Leeds midfielder Adam Clayton agreed with his manager’s assessment that Thierry Henry was always going to be the undoing of United in this season’s FA Cup.
Arsenal legend Henry climbed off the bench to make his second debut for the Gunners with 22 minutes remaining at the Emirates Stadium on Monday, and needed just 10 of them to score a club-record-extending 227th goal to give Arsene Wenger’s men a 1-0 win over their Championship opponents.
Henry is back at Arsenal on a two-month loan having left the club almost five years ago, but looked as though he had never been away as he took on a pass from Alex Song in the left-hand channel of the box and finished instinctively beyond Andy Lonergan.
When Henry was at his pomp for Arsenal, Leeds were an established Premier League club and he scored 11 goals against them in as many appearances. On Monday he made it 12 in 12, prompting manager Simon Grayson to concede: “It was written in the stars”.
Clayton could do little more than concur with Grayson’s assessment, and admitted he was happy to be on hand to witness Henry’s second coming.
“It’s a bit of a fairytale for him, you could probably always see that coming,” the 22-year-old said. “I thought we were very unlucky and played well. I thought we could have had a goal ourselves, but I suppose that was how it was meant to be.
“Obviously it’s brilliant to play against players like Henry. When I saw him coming on I got excited, and then I saw Theo Walcott was coming on as well and, we were all knackered, and I thought: ‘They’re bringing on two of their fastest players’.
“I was a bit worried but I thought we dealt with it – but unfortunately for us, he finished it off with a typical Henry finish.”
Leeds centre-half Tom Lees, along with partner Darren O’Dea, had the dubious honour of marking Henry for the final 22 minutes, and was the first to ask him for his No 12 shirt when referee Mark Clattenburg blew the final whistle.
A number of Leeds players also headed to the Arsenal dressing room for photographs with the 34-year-old, and Clayton hopes the whole experience will benefit him and his young team-mates.
“I’m sure people have had their name on that shirt for a good week, so I just went for the people I played against and went for Alex Song’s shirt, so I’m just happy with that one,” said Clayton, pictured below right.
“We’ve a very young defence and there’s a lot of 20- and 21-year-olds in the team and I thought we handled it, and hopefully it’s a learning curve and we can go on and carry that into the league.”
United did have chances of their own on the night, with Luciano Becchio driving over in the first half and Ross McCormack and Mikael Forssell drawing saves from Wojciech Szczesny in the second.
“When you come to places like Arsenal, if you can get two or three chances and limit them to long-range efforts or not very good chances, you’ve done well,” Clayton added.
“And if Luciano can put his chance in, or Ross can score at the end, it’s a different story, and unfortunately for us, Henry does what he does best.”
Henry admitted he was overwhelmed when he scored on his return to North London.
He said: “I rejoined the club as a fan; before I wasn’t.
“Scoring a goal when you support the team, now I know how some of the guys who played for Liverpool or Man United or Chelsea felt when they scored a goal for the club they support.”