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Iconic Performances: Peak Henry inspires Arsenal to Liverpool comeback

Arsenal achieved immortality during the course of the 2003/04 season, their title-winning side becoming the Invincibles after completing an entire Premier League campaign without defeat.

Ask many of those associated with the Gunners and they would not change that historic campaign for the world, their rewriting of history providing a greater source of pride than the European honours that have eluded the North Londoners.

 

Definitively deciding the Premier League’s greatest ever team is difficult, with football forever changing and conclusive comparisons between differing generations hard to make.

Arsenal’s unbeaten side maintain a unique claim to the title.

Completing an entire season without defeat had not been achieved in England’s top division for over a century, not since Preston North End achieved the feat over 27 games during the 1888/89 campaign.

In the modern era it had been deemed almost impossible, but Arsenal overcame obstacles and challenges to etch their name in footballing folklore.

At the centre of their success was Thierry Henry.

Henry’s time with Arsenal saw the forward forge a reputation as the Premier League’s leading light, a quintessentially modern forward who changed perceptions on how the role should look.

Henry at his best had few equals, and none within English football.

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He brought panache to the Premier League, both with his aesthetic and his outrageous ability. His trademark high socks, blistering pace and unerring coolness around goal saw him become the division’s defining footballer during the early part of the century, a status he perhaps retains long after his departure.

The Frenchman was crucial to Arsenal’s crusade towards immortality, finishing as the league’s leading scorer with 30 goals.

His campaign included no shortage of vintage moments, but his most iconic individual showing came with the Gunners’ unbeaten record in genuine jeopardy.

Liverpool were the visitors to Highbury in the club’s 31st league fixture of the season, the destination of the title by then in little doubt as Arsenal opened up a sizeable advantage at the top.

Arsene Wenger’s side had seen their season threaten to unravel, however, with their previous two fixtures having seen the Gunners exit both the Champions League and FA Cup in disappointing fashion.

Their aura somewhat removed, it was Liverpool who took an early lead in the capital as Sami Hyypia headed home from close range inside five minutes.

Harry Kewell’s deep corner had been headed back across the area by an unmarked Steven Gerrard, with the towering frame of Hyypia stooping low to poach an opening goal.

Arsenal were stunned, but regrouped to find a leveller just after the half hour. Robert Pires lifted a ball over the Reds’ backline, with Henry having freed himself of Hyypia’s attentions.

One flawless first touch brought the ball under instant control, before a second saw Henry guide a left-footed finish past Jerzy Dudek to restore parity.

Arsenal’s anxiety had been eased, but three minutes before the break the Gunners fell behind for a second time. Gerrard was afforded space to pick a pass, and fired a through ball down the channel for Michael Owen to chase.

Owen’s darting run saw him escape England teammate Sol Campbell, with the forward rolling home a second for Liverpool who headed into the half-time break ahead.

“We were 2-1 down against Liverpool. And I felt the stadium stopped breathing. We were having such a great season, people were talking about the treble. And in a week we nearly lost everything.

“There was no noise, it was silence. I was in the dressing room, listening, but not there. I was just waiting for the referee to blow his whistle and call us back onto the field. I was just waiting for that second half.”

– Thierry Henry

In need of inspiration, it was a familiar source who came to the fore for the Gunners.

Two goals in two minutes transformed the complexion of the clash and it was Henry who was involved in both.

Drifting wide and deep in search of possession, he combined with Freddie Ljungberg to set up Robert Pires for an equaliser just four minutes into the second period.

Then, just a minute later, came the latest in Henry’s catalogue of sensational goals as he took matters into his own hands with a moment of individual genius.

Receiving possession just inside the Liverpool half, he set off on a dazzling run into enemy territory, leaving both Hamann and Jamie Carragher trailing in his wake before providing a finishing touch of class to his brilliant burst into the box.

The fourteen emblazoned on his back became a blur as he drove and danced beyond the Liverpool backline, shrugging off the challenge of Hamann before embarrassing Carragher inside the area.

Henry’s mere presence often created apprehension and Liverpool’s backline back-peddled in fear as the Frenchman glided through the gears at an unstoppable speed.

The finish, as ever, was ice-cold, as Highbury erupted in witness of a goalscoring genius adding to his own legend.

Henry’s goal was wrapped in individuality and importance, a scintillating solo goal as he took the game by the scruff of its neck.

“When I watch my goals, I never really get goose bumps, but with that one even watching it now, I do get goose bumps.”

Arsenal’s showing in the second half had been superb and there was still time for Henry to add to his haul, completing his hat-trick and putting the result beyond doubt.

Henry made the run, Dennis Bergkamp played the pass. The finish was fortuitous, but a slice of luck the Premier League’s finest footballer deserved after an iconic individual display.

Henry’s heroics had turned defeat into victory, another step on the club’s long road to footballing greatness. It was a result and performance that relaunched belief as Arsenal edged closer to the supposedly impossible.

The league title was secured at the home of North London rivals Tottenham three games later, with four further games completed without defeat – including a final day comeback against Leicester – crowning the Gunners as invincible.

Thirty eight Premier League games: 26 wins, 12 draws, zero defeats.

Arsenal’s unbeaten season was and remains a monumental feat, one which was part inspired by the brilliance of Thierry Henry. In their time of need and with Liverpool looking to ruin their record, he delivered one of his greatest performances and ensured history was created.

Read – Remembering Thierry Henry’s incredible season in 2002/03

Read Also – Iconic Performances: Arsenal legend Bergkamp scores THAT hat-trick at Leicester

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