Red Bulls' Thierry Henry gets to take on old club Arsenal

Red Bulls striker Thierry Henry works against the Red Bulls striker Thierry Henry works against the Portland Timbers during the first half. (March 3, 2013) Photo Credit: Getty Images

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HARRISON, N.J. - Thierry Henry didn't have to spell out his excitement for the Red Bulls' upcoming friendly against Arsenal -- the English Premier League team he spent eight years with and still leads in scoring with 228 goals. His reverence for the club was apparent.

He is bonded to Arsenal in the form of a tangible memory: the first time he put on the familiar red jersey.

"Wearing an Arsenal shirt, for me, was the most important thing," Henry said at a news conference at Red Bull Arena . "[It] was unbelievable. I felt like a different man with that shirt."

Henry, the 36-year-old Red Bulls captain, takes on his old team when the Gunners visit Saturday. It's Arsenal's first U.S. trip in 25 years.

Red Bulls coach Mike Petke said he and Henry agreed that the forward will likely play for the first 60 minutes, and possibly more depending on how Henry feels.

Petke said the Gunners are a good test for his team, and noted the night will be special for Henry. He paused when asked about Henry's best moment for Arsenal.

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"Man," Petke said as he became starry-eyed. "The goal he scored against [Manchester] United of course [in 2000], when he flipped it up, turned and put it over [Fabien] Barthez. That'll be the all-time best."

Arsenal coach Arsene Wenger, Henry's longtime mentor, joked that he was hoping Henry would play for his side for at least half the game. Wenger said Henry, who trains with the Gunners in the offseason, still looks sharp on the ball.

But that's nothing new, Wenger added, thinking back to when Henry played for him with Monaco.

"I had him start, he was 17 years old in Monaco, and now he's already played 17 years at a top level," Wenger said. "He had the technical qualities, the super physique and he's a very bright guy, so that means they learn from the competition -- and that's what he did."

Wenger said that years of clutch goals have cemented Henry "in the heart of every Arsenal fan forever." Arsenal unveiled a statue of Henry, depicted sliding on his knees, fists clenched while celebrating a goal, at Emirates Stadium in 2011.

"He's a legend of the club," Wenger said. "When I put him at center forward, he said to me, 'Look, I cannot score goals,' and for somebody who cannot score goals, he's done quite well."

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