Whether or not you supported Arsenal, it was hard not to enjoy watching Thierry Henry curl in a trademark goal. And this weekend, Manchester City, Wolves and Brighton players all paid homage to the great man.
Six years ago this week, Thierry Henry scored his final goal in English football.
While that winner at Sunderland took the form of a simple close-range finish, the Frenchman’s time at Arsenal was characterised by a certain type of goal, one which he replicated with his comeback winner against Leeds United having produced the same genre of strike countless times in North London.
It’s unlikely that Danilo, José Izquierdo or Ruben Neves was aware of the upcoming anniversary – and, frankly, why would they be? – but each one of the three scored their own take on the Henry goal on Saturday.
And, fittingly, each one of the trio of strikes gave their respective teams the lead.
Much like with Arjen Robben’s inverse, there’s something inherently satisfying about watching a player cut inside onto his stronger foot and curl beyond the goalkeeper.
Henry was the master from the left-hand side, pitching the ball low and wide beyond the goalkeeper before commanding it to curl inside the far post, but there’s a lot to be said for the top-corner strike.
Take this New York Red Bulls goal, for example.
With the clock running down and an opportunity to take it to the corner, he instead hits a first-time shot that’s half-chip, half-curler.
I’m not saying goalkeeper Freddy Hall gave up attempting a save so he could instead stand and admire the quality, but few could blame him if he did.
You could have forgiven Nick Pope for doing the same with Danilo’s goal, too.
The Manchester City defender might have scored just once for the club before travelling to Turf Moor, but he finished with the confidence of someone who knew he was scoring – and knew exactly how the goal would look – before even striking the ball.
When he receives the pass from Bernardo Silva, he sees the endpoint before even moving the ball out of his feet. The intervening step is close enough to autopilot, and while this gives Pope an idea of what’s coming, that idea is not enough for him to prevent the inevitable.
It’s like a quarterback throwing a touchdown pass in a perfect arc over an opponent’s head: he knows before setting off that he won’t be able to intercept – years and years of finding himself in the same position have taught him as much – but maybe this time it will be different.
That’s what makes these finishes so beautiful to watch. It’s one thing for a goalkeeper to guess the direction of a shot and not quite get near; it’s another to figure out where the shooter is placing it and still fail to reach it.
But the beauty of Danilo’s goal comes from the fact that it’s telegraphed one touch earlier and still all that achieves is a closer call, as if the keeper is being conducted as much as the ball.
Danilo emulating his left back idol, Fabian Delph, with that strike. pic.twitter.com/xc7XIkPioJ
— AM🇸🇪 (@SilvaManc) February 4, 2018
We see the same with Neves and his early opener against Sheffield United…well, sort of.
Like with Danilo’s goal, the movement inside is subtler than we might see with an archetypal Robben or Henry strike.
However, while the Manchester City player almost controls and scores in one fluid motion, like the snapping of an elastic band, the Wolves man defies physics to both start slower and finish faster.
There’s a sense with Neves’ shot of ‘fine, if you’re really going to let me do this then it’s on you’. It’s almost as much a swept crossfield pass from a 90 degree angle as it is a shot, but the end result is no different.
As with Pope a few hours before him, Simon Moore could have been told before the game not just the nature and exact placement of the strike but also the minute of the game in which the shot was going to arrive, the place where the player would hit it from and where on the pitch he’d receive it.
Even then, his chances of saving it would have only been in the mid teens.
Bloody hell, Ruben Neves. pic.twitter.com/ikoRjhxkii
— LateTackleMagazine (@LateTackle) February 3, 2018
Later in City’s game, Danilo had another crack at goal, but Heaton was equal to it. This might imply a competent goalkeeper can deal with such a strike – not quite.
When executed properly, even the most rigid preparation is no answer to the best top-corner curler. Case in point: José Izquierdo.
Back in October, when Brighton travelled to West Ham, Izquierdo scored the visitors’ second after – you guessed it – cutting in from the left and curling in with his right foot.
There aren’t too many better pieces of preparation than the one-two punch of not only seeing an opponent produce a scene-stealing goal but also seeing your goalkeeping rival embarrassed by it.
If anyone ought to have been prepared, it was Adrián, just months after watching on with a perfect view as the Colombian beat Joe Hart from range.
However, while the West Ham goalkeeper’s dive might have been enough to deal with Izquierdo’s October strike, the goal at the Amex on Saturday was a different beast altogether.
Not only does Adrián need to move his feet to prepare for the strike, but he must read his opponent’s mind to anticipate him even attempting a shot from his position.
Izquierdo having curled in from a similar position before might be preparation for something like this, but not for this.
What we’re left with is a goalkeeper clawing at air, like a climber reaching for purchase on a cliff-face.
His mind might tell him he’s in control of the situation, in control of his body, but when the realisation hits that this is not the case, all he can do is hope the rush of doubt and panic is itself a mirage.
You might see other goals in the coming days which you’d class as unstoppable, but these are regularly those which cross the line before the keeper has done his maths.
It’s much more fun when the keeper doesn’t know he’s beaten until the very last moment.
By Tom Victor