Premier League - Henry claims late winner for Arsenal
Thierry Henry brought the curtain down on his Premier League career with Arsenal in unforgettable fashion with an injury-time winner in a 2-1 victory over Sunderland at the Stadium of Light.
The club legend, who returns to New York Red Bulls following Wednesday's Champions League match against Milan, converted from close range two minutes into injury time to secure an unlikely victory for his side.
Sunderland, the form team in the Premier League since Martin O'Neill's appointment, appeared to be on course for a ninth win in 13 games when James McClean exploited a nasty injury to Per Mertesacker to score the opener as the German lay stricken on the pitch.
However, Arsenal introduced Aaron Ramsey in place of the defender and were rewarded when the Wales captain scored a lovely equaliser on 75 minutes as his shot struck both posts before crossing the line.
The Gunners might have settled for a draw on a day when both Liverpool and Chelsea, their rivals for a top-four finish, were defeated, but Henry pounced on a fine Andrei Arshavin cross in added time for his third goal since returning to the club, and 229th in total.
The result sees Arsenal move level with fourth-placed Chelsea on 43 points, and one point ahead of Newcastle, who have a game in hand against Tottenham which comes on Saturday evening.
Arsenal had won only five of 22 away games in domestic competitions but, off the back of a 7-1 hammering of Blackburn Rovers at home last weekend, enjoyed the better of a somewhat disappointing first half at the Stadium of Light.
Robin van Persie, with 40 goals in his previous 41 league appearances, tested Simon Mignolet with a low effort in the opening stages but Arsenal's most persistent threat was Theo Walcott, stationed out on the right wing.
He enjoyed time and space on 23 minutes when collecting a through-pass from Van Persie and fizzed a low shot across goal and just wide of the far post. However, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain was well placed in the centre and was furious when his team-mate neglected to cross.
When picked out by a neat ball over the top from Alex Song minutes later, Walcott unleashed a ferocious volley that flew high into the stands on Wearside as another chance went begging for a player who said this week that his primary function is now to produce assists, rather than score.
Van Persie was rather quiet by his standards but did have a half-hearted appeal for a penalty when going to ground under contact from Michael Turner. However, replays indicated that the big defender got his toe to the ball.
It was Sunderland's turn to howl for a spot-kick with five minutes remaining of the half. Mertesacker controlled a Jack Colback cross with his chest, only for the ball to bounce back off the turf and strike him on the arm.
There was no way the action could be construed as deliberate yet Sunderland felt aggrieved - their frustration evident when Fraizer Campbell was booked for kicking the ball away after fouling Van Persie - and their fans greeted half time with a cacophony of boos directed at referee Neil Swarbrick.
Despite feeling a sense of injustice, Sunderland had done little to trouble Wojciech Szczesny in the Arsenal goal. However, that changed in the second half as the Pole was tested to the full by Craig Gardner.
The Sunderland midfielder is well known to have a good shot from range and after 62 minutes unleashed a dangerous low effort after a corner was cleared to him on the edge of the box. However, Szczesny spotted the shot through a crowd of players and dived to his left to get his fingers to the effort.
Just two minutes later Gardner was at it again. This time a corner from the left was headed clear and when the ball looped into his path the midfielder executed a dipping left-foot volley that forced Szczesny into another diving stop.
Arsenal were opened up after 70 minutes, as Sunderland benefitted from a sizeable slice of fortune. Mertesacker appeared to be in little real danger when he pulled up sharply with a painful injury and McClean punished Arsenal to the full when taking the ball on and beating Szczesny with a ferocious finish from a tight angle.
The Irish winger might have been the beneficiary of a FIFA Fair Play award had he stopped to allowed treatment for his stricken opponent, who was then stretchered off, but Martin O'Neill and Sunderland no doubt preferred the goal, and no blame could be attached for McClean who followed his instincts perfectly.
Arsenal's response was to throw on Ramsey for the injured Mertesacker, and within five minutes he had levelled the scores. When a shot was deflected into his path 20 yards from goal the Welshman executed a lovely low shot which pinged off the inside of one post, bounced along the line and then went in off the other.
Given their current predicament in the league Arsenal were determined to push for a winner having got back on level terms and Wenger threw on Arshavin as the game neared an end. The Russian has been the target of some abuse from Arsenal supporters, but was quickly into the action when teeing up Van Persie for a header.
With Sunderland substitute Ji Dong-won wasting a good opportunity, the game looked destined for a draw until Henry seized the moment. Credit was due to Arshavin for a fine cross but the finish was classic Henry as he leapt into the air and steered the ball past Mignolet from close range.
His celebrations, and those of the Arsenal fans, were exuberant; all parties knew that a very special relationship was coming to a final close.