LONDON — Thierry Henry will be making an emotional return to the club he called his own for more than eight years this weekend to play in the Emirates Cup. It is only the New York Red Bulls captain’s second trip back to play his former club, English Premier League side Arsenal FC, since leaving for FC Barcelona in 2007.
The Red Bulls go toe-to-toe with Henry’s hometown club, Paris Saint-Germain, on Saturday (MSG+, 9 am ET) before playing the Gunners on Sunday (FOX Soccer, 11 am ET).
“It is very emotional,” Henry said at a press conference on Friday. “It is coming back home for me. Everyone knows the love I have for the club. Whenever I come back here I always get goose bumps. I went out on the field earlier and it was kind of weird, I won’t lie. It is going to be pretty emotional. Every time I come back here it’s the same.”
Henry has hit a rich vein of form leading up to New York’s trip to London, scoring a breathtaking 85th-minute equalizer late last Saturday against FC Dallas, a curling 25-yarder to give his team their second goal of the game.
But Arsenal fans are certainly no strangers to spectacular strikes from Henry. He is the club’s all-time leading goal scorer with 226 goals in 380 appearances. When it comes to picking their favorite, they are spoiled for choice.
“My favorite memory of him was the goal he scored against Man. United [in October, 2000],” Arsenal fan and Norwegian native Lars Neilsen said. “When he flicked it up and volleyed it into the top corner, that was just incredible.”
“My favorite goal that he scored was probably the one against Tottenham [in November 2002]. He got the ball on the halfway line and ran through half the team,” lifelong Arsenal fan Hamilton Butcher countered. “It is not easy to become a god somewhere. That’s what he is here.”
Coupled with Henry’s sublime ability to score extraordinary goals is a tremendous will to win that has seemingly not abated. The striker is proving to be lethal this season in MLS, leading the league scoring charts with 11 goals. Still, the challenge of taking on two of Europe’s most illustrious clubs is not one to be taken lightly.
“Hopefully we can have a good couple of games," he said. "We all know it is going to be a difficult one on Sunday against Arsenal, but we will try our best. It is a big pitch, Arsenal will keep the ball well and we are going to have to chase all the time.”
Henry’s former manager and mentor at Arsenal, Arsène Wenger, was certainly pleased to be welcoming Henry back to the club where they earned two Premier League titles together and reached the finals of the 2006 UEFA Champions League.
“He is a guy who always liked the States,” Wenger said of his former star. “If he can help soccer to be developed in the States then it will be a fantastic. He looked very happy when I had a few words with him [Friday]. He is a very intelligent boy. It is not easy to go to a different culture, to a different type of soccer. He looks very happy at New York.”
The Red Bulls’ trip to London will go some ways to developing the profile of the game of soccer in the United States, and it will go even farther if they can do well in such a high-profile event. In addition to New York’s two opponents, the Emirates Cup will also feature Argentine giants Boca Juniors.
“We are representing the MLS,” Henry said. “We want to have a good game and show the quality we have in our league.”
But in addition to showcasing MLS’ quality, the trip may also prove the last chance the Frenchman has to give his adoring fans at Arsenal the opportunity to see him play in person. But it may not be the last time Henry finds himself at Emirates Stadium wearing a uniform.
“Everyone knows that one day I would love to come back here,” the former Gunners captain said. “As a player, I doubt it. But I would love to be part of the club again one day.”
You can follow Joe Prince-Wright on Twitter on @JPW8