He won't win Footballer of the Year this season, because of the shortcomings of those around him, but there can be no better player in the English game, nor more valuable to his team, than Thierry Henry.
Statistics bear it out. His hat-trick here took his Premiership tally for the season to 25, his total in all games to 30, and he has closed to within four goals of Ian Wright's Arsenal club record of 185. Not only that - he is, with Frank Lampard, the leading creator of goals in the division.
Figures tell not, however, of the grace, the skill and the industry. Norwich will, though. He teased and tormented them, ran to retrieve lost possession, linked the play, created and scored. After briefly nursing hope, Darren Huckerby having halved a two-goal deficit, City subsided predictably in the end to remain rooted to the bottom of the table. Henry, sorry Arsenal, are up to second on goal difference.
On a similarly somnolent, sunny Saturday back in 1992, on the opening day of the inaugural Premier League season, Norwich came to Highbury and won 4-2. They had just finished third in the old First Division.
How much has happened in the game since, how unthinkable this now seems. Norwich are inevitably heading back to what is now called the Championship - though with real hopes of a swift return because of the shrewd signing of Dean Ashton - while the champions, for a few more weeks at least, are renewing their efforts to claim the important runners-up spot for automatic Champions League qualification.
The contrast in current status was reflected in form. The stumbling and stuttering that has cost them the major prizes this season appear over and Arsenal went into the game with four wins from five games, while Norwich had lost four of their past five.
So too did the roll call highlight a gulf. In the absence of the injured Patrick Vieira and Dennis Bergkamp, Henry captained the Arsenal side, in which the Brazilian Gilberto returned to the midfield after six months out with a broken vertebra. Norwich were largely injury free. And still largely anonymous.
For all their recent improvement, in results at least, Arsenal still do not quite flow as of 12 months ago. Highbury grew frustrated and tetchy, indeed, at the sight of so many passes going astray in the opening 15 minutes, only the eager Henry punctuating the grumbles with a clever flick that sent in Jose Antonio Reyes for a shot that Robert Green turned round a post.
All that changed when Robert Pires cut in from the left past two defenders with some neat skill before finding Henry, scandalously left in space around the penalty spot, and he turned instantly before drilling a low shot into Green's left corner.
A second goal was not far behind. Reyes cut in from the right and found Lauren, unusually central, who ferried the ball on to Henry wide on the left. A shimmy took him past two defenders and suddenly Green was picking another low shot out of the same corner of his net.
Now it would surely be a Norfolk turkey shoot, Arsenal seeking to surpass their 4-1 win at Carrow Road earlier in the season. Instead Norwich tore up the script and pulled a goal back. Darren Huckerby's corner from the left was only half-cleared to Graham Stuart, whose mis-hit shot returned to Huckerby. This time, the former Manchester City man cut inside past Lauren and drove an excellent shot into Jens Lehmann's top left corner for his first goal in almost four months.
Normal service was resumed for the second half. Damien Francis cleared Freddie Ljungberg's clipped shot from the line and Green dived to save Cesc Fabregas's low shot, the substitute having replaced the injured Mathieu Flamini, after yet more good work by Henry.
In between these two chances, Arsenal had scored a third. Adam Drury was at fault on Norwich's left, enabling Lauren to get in a cross, and Ljungberg had the simple task at the far post of heading home.
Henry's hat-trick was, naturally, soon to follow. Reyes penetrated the Norwich box with a run in from the right and the ball broke for Henry to slide home from six yards. More might have followed, shots peppering the Norwich goal, but Arsenal and Henry were sated. That's the trouble with him - no ruthless streak.
Man of the Match
Thierry Henry Who else? There may come a time when it becomes a worry for Arsène Wenger that with his support and supply play, as well as his goals, Henry is so far advanced of his team-mates. For the moment, though, the manager must be grateful that Henry is almost single-handedly promising that Arsenal's season will end on a high.Topics
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