Return of the King
On the night Eric Cantona announced he wants to run for the French presidency, a fellow countryman reclaimed his crown as the King of Arsenal.
Thierry Henry took four touches to get a feel of the old place again and a fifth - stroked effortlessly with his right foot beyond Leeds United goalkeeper Andy Lonergan - to add to his legend as Arsenal's greatest goalscorer.
Arsene Wenger joined those gathered inside Emirates Stadium in sporting a smile that looked like it might need to be surgically removed after Henry took ten minutes from his introduction as a second-half substitute to become an Arsenal match-winner once more.
The idea of Henry revisiting old glories at the club where he is so revered that a statue was recently unveiled in his honour once seemed almost as fanciful as Cantona's notions of high office.
Thierry Henry scored the only goal of the game against Leeds United in the FA Cup Third Round in a dramatic return to North London. Photo: Getty
And yet here he was, 12 minutes from the end of a dour, attritional FA Cup third-round tie with Leeds, ruler of all he surveyed once more with a glorious reminder of what made him arguably the Premier League's finest player.
Henry took a pass from Alex Song in the manner he used to receive service from Patrick Vieira or the watching Emmanuel Petit before showing a composure that had previously been beyond his Arsenal colleagues to finish perfectly.
Emirates Stadium has occasionally been derided, unfairly it should be said, as a cold, soulless arena. This magical moment brought it alive with emotion.
Henry pointed at the turf in a gesture that suggested he was back where he belonged, raced to embrace Wenger, thumped his chest with his right hand and was joined by goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny, who showed a fine turn of speed, in rapturous celebration.
The pain belonged to Leeds but the unbridled pleasure belonged to Arsenal. Even the neutrals appreciated the scale of the moment.
Here was a returning champion proving some of the former lustre remained. Young Arsenal fans who may have missed his greatness first time around saw in the flesh what all the fuss was about as goal number 227 hit the back of the net.
And plenty of the old guard were there to see it. In various guises Lee Dixon, Martin Keown and Petit were all mingling with the media before kick-off, as intrigued as everyone else as to how their great former team-mate, who left Arsenal for Barcelona in 2007, would manage his return.
Of course it is all a little starry-eyed, maybe even overstated, as Henry is simply one game into a six-and-a-half-week stint away from his real day job at New York Red Bulls.
But some of these romantic moments have been sucked out of the game in recent years and Wenger summed it up perfectly.
He described it as the sort of story you would tell children if they wanted a tale about football. And he was right. Bigger, more taxing, tests await Henry - but this was something special.
The lightning speed is no longer there and the heavily bearded, thick-set figure is not quite the one Arsenal's fans remember. But Henry carries speed of thought and an unquestionable presence. His arrival altered the context and mood of this cup tie.
Henry was the focus of attention from the moment fans filed into the stadium. He was greeted ecstatically when he came out to warm up and thunderously when his name was announced, wearing an unfamiliar number 12 shirt, before kick-off.
It was the night to mark the return of another of the Premier League's old elite after Paul Scholes came out of retirement for Manchester United at Manchester City on Sunday.
As Arsenal dominated but toiled to crack open Leeds's tight defence, the calls for Henry grew louder. One exaggerated sprint down the touchline was the signal for greater demands for his introduction.
He came on after 68 minutes and delivered the decisive contribution - a goal that fittingly stayed as the winner as this was Henry's night.
Leeds manager Simon Grayson carried an air of resignation as he admitted the goal was "written in the stars" - and it was towards the stars Henry gazed at the conclusion of a remarkable cameo.
He lifted his arms to the heavens in relief and elation at the final whistle, then spoke humbly about how he now knew what it felt like, and what it meant, to score such a goal as an Arsenal fan rather than as a player.
This was not Manchester United or Tottenham being put to the sword as in days gone by. This was a game against a limited Championship side, a fact that did little to dilute the way in which the goal was greeted.
Wenger would not be drawn on whether Henry, now 34, would partner the returning Robin van Persie at Swansea at the weekend - but it is a temptation he will have to try very hard to resist.
For Henry and Wenger, this was instant justification for their reunion. Wenger was at pains to point out he would never have considered playing Henry unless he was confident he could make a contribution.
In return for this trust, Wenger believes he is getting a player who can benefit his emerging youngsters because "they see that he is a guy who has done it all but still prepares 100%, is motivated and comes with an immense desire to do well".
Henry's gold-plated reputation was never likely to be damaged by any events during this brief Arsenal comeback but there was always the risk of anti-climax.
Even if he does not make another major contribution he will return to America having provided a memory to treasure.
Wenger said Henry knows he will be compared to how he was before. It is an unfair but understandable measure and was a factor in the elation of his celebrations.
"Thierry is a proud guy. He doesn't want to disappoint people," Wenger said. Henry did not disappoint anyone other than the noisy followers of Leeds.
As Arsenal's fans filed away from Emirates Stadium, many headed towards Henry's statue for a keepsake of the night. The real thing had given them an even bigger souvenir. The King was back.