The New York Red Bulls became the first MLS team this summer to top a Premier League foe, beating Arsenal 1-0 Saturday in perhaps Thierry Henry's last appearance on the pitch against his former club.
ESPN's SportsCenter had the surprise result, along with a moment between Henry and Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger:
Saturday's friendly might as well have been dedicated to Henry. The French international has a special place in the Gunners' hearts after an eight-year stint that included 226 goals and two Premier League titles—a love affair that hasn't diminished since his move to the MLS four years ago.
The meeting between the two sides is the only match bringing Arsenal to the United States, unlike most other notable European clubs currently in the USA.
At 36 years of age, this may be Henry's last appearance against the club in which he holds legendary status. Fans commemorated the moment aptly, per Arsenal's Mark Gonnella:
As you'd expect, the Red Bulls captain was a force from the opening minute. His unmatchable vision and swift pace helped allow New York to come out firing.
Henry's first real chance was his best chance. In the seventh minute, he was fed a nice through pass down the left side and attempted to finesse a shot around Arsenal goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny in typical Henry fashion—only for Szczesny to push it wide.
Solid Red Bulls chances were a regular occurrence early on. In fact, the MLS side was the first-half aggressor, not the FA Cup winner—despite a majority of the crowd donning Arsenal kits.
There was nothing to show for it until the 33rd minute, when Bradley Wright-Phillips scored the game's first—and only—goal. And who else but Henry to serve it up for him?
Henry received a ball on the right side of the box and headed it toward the net, where Wright-Phillips was waiting to cause trouble right in front of the goalkeeper. He got just enough on it to put one through, allowing the Red Bulls to jump out to a 1-0 lead.
The largely Gunners contingent was then met by Red Bulls supporters channelling their inner U.S. soccer, per Arsenal's official Twitter feed:
A rather uninspiring first half from Arsenal wasn't the story early on as much as the Red Bulls' noticeable intensity and thirst. You could tell from the get-go that they were hungry to become the first MLS team to top a Premier League foe this summer.
Seven new Gunners players entered the game to start out the second half, and with it came a few decent chances that they couldn't notch in the opening period.
The best Arsenal chance of the match came in the 56th minute, when substitute Abou Diaby looked to secure a much-needed confidence goal by putting one past goalkeeper Luis Robles. But as the club's Twitter feed noted, he was just offside:
Whenever Arsenal formulated a decent opportunity from then on, Robles was there. The New York goalkeeper was left on an island on a couple of occasions and came up with point-blank saves to preserve the 1-0 scoreline.
Despite things staying close through the final whistle with Arsenal threatening to equalize, the biggest moment of the match came when Henry trotted off the pitch.
He was subbed off in the 52nd minute to a resounding ovation. Much to the chagrin of Arsenal supporters, he never hopped on the Gunners attack during the second half like many—including ESPN FC—had hoped:
The Red Bulls offense wasn't as effective without Henry, but it didn't much matter. New York's defense stayed inspired throughout the 90 minutes, refusing to break down. And when it did, Robles would come up with another big save.
Wenger opted to play Tomas Rosicky up front—a move that didn't materialize in much offensive success, as he and the other Gunners attackers were pretty quiet all match long.
He also toyed with the defense, as he elaborated on after the match:
Any friendlies should be taken with a grain of salt, if that. Arsenal have proven their worth with great performances in the EPL and FA Cup last season, while New York continues to struggle to even make the postseason in the MLS.
But the Red Bulls showed what many MLS clubs have been itching to see for themselves—when you bring in world-class talent like Henry and Tim Cahill and play hard, you can beat almost anybody—even if it's just for a friendly.
|Arsenal Starting XI Grades|
|New York Red Bulls Starting XI Grades|
Key Player Grades
Thierry Henry, Red Bulls: A-
The former Arsenal great has lost little of his skill and flair since he suited up for the Gunners, with him consistently dominating at the MLS level. Against one of the Premier League's top clubs, he proved that yet again.
Henry was the most noticeable player on the pitch early on, and not just because everybody was already watching him. He created space and took advantage of it, breathing life into a Red Bulls attack that gave Arsenal all they could handle in the opening half.
His assist to Wright-Phillips for the match's only goal made the difference.
Luis Robles, Red Bulls: A-
It's rare to see a less heralded club top a big-name side without a huge performance from its goalkeeper. Saturday was no exception.
Robles was able to enjoy a strong defense that kept him from being too busy early on, but he was called upon over and over in the second half. He turned away chance after chance, a few of which looked like sure goals before Robles stepped in.
New York has to be hoping for more of the same from Robles as it heads down the stretch of the MLS season.
Jack Wilshere, Arsenal: B-
England's Jack Wilshere played an integral role in Arsenal's midfield with Rosicky jumping up on the attack.
As the apparent head man of the middle part of the pitch, Wilshere took advantage of a few opportunities to push balls into New York's defending third. But only a few—he was otherwise quiet and unable to make a real impact as things wore on.
Any excitement from Saturday's friendly victory will be short-lived for the Red Bulls. Currently sitting in fourth place in the Eastern Conference, they face a tough battle to even qualify for the postseason.
Meanwhile for Arsenal, their trip to the Big Apple is now complete after their one and only match against the Red Bulls. They will head back across the pond for a pair of early August friendlies against Benfica and Monaco.
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