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Thierry's Inauspicious Debut

BY PETER O’FARRELL / @celbridgegooner

It was the opening game of the 1999-2000 season and I was buzzing. I’d travelled over to London from Dublin for a rare treat which would see me catch two Arsenal games in the space of four days. First up it was Leicester City at Highbury before we were due at Derby’s Pride Park four days later.

Having seen Nicolas Anelka’s protracted transfer to Real Madrid finally completed, and with summer signing Davor Suker yet to get his work permit started, we took to the field against the Tigers with Dennis Bergkamp and Kanu leading the line. The first half was typical first game fare - the team never really got going.

Pushing for the win in the second half, Arsene Wenger sent on new boy Thierry Henry for Freddie Ljungberg – the Frenchman having signed from Juventus after flopping in his first season in Italy. From the outset the young winger had great chances to open his Arsenal account. Time and time again he wildly put his chances high and wide and when he did get one on target he found Tim Flowers to be his match.

Distracted by some hooligan away fan being led away by the police behind the Clock End goal, I pretty much missed Tony Cottee giving the visitors the lead. Thankfully it wasn’t long before Bergkamp equalised, however, with chances still being spurned (mostly by you know who) it looked as though it was going to be one of those days. That is until Henry made contact with a late corner, directed the ball goalwards with his head and saw Frank ‘no neck’ Sinclair save our blushes with an hilarious injury time own goal winner!

Afterwards I waited outside the Highbury main entrance with a throng of Gooners and engaged in some banter with the departing Leicester side. As you can imagine ‘no neck’ was quite the popular fellow. Then, almost unnoticed, the man who would go on to become the greatest scorer in Arsenal’s history just walked out the door and ambled down the street like any mere mortal.

It was a quite surreal end to a wonderful day.

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