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Sunday, July 31, 2011
W2W4: NY Red Bulls at Arsenal FC

By Matthew Artus

Forget Paris -- Tell the world Titi's coming home.

Red Bulls captain Thierry Henry returns to the scene of his greatest career triumphs as his New York Red Bulls club faces English Premier League stalwart Arsenal FC in the Emirates Cup finale at Emirates Stadium in London, England on Sunday. Henry will make his first start against the Gunners since departing for FC Barcelona in 2007, though the French striker briefly appeared as a substitute for Barça at Arsenal in the first leg of the 2009-10 UEFA Champions League quarterfinal match.

New York will need to overcome the pomp and circumstance surrounding Henry's homecoming to leave with the host's hardware on Sunday. The Red Bulls sit atop the two-day tournament's four-team group with three points by making a Joel Lindpere goal hold up against a barrage of shots by their opponents in a 1-0 victory over Ligue 1 side Paris Saint-Germain on Saturday.

Arsenal and Boca Juniors consummated a 2-2 draw in the second-half of the doubleheader at Emirates Stadium, giving each side one point heading into Sunday's doubleheader finale.

Key Matchup: Henry vs. the Gooners. New York may consider taking the Emirates Cup home with them a priority, but this prestigious invitation to kick off against one of the elite English Premier League sides on their home turf simply does not happen if not for the presence of Henry.

This match may morph into a de facto testimonial for the Arsenal legend, but his current club owes him an equal debt of gratitude for enabling the Red Bulls to kick off on such a prominent stage. The contest is nothing more than a preseason warmup for the Gunners, but everyone will watch in hopes of getting a passing glance at the magic that helped Henry deliver two EPL titles, two FA Cups, four Golden Boots, five Player of the Year awards and a club-record 226 goals in 370 contests to Arsenal.

For a fleeting moment, New York now stands in the soccer spotlight. So what can they do with it?

Let's Play 21. From the 21 players selected to make the trip across the Atlantic, Red Bulls coach Hans Backe fielded a very aggressive lineup against Paris Saint-Germain on Saturday that included eight of his regular starters as well as teenage phenom Juan Agudelo. All of that grouping but Teemu Tainio saw more than 70 minutes of action while Agudelo departed after 74 minutes as a precautionary measure after banging up his ankle in the 49th minute and another snag which Saturday's broadcast team described as a "groin strain."

Backe saved Henry and Rafael Marquez for the Sunday finale, but it remains to be seen who else the NY coach will call upon to represent the Red Bulls against the Gunners -- and more importantly, which players will receive double duty this weekend.

Gunners Blazing. Arsenal may have kept tabs on their former captain (Gunners captain Cesc Fabergas and Robert Van Persie were guests of Henry for the Red Bulls match against Colorado on May 25), but they'll enter Sunday's match with an eye towards August 12 -- also known as their first week of competition in the 2011-12 EPL season.

Fabergas will miss Sunday's finale as speculation builds about the Arsenal captain's potential transfer to FC Barcelona (the same move Henry made in 2007), but Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger can't wait for that situation to sort itself out and simultaneously acclimate his newest acqusitions, Ivorian forward Gervinho and English defender Carl Jenkinson, and the rest of his club to EPL season form.

Considering Wenger is overseeing a light preseason schedule with only one more match before their EPL season commences in Newcastle, he'll need to see more than a club with some offseason rust to shed.