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Remembering Thierry Henry’s record-breaking season of Premier League assists

Plenty have tried but no player has matched the Frenchman's tally of 20 assists in one season

Cesc Fabregas, David Silva, Mesut Ozil, Christian Eriksen, Kevin De Bruyne.

The Premier League’s very best creators have taken up the challenge in recent years.

All of have attempted to scale the mountain, and some have come within touching distance of the peak.

Ultimately however, they’ve all failed.

Close but no cigar

Getty - Contributor
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Close but no cigar

In 2002/03, Thierry Henry produced an anomaly of a statistic.

“That can’t be right,” fans too young to remember it say. “Surely that’s not right?”

20 Premier League assists — a record still in tact today, despite the best efforts of the league’s most-inventive playmakers in the 15 and a half years since it was set.

And this is the thing, Henry’s most notable challengers were all designed to assist team-mates, their careers are defined by creativity.

Of all the players to mount a serious challenge to Henry’s record (minimum 15 assists), only Frank Lampard managed double figures for goals in the same season (2004/05).

League of his own

Reuters
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League of his own

Since Henry’s record-breaking season, the average number of goals scored by a player with 15+ assists in a season is seven.

Seven goals on top of all those assists, pretty good right?

Well, when Henry racked up 20 assists in 02/03, he also scored 24 league goals.

Not only that, only one other player (Ryan Giggs) reached double figures for league assists.

The Welshman provided ten goals for his team-mates — yes, Henry doubled the tally of his nearest competitor.

It’s difficult to comprehend the scale of such a achievement, like those viral videos outlining the expanse of the universe that make you feel insignificant.

*insert Brian Cox voiceover*

Reuters
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*insert Brian Cox voiceover*

Gareth Bale, Luis Suarez, Alan Shearer, Yaya Toure, Cristiano Ronaldo, Robin van Persie and Mohamed Salah could all boast the greatest individual campaign in Premier League history.

But Henry’s 02/03 might just be the best of the lot.

For the purposes of brevity, let’s forget the goals.

We’re here to appreciate the Frenchman’s selfless side, and while you shouldn’t take for granted how he simultaneously found time to challenge Ruud van Nistelrooy for the Golden Boot, it’s the assists we’re interested in for the next two minutes.

We’ll start with this ludicrously casual, almost contemptuous, stroll forward…

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Henry’s pace and dribbling sucked in defenders which meant his team-mates often enjoyed acres of space in the final third.

The Gunners’ iconic No14 always knew when he’d done enough and the timing of his final ball was exemplary for a prolific goalscorer…

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Having started his career as a left-winger, Henry wasn’t shy of blemishing his Nike boots with chalk.

He was just as much a problem for right-backs as right-sided centre-backs, and would often take the ball to the byline with devastating results…

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But he could just as easily cross from deep with his cultured right-foot…

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While his winger instincts never evaporated, they were overpowered by the habits of an insatiable goalscorer during his Arsenal reign.

In 2003/04 – the Invincibles year – Henry cruised to the Golden Boot with 30 goals.

However, six assists in 37 games represented a significantly reduced output in the playmaking department.

It’s possible he made a conscious effort to be more selfish in the final third in order to benefit the team.

Despite Henry’s 24 goals and 20 assists, Arsenal finished as runners-up behind Man United in 02/03.

Henry and Arsene Wenger may have theorised that a more predatory, ruthless approach was required to best Sir Alex Ferguson’s mob.

Here’s an example of an assist in 02/03 that would have been a goal in 03/04…

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Arsenal in the mid-noughties were a possession-based side but their speed also made them a devastating counterattacking unit.

Naturally, Henry was the leader in this regard, but he was so much more than just fast-twitch muscle fibres.

The deftness of touch here, for example…

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The weight of the pass luring the keeper off his line, like an expert fisherman reeling in his catch.

Those who savoured Henry in his prime will never forget his majesty.

It’s a tired platitude in the world of football, but he really did do things no other player in the league could.

Take the following assist for one of Jermaine Pennant’s hat-trick goals against Southampton.

There’s seemingly no need for him to put his foot on the ball and beat two men from a standing start, but equally, why not?

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Henry’s 02/03 season deserves to echo in eternity.

Someone will break his assist record eventually, but it’s unlikely they’ll score 24 goals in the process.

Merci, Titi, nous t’aimons.