Arsenal 1-0 Leeds: Daily Mirror match report
Published 21:49 09/01/12 By Martin Lipton
A state came to life. A memory became reality. A legend was transformed into flesh and blood.
Don't mock or diminish it. Don't try to dismiss what left the Emirates not knowing whether to scream with delight or cry with joy.
Just relish one of those moments, one of those stories, the ultimate feel-good end to the most romantic week of the football calendar.
Infeasible? Of course it was.
Then again, Thierry Henry's return to Arsenal colours would have been laughed off as the stuff of fantasy a fortnight ago.
But from the instant - after 68 minutes which had demonstrated just why Arsene Wenger decided to go back to plot Arsenal's short-term future - he came onto the pitch, what followed was almost pre-ordained.
Like Wenger, Henry had sat and suffered, watching a familiar story, felt the frustrations billowing around the ground he said goodbye to as an Arsenal player back in March 2007.
Plenty of possession, against a Leeds side which would have had 12 behind the ball if the Laws of the game allowed an extra pair of legs.
A host of opportunities, too, though rarely, if ever, a likelihood of one of them going in, not when Robin van Persie was given the night off.
Yet when the call came, Henry answered - just like he always used to.
Maybe he is 34 now. Maybe he has been in semi-retirement in New York. Maybe it will prove a one-off.
But when Alex Song - the only member of Arsenal's starting side who played with Henry in his first incarnation - picked the ball up, he was was already lurking off the shoulder of Zac Thompson, looking along the line to make sure he stayed on-side.
He did, of course, and when the ball reached him the Frenchman opened up his body, picked his spot, and did what he always did - coldly, unerringly, brilliantly, goal number 227.
As Henry wheeled away, jumping into the arms of Wenger on the sidelines, it was as if the clock had been re-wound five years.
To the last Emirates goal, against Manchester United two months before what the world believed was his final Arsenal outing.
It has not, of course. He is five years older, slower, wider. The grace and agility of his first spell can never be repeated.
Wenger knows that and neither Henry nor the Arsenal boss will kid themselves that it will always turn out like this.
Yet that was not important. Not on this night.
In a way, it was tough on Simon Grayson's men, who had given their all - not always legally - to blunt and stymie a one-dimensional Arsenal side, who would have looked utterly without invention aside from the efforts of Aaron Ramsey and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain.
Andriy Arshavin did what the Russian tends to do - not a lot - although at least he put in the hard yards that Marouanne Chamakh seems reluctant to even contemplate, many Gooners doubtless hoping the Moroccan chooses not to return from today's flight out to Equatorial Guinea and the Africa Cup of Nations.
A few chances were missed, Sebastien Squillaci heading wide, Mikel Arteta foiled by keeper Andy Lonergan, Oxlade-Chamberlain pulling a left-footer just past the post.
But with the Arsenal full-back curse striking again, Francis Coquelin pulling up lame when nobody was within 15 yards of him after only half an hour, a replay date at Elland Road next week seemed likely before Henry altered everything.
The Frenchman, though, never obeyed such dictates first time.
His time away in Barcelona and the MLS has not changed his immaculate sense of timing, that ability to be in the right place, to apply the final touch.
And when Wojciech Szczesny denied substitute Mikael Forssell at the death as the former Chelsea men worked space to spin and shoot low from 14 yards, the fairytale return was not spoiled.
Henry finished with arms aloft, slapping the crest on his chest, accepting the acclaim again, hearing his name echoing round every crevice.
Back where he will always be an immortal, with life in him yet.
Truly, truly fantastic.