the ball up with his first touch then lobbing the keeper with his second? Or that injury time winner in 2007 after we had been winning the game with ten minutes to go? Agony.
I hated Henry whilst he was at Arsenal but he’s managed to intensify that feeling since he left.
“At one point it crossed my mind to leave,” he said in the summer of 2006. “But I think with my heart and my heart told me to stay. I’ve never played in Spain and never will. This is my last contract.”
The following summer he was parading around the Nou Camp in a Barcelona shirt. “It has been a long chase but I’m finally here and happy to be here and I can’t wait to go out there and show what I can do,” he said. “It is incredible. I am looking forward to playing in the Camp Nou and helping the team in every way I can. Barcelona are a wonderful club steeped in tradition and play beautiful football. I’m sure I will be very happy here.”
He has of course reverted to the sentiments of his 2006 statement now though, claiming to have the club in his heart, being a fan, loving Arsenal etc. Like Cantona, Solskjaer, Giggs, Scholes, Neville, to name a few, Henry had the option of seeing out his career at Arsenal. He chose not to do that though, he chose to leave, yet whenever he’s given the opportunity, bleats on about his bond with Arsenal. What a load of bollocks. They give him an awful statue to celebrate the eight seasons and two league titles he won, he has a little cry about it, and here he is, back playing for the club he “supports”.
No need to feel indifferent about Sunday any more though because now you get to eagerly await one of our lads putting in a crunching tackle or Henry miskicking the ball and putting it out for a throw. You also get to feel sick in your stomach every time he gets on the ball in the box, dreading the thought of him sticking it in our net just one last time.
So, welcome back Henry, you twat, I’ve really missed hating you.