Thierry Henry Talks Arsenal And What It’s Like Seeing The Emirates Rocking Again

Thierry Henry is one of the greatest Premier League players ever, staking his claim as a club and country legend by winning the 1998 World Cup with France, winning the Premier League as part of Arsenal’s Invincibles, and joining Barcelona to win the 2009 UEFA Champions League. These days, Henry can be found working as a pundit breaking down the Champions League, and if you were lucky enough, he may have even joined you on your couch to share the experience of watching a match together.

To celebrate Lay’s partnership with the Champions League, Henry took part in the “No Lay’s, No Game” experience, where Henry returned to Barcelona and unexpectedly visited Barça fans at their homes to see if they were prepared for the game with Lay’s. If they were, he’d stay to watch the match. But if they didn’t, he’d leave to a new home in search of some chips.

“I’ll be honest, it brought me back to me being a fan because it made me ask myself, ‘How would you have reacted?’ When you’re an athlete or you work on TV, you just roll with it. I used to play, go home, sleep. You don’t think about the impact that you have on people. You know about it when you score a goal, we all love it, everyone jumps, we all are happy, pain, we all share it,” Henry tells Uproxx Sports.

But this experience — from laughing with a fan who couldn’t find Lay’s and instead brought two potatoes, to sharing an emotional moment with another who was brought to tears — reminded Henry how much he means to those who have spent their lives rooting for him.

“I realized the impact when you give people emotions, helping them as they’re going through stuff,” Henry says. “Sometimes you don’t even know it. I don’t know what I did that inspired someone. Maybe it is something that I said, the way I look, I don’t actually know.

“But then at that moment I was like, ‘Could that have been you?’ It was almost impossible to think if Michael Jordan knocked on my door to ask me if I have some water,” he continues. “I would’ve been like, ‘What are you doing here?’ I would’ve passed out. I was as surprised as they were because if I didn’t get that opportunity, sometimes you tend to forget. It’s not that you do it on purpose, but you live your life and you tend to forget.”

Henry’s work covering the Champions League doesn’t include the club for whom he ascended to global superstardom, Arsenal. But as the season progresses, it’s looking more likely by the week that the Gunners will finish in the Premier League’s top four for the first time since 2016, thereby earning a spot in Europe’s top club competition when next year rolls around.

That has been a revelation for Henry, who is enjoying the club’s return to form under his former teammate in North London, Mikel Arteta.

“As an Arsenal fan, what you want is, ‘Can I relate to my team?’ When I look at that team, I can, as a fan. I feel it. And then, are they competing? Yes, they’re competing,” Henry says. “Sometimes you might go against the better team, sometimes you might, you know, who’s gonna win it, but at least we are there. You compete. You go to the game with excitement. The Emirates is rocking again. Do we wanna win the league? Hell yeah. But first and foremost, I wanted that fight, that class, that competitiveness, that family, what we were. And now, it is back.”

Arsenal hired Arteta to fill its managerial vacancy in December of 2019. It marked the first time Arteta, who previously served as an assistant under Pep Guardiola at Manchester City, served as a club’s manager.

While Arteta has the club sitting atop the league and playing at a level not seen since Arsène Wenger was in charge, it wasn’t too long ago that there were serious questions about his ability to lead the Gunners to where they wanted to go. Entering the 2021-22 campaign, Arteta was the overwhelming favorite to be the first manager sacked in the Premier League. They started the year with three straight losses in the league, all of which came without Arsenal scoring a single goal.

But instead of shaking things up, the club stood behind its manager. It’s a decision that has paid off in a big way, and Henry can’t help but praise Arsenal for sticking by Arteta.

“(Arsenal’s return to being title challengers) took three years. This is why it’s important also to let a manager put whatever he needs to put in motion,” he says. “Because you can’t just arrive somewhere and then you need to change a squad, almost an entire squad and perform. It’s going to take a little while. You have young kids that need to develop. You need to bring the players that you like, get rid of the players that are not equipped to play the way you’d like to play or are not going to be good guys in a dressing room. Things that we don’t see, I think it’s important, but it takes three years and now we can judge Mikel Arteta. Is he the guy that can lead us to the title, where it’s not me saying, it’s not you saying, he’s saying it.

“So now, I know what I’m supporting,” he continues. “For a little while, I was just like, I know I was an Arsenal fan and I would die as an Arsenal fan, but I was missing the why — why, apart from you’ve got to, and I will always. But now I can stop with people and talk and I say, ‘Yeah, you know, we might not win it, but we are fighting’ and that for me is most important.”

Just past the midpoint in the season, Arsenal sits atop the Premier League amid a fierce battle with the two-time defending champions, Manchester City. Henry and I spoke one day after the Gunners hosted City at the Emirates Stadium, a 3-1 win for the champions that briefly put them atop the league. As of this writing, Arsenal has regained the top spot — they won their weekend fixture against Aston Villa, 4-2, while City drew Nottingham Forest, 1-1.

The promise of youth can bring the burden of inexperience. While two players in Arsenal’s squad have won the Premier League before, none of them have lifted it in the club’s shirt — summer signings Gabriel Jesus and Oleksandr Zinchenko have won it with City. Many of these young players haven’t been in a title race before, so if Henry were to give a piece of advice to the Gunners as they push toward the home stretch of the season, it would be to stay calm and relax.

“I’ve been there,” he says. “You’re going to, during the season, have bad games, and it didn’t happen for little while. Yeah, we lost against Man United. We had to draw and then everything was just like always good during the season. It’s not the case. You’re going to draw some games. You’re not going to win for a week or two weeks, it will happen. It’s not how you fall, it’s how you go back on your feet and how you stand after that.

“So, you lost against Man City. Is it shameful? No, it is not,” he continues. “Was it a decider? It might be. Everyone wanted to see if you could, you didn’t. Relax, relax. That doesn’t mean you’re going to now blow everything away and not keep the ship steady. You have to stay there. Just keep it at the end of the day, when you look at it, the level of points and defeat, not a lot. Yes, we still have a game in hand, but keep calm, keep calm, keep calm. Just believe in what you did since the beginning. Now it is a fight. It was always a fight. But now it is a proper fight.”

Arsenal’s resolve was tested at the weekend, when a 2-1 deficit away at Aston Villa was turned on its head. Zinchenko scored the goal to level things, while winter addition Jorginho — who, in recent years, has won the Champions League with Chelsea and the Euros with Italy — put a shot on target that bounced off of Villa goalkeeper Emiliano Martínez’s head and went in to give the Gunners a game-winning goal in stoppage time. One of the team’s precocious talents, Gabriel Martinelli, added a fourth to secure all three points.

It’s these moments, where the more seasoned players provide an assist, that Henry predicts will do Arsenal’s young stars good in the long run.

“A lot of people will give the advantage to City because they’ve been there, because they’ve done it, because they have guys in the team that did it and they know how to suffer, they know how to chase, they know how to be chased,” Henry says. “But I’ve seen Leicester win it and nobody in that team knew what it was. So you need to keep on dreaming. You need to keep on believing you. We have guys also in that team that won it — Jesus, Zinchenko. We have guys that won the title also before in the domestic league. Obviously not in the Prem, we know, but you’ve gotta believe in it, right? If you don’t win it, you won’t have the experience of winning it. You have to start one day, right? A lot of people (were) asking questions to City. They answered. Now people are going to ask questions about Arsenal. We have to answer.”

There are three months left in the season, and the Gunners have the best team in the world breathing down their necks. They’re not the only Manchester club with aspirations of lifting the title — an old foe of Arsenal’s, Manchester United, are five points back as of this writing, although the Gunners have a game in hand on both clubs.

The English top flight has shown us time and time again that the title race will never lack drama. But in the face of all of that, Arsenal’s sights are set on winning the league for the first time since 2004, and the greatest player to ever wear the club’s shirt can’t help but feel like there’s something special brewing at the Emirates.