During the early exchanges it looked like it could be the perfect send off. Mikel Arteta was probing from midfield, Tomáš Rosický providing the attacking threat and Bacary Sagna, playing in his first Champions League match since September with the comfort of a man who’d never been away.
The start was reminiscent of Arsenal’s last visit to Milan. A glorious night four years ago when two late goals from Cesc Fàbregas and Emmanuel Adebayor eliminated the Italian giants. That evening the Gunners became the first English team to beat AC Milan on their own ground. Thierry Henry was a Barcelona player then. Could they repeat the feat tonight with Le King on board?
By half time it didn’t look likely. Milan went ahead on 15 minutes through Kevin-Prince Boateng’s wonder strike and doubled their lead before the break via Robinho’s clinical header.
With a mountain to climb in the second half Arsenal would need something extraordinary to happen if they were to get anything out of the game. Fortunately they had the mercurial talents of Thierry Henry on the bench to try and salvage something. If anyone could do it, it would be the club’s all-time leading scorer.
Since returning to Arsenal, Henry’s been the star of his very own football fairy tale. He scored the only goal in his first game back, grabbed a goal on his last home appearance and stuck away a last minute winner in his final league game. His teammates were hoping for a repeat of his last trip to the San Siro when Henry scored twice in a famous 5-1 win against Inter Milan in 2003. Le King had 45 minutes to produce the impossible.
There was an instant improvement with Henry’s presence but circumstances that even he could not control conspired to put the game beyond the Gunners. The loose pitch provided the mistake from which Robinho got his second and Milan’s third, then with ten minutes left Johan Djourou was penalised for a foul in the box and Zlatan Ibrahimović completed the scoring from the penalty spot.
In the end there was no dream farewell for Thierry Henry. Arsenal’s first half performance left them with too much to do, even for a miracle maker of his stature. He returns to New York today but leaves with his legacy intact, his goal scoring record strengthened and the statue outside the stadium gleams brighter than ever in fans’ eyes.
In three weeks his PUMA and former Arsenal teammates Djourou, Arteta, Rosický and Sagna have a chance to give Henry a late and unexpected leaving present. To turn the result around in the second leg and take their revenge. You just never know…