Thierry Henry's first goal for Arsenal

Thierry Henry celebrates scoring a goal for Arsenal

When Ian Wright became Arsenal’s all time top scorer in 1997, he probably expected to hold on to the title for more than eight years. During Thierry Henry’s first couple of months with Arsenal, it’s highly unlikely Wright, or anyone else, would have predicted that he’d be the one to overtake him. Wright’s record was of course not just beaten, but obliterated. Henry finished his Arsenal career with 228 goals - 43 ahead of Wright.

The first of those 228 didn’t come until his eighth appearance, against Southampton on 18th September 1999 (Wright's first league goals came against Southampton too, as did Dennis Bergkamp's). By this time pundits and Arsenal fans alike were unsure what to make of this young World Cup winner. Henry appeared to have the skill, technique and athleticism required to succeed in an Arsene Wenger team; everything in fact, apart from the ability to put the ball in the back of the net. The fact that Henry had failed to provide an assist in his opening seven appearances must also have been troubling Wenger.

Despite Henry playing most of his career out on the wing, Wenger felt sure his new signing’s best position would be as a centre-forward. Henry himself needed convincing - especially after missing numerous decent chances in his first seven games.

Arsenal had lost Nicolas Anelka to Real Madrid during the summer, but despite his pedigree, Henry was by no means a certain starter. Kanu, Dennis Bergkamp and Davor Suker were strong competition for a striking position. Henry made his debut in a substitute appearance against Leicester on the first day of the season. He then started the next five games - but after drawing a blank, was back to the bench for the game against Aston Villa (from where he watched Suker get off the mark with his first two goals for Arsenal), and then again for the visit to The Dell.
By the standards Wenger had set, Arsenal had a distinctly average start to the 99/00 season and had already lost to Manchester United and Liverpool. Southampton proved to be tough opposition and with the Gunners looking tired after a mid-week trip to Fiorentina in the Champions League, the game was locked at 0-0 going into the last twenty minutes.

Henry came off the bench for Kanu in the 71st minute and within eight minutes had his first goal for Arsenal. Pundits are fond of saying that a striker on a bad run needs one to go in off his knee, or some other good fortune. As Philippe Auclair put it in his excellent biography Thierry Henry: Lonely at the Top’: “All Thierry needed was a stroke of luck, an opponent's mistake, a flash of genius. It was the latter.”
Receiving the ball from Tony Adams’ pass with his back to goal, and twenty yards out, Henry took two perfect touches to hold off the defender and create enough space for the shot - then thumped a powerful curling shot past Paul Jones in the Saints’ goal.

While there was relief all round - both at getting the three points and Henry breaking his duck - surely no-one anticipated Henry’s eventual impact. The same weekend that Henry made his first step towards becoming an Arsenal and Premier League legend, Alan Shearer was scoring five goals for Newcastle United as they beat Sheffield Wednesday 8-0 in Bobby Robson’s first game in charge, which understandably stole the headlines.

Despite his slow start to the season, Henry would end up as Arsenal’s top scorer - with nineteen Premier League goals. As we now know, that was just the beginning.

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