Wayne Rooney was the star of the show when Manchester United stopped Arsenal from reaching 50 Premier League games unbeaten in October 2004.
Thierry Henry had won PFA Player of the Year at the end of the previous two campaigns and was recognised as the league’s best player at the time.
But on Rooney’s 19th birthday, Henry was upstaged as Rooney produced one of the most memorable individual performances the Premier League has ever seen.
Arsenal’s back four (Lauren, Sol Campbell, Kolo Toure and Ashley Cole) and the bedrock of their Invincibles team in 2003/04, couldn’t live with Rooney all afternoon as he destroyed them from start to finish.
The then England prodigy won a penalty which Ruud Van Nistelrooy converted before scoring United’s second goal in stoppage time in one of his career best displays.
Henry knew there was a new kid on the block serious about taking his throne and becoming a Premier League legend himself.
Both Henry and Rooney went on to achieve great things across their glittering careers, but who was the better player?
Ahead of tonight’s showdown between the two sides at Old Trafford, I compare both Premier League legends on five separate criteria using stats (with thanks to Transfermarkt).
1. Goals and assists
Rooney and Henry are the second and sixth top scorers in Premier League history.
Henry is Arsenal’s all-time top goalscorer with 228 goals, 175 of which came in the Premier League in 258 games. Add to that the French forward’s 74 assists, it means he’s registered a Premier League goal or assist on average every 86 minutes.
Meanwhile, Rooney, who played more games than Henry with 491 Premier League appearances, scored 208 goals and laid on 103 assists. Rooney is the only player in Premier League history to have scored over 200 goals and produced over 100 assists. His direct goal involvement record accounts for a goal or assist on average every 122 minutes — incredible numbers for a player who made such an enormous defensive contribution to his team as well.
Both players are all-round, classical, generational modern day superstars.
Rooney scored the winning goal against the Gunners as a 16-year-old for Everton in 2002 against an Arsenal team who had just won the league. Arsenal won the league again two years later but this time did it unbeaten. The 2003/04 campaign was Henry’s best goal scoring season as he netted 39 goals in all competitions.
Rooney’s best tally is 34 in 2009/10 — a season cut short after an ankle injury he suffered in Munich at the end of March. He scored the same number in 2011/12 despite missing a month of the season through injury.
2. Big game impact
Henry scored 38 goals in 83 games against the Premier League’s so-called “Big Six,” including nine against United.
Against the same batch of opponents applicable, Rooney netted 55 goals in 155 games in all competitions — the most any player has ever scored against the top six combined. Of these 55 goals, 16 of them came against Arsenal — his favourite opponent in Premier League history.
French forward Henry scored 0.46 goals per game against the top six, with Rooney’s being 0.36.
Arsenal’s kryptonite Rooney scored the winner against them twice, including once at the Emirates in November 2014.
It was the big Premier League away games that brought out the very best in Rooney, who has scored the winner at Anfield on two occasions as well as also scoring the winner at Stamford Bridge, the Etihad Stadium, and White Hart Lane.
The long-term England talisman scored a combined 13 goals away at Arsenal, Chelsea and Liverpool, while Henry managed five in total at Old Trafford, Stamford Bridge and Anfield.
Henry and Rooney both played in nine finals across their careers. While Henry never managed to score in a final, Rooney scored six with two of these being winning goals and with one coming against Pep Guardiola’s 2011 Barcelona team.
3. European record
Henry is the seventh top scorer in Champions League history with 50 goals in 112 games.
Rooney scored 30 goals in 85 games.
Breaking Rooney’s goals down though, 10 of them came in the quarter-final stage or beyond with three coming in semi-finals and one in a final. This included the winner against 2007 champions AC Milan in a semi-final first leg at Old Trafford playing against Alessandro Nesta and Paolo Maldini.
Rooney also netted in a semi-final away to Ralf Ragnick’s Schalke 04 in 2011.
Henry managed to score four in the same stages, with his only semi-final goal coming in 1998 for Monaco against Juventus, whom he went to join that summer. Henry scored iconic Highbury quarter-final goals against Valencia and Juventus, and also grabbed one for Barcelona in a 4-0 hammering of Bayern Munich in 2009.
Both players won the Champions League. Rooney won the famous trophy in 2008 playing with Cristiano Ronaldo at United — a trophy Henry won a year later playing with Lionel Messi at Barcelona.
Rooney’s last act as a United player was lifting the Europa League — a competition Henry lost in a final shootout for Arsenal against Galatasaray in 2000.
Rooney and Henry won 12 trophies a piece across their careers, including five league titles and a Champions League each.
It has to be said that Henry won two-thirds of his trophies outside the Premier League, including winning the 1996/97 Ligue 1 under French football legend Jean Tigana and La Liga twice under Catalan icon Pep Guardiola between 2008 and 2010.
While Henry’s titles spanned across three different countries and featured two international titles with France (World Cup ’98 and Euro 2000), all of Rooney’s 12 trophies were won in England with United.
Both also had successful careers in the MLS at the back end of their playing days, but failed to secure any silverware in the States.
Henry and Rooney faced off on the same pitch against each other 12 times.
In all competitions, Henry shades it, winning five to Rooney’s four with thee draws.
However, of the five wins Henry registered, two came for Arsenal against Everton (both in 2003) while one came for France against England at Euro 2004.
The other Henry victory came when Barcelona beat United 2-0 in the 2009 Champions League final thanks to goals from Samuel Eto’o and Messi.
During the four United vs Arsenal clashes both players featured in, Rooney won three, scoring in two of them. Meanwhile, Henry won one in January 2007 — a game where Rooney opened the scoring and Henry scored a last gasp winner.
In United vs Arsenal clashes between 2004 and 2007, Rooney was involved in the most goals. He scored three and made three.
In an era dominated by Messi and Ronaldo, Henry and Rooney are two of the finest players from the category below them.
In the Messi vs Ronaldo debate, people argue the case for Ronaldo because he did it in different leagues. But whilst Ronaldo was in La Liga, Messi achieved more than him in Spain team honours wise.
The same can be said of Rooney whilst he was at United and Henry was at Arsenal at the same time (2004-07).
Whilst Henry’s and Arsenal’s influence on the Premier League was diminishing under Wenger, United’s and Rooney’s was growing under Sir Alex Ferguson.
Fans can have the debate about who the best player in Premier League history is all day long. Everybody is entitled to their opinion, and if anybody believes Henry is the Premier League GOAT then that’s understandable as he was a magnificent player.
But in these debates, please show the unique generational talent that is Rooney the level of respect he truly deserves.