Photo by Brad Smith/ISIphotos.com
By RYAN TOLMICH
HARRISON, N.J. — For the 25,219 fans in attendance, it was about the name on the back of the jersey more-so than the logo on the front.
In a clash between Arsenal and the New York Red Bulls, forward Thierry Henry was the star of the show, as his current side knocked off his former team, 1-0, behind a first-half Bradley Wright-Phillips finish.
In a game that started off with the quickness of anything but a friendly, it was the Arsenal legend Henry who nearly opened the scoring in the game’s opening five minutes. However, the 36-year-old’s one-on-one opportunity was pushed away by Gunners keeper Wojciech Szczesny.
For their part, the visitors missed a pair of chances of their own, as Arsenal stars Santi Cazorla and Aaron Ramsey pushed shots just wide in the seventh and 18th minutes, respectively.
The hosts finally broke the deadlock in the 32nd minute, as former Premier League forward Bradley Wright-Phillips continued his six-game goalscoring streak against one of England’s top sides. Wright-Phillips, who has now scored six in as many games, scored via an Henry corner. The Frenchman’s ball found the head of Red Bulls defender Ibrahim Sekagya, who headed into the path of the Wright-Phillips for the game’s only score.
“I like it when someone good in the air goes to the back post,” Wright-Phillips said to describe his goal. “I just like to get in and around the box in case they head it down. I’ve done it many times and it hasn’t come off. This time it did.”
“He was dangerous throughout the game,” said Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger, “because, in the first half Thierry Henry dropped off and (Wright-Phillips) made some good runs that Thierry could find him behind our defenders. We had a very experimental defense today and he was very dangerous.”
The goal was a bit more special for the English forward as his father, Ian, played for the club for seven seasons.
“He’s an Arsenal fan,” said Henry. “I guess for him, he never thought one day that he was going to beat Arsenal with one of his goals as the winning goal in New York. Although it’s a friendly game, as an Arsenal fan, it’s always going to be a special one.”
Arsenal had a chance to even things up just seven minutes later in an opportunity that greatly resembled their now-famous goal against Norwich City last season. A slew of one-touch passes around the box found their way to midfielder Jack Wilshere, who fired at the net only to find a sprawling Luis Robles in the way to make the save, keeping the score 1-0 heading into the half.
Henry emerged from halftime and took his place among his Red Bull teammates, but the Frenchman was taken out just seven minutes into the half to a loud ovation from Red Bulls and Arsenal supporters alike.
“It was a special moment,” Henry said, “but it was more important for me that Andre Akpan could play against Arsenal. Ruben Bover, (Michael) Bustamante and all of the guys sometimes that don’t play a lot in the league. It’s not always that you can play against Arsenal in New York, so that was where my mind was. We did what we had to in the first half.”
The visitors finally found the back of the net just moments after Henry’s exit, as Arsenal substitute Abou Diaby’s one-on-one finish was ruled offside, much to the dismay of the raucous Arsenal crowd in attendance.
Robles came up big for the Red Bulls yet again in the 79th, putting the lid on yet another Arsenal opportunity. The Red Bulls keeper came off his line and took the ball from a charging Chuba Akpom, denying the Gunners yet again.
Despite the win, Red Bulls head coach Mike Petke was quick to point out that the Red Bulls still have to fight to earn the status possessed by a club like Arsenal.
“Are we a better team than Arsenal?” Petke said. “When they’re at their peak and we’re at our peak, I like to think that it would be a good game, but obviously what kind of club they are and the level of talent, the money that they put into that, they’re a world-class club.”
However, with a victory over a world-class club, Wright-Phillips pointed out that the team takes some pride in representing MLS.
“It was good,” said the goalscorer. “Obviously, it’s just their second game and they’re getting their fitness. We showed them what MLS is about. I think we did well.”
The Red Bulls next step in MLS play will come Wednesday, as Henry, Wright-Phillips and co. turn their focus towards a clash with Real Salt Lake at Rio Tinto Stadium.
“Our focus now is on Salt Lake,” said Henry. “The distraction is out of the way now and let’s concentrate on Salt Lake because it will be a different kind of game.”