Leeds United could come face-to-face with an old nemesis after Arsenal confirmed their intention to sign Thierry Henry on a two-month loan from New York Red Bulls.
Henry is ready to complete a move back to his former club once the January transfer window opens, and he is in line to make his first appearance during the FA Cup third-round tie between Arsenal and Leeds at the Emirates Stadium on January 9.
The French striker is in the twilight of his career at the age of 34 and has been playing in the United States for the past 18 months, but he is rejoining the club where he became all-time record goalscorer and won numerous domestic honours between 1999 and 2007.
Henry was a constant thorn in United’s side during his years in the Premier League, scoring 11 goals in 11 appearances against Leeds and four in his last meeting with the Elland Road club almost eight years ago.
The forward stole the show in a one-sided contest between Arsenal and United in April 2004, striking three times from open play and once from the penalty spot as the Gunners ran out 5-0 winners at Highbury a month before Leeds were relegated to the Championship.
Speculation suggests that Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger will let him loose for the first time when Leeds visit the Emirates Stadium a week on Monday, though Henry’s transfer is still subject to final agreement over a contract and insurance.
The Frenchman returned to Europe during Major League Soccer’s off-season and has been training with Arsenal recently.
Eddie Gray was United’s manager on the night when the forward’s four-goal haul and an early effort from Robert Pires consigned Leeds to one of their worst defeats of a dire campaign.
Speaking at the time, Gray described Henry as “phenomenal” and said the striker “looked like he could score at will.”
Eight years on, the Scot recalled: “It was one of those games and one of those nights. Quite a few sides had nights like that against him but his record against Leeds in general is incredible.
“People talk about that game whenever they think of Henry against Leeds but he’d done it to us before. On his day, he was different class – just about unplayable.
“You can’t underestimate how quick he was or how powerful he was. If he was in your team, you had one of the best Premier League players alongside you.
“If he was against you, he could be a nightmare.
“It’ll be some experience for the players at Leeds if they come up against him next month and I’ll be fascinated to see him if he plays.
“I just hope for Leeds United’s sake that they don’t have the sort of night we did at Highbury.”
With Henry’s deal with Arsenal still to be officially finalised, Wenger refused to confirm whether his latest debut would come on the evening of United’s visit to the Emirates.
Henry is being signed as short-term cover for Gervinho and Marouane Chamakh, both of whom are due to depart to the Africa Cup of Nations next month but could yet be available for the clash with Leeds. Wenger said: “I don’t know (when Henry’s first game will be).
“I don’t know if he can play against Leeds. We have two massive games before then.
“Thierry still has his pace because he always had exceptional pace. He still has class and quality. I don’t worry about him at all.”
United came within minutes of knocking Arsenal out of the FA Cup at the third-round stage a year ago, drawing 1-1 in London before losing the replay at Elland Road, and the draw for this season’s third round produced a repeat of that tie.
Leeds announced that their allocation of 5,100 of tickets had sold out and the club do not intend to take up an additional batch of 3,700 seats.
The increased allocation was subject to United guaranteeing the sale of all tickets but the scheduling of the game for a Monday night is likely to see a below-capacity crowd at the Emirates Stadium.
The match is being staged in midweek to accommodate a live broadcast by ESPN.
Last season’s third-round tie in London attracted an attendance of just under 60,000, including 9,037 Leeds supporters – the highest away turn-out ever seen at Arsenal’s ground.
ESPN said the date of this season’s match was dictated by planned closures of the London Underground over the weekend of January 7 and 8.
United, meanwhile, are leading the race to sign Tottenham Hotspur’s Andros Townsend – but Spurs will not allow the winger to leave White Hart Lane until Aaron Lennon recovers from a torn hamstring.
Townsend is poised to depart Tottenham on loan next month and is understood to be interested in a move to Elland Road but any deal will be delayed while former Leeds player Lennon continues his rehabilitation.
Lennon injured a hamstring in Spurs’ 1-0 win over Sunderland on December 18 and is unlikely to be fully fit for another fortnight.
Townsend, 20, has not appeared in a Premier League fixture this season but he played regularly in Tottenham’s Europa League campaign and is on the fringes of Harry Redknapp’s first team.
A recognised left winger is one of United’s targets in the January window, and Townsend would fill the out-and-out attacking void created at Leeds by Max Gradel’s sale to St Etienne in August. Queens Park Rangers and Leicester City are also being linked with Townsend, who spent time on loan at Ipswich Town and Millwall last term and played once for each club in games against Leeds.
United manager Simon Grayson hopes to see new arrivals in the early stages of the window, saying: “We’ve identified all the players we’d like.”