Thierry Henry is undoubtedly the greatest striker in Arsenal’s history, but it wasn’t just his goalscoring instincts that separated him from us mere mortals.
The French superstar joined Arsene Wenger’s side in 1999 as a mercurial winger, having failed to really hit the ground running at Juventus, but he was soon transformed into one of the most prolific No.9s football has ever seen under the tutelage of his compatriot.
With a record four Premier League Golden Boots sitting on his mantle, Henry’s name is synonymous with goalscoring devastation. Indeed the goalmouth rarely lived a charmed life when Henry was gracing the fields with his God-given talents.
The Parisian is often considered the gold standard for modern strikers; a poster boy for penalty-box assassins. He has previously cited Brazilian legend Romario as one of his biggest influences; the similarities in style are indeed uncanny.
But, where the two former marksmen share a love of outwitting goalkeepers, they differ in their philosophies of the game. Romario once mused: “Strikers are egotists, selfish. We have to be.”
Henry had a different outlook. He wasn’t just a ridiculous goal-getter, he was also one of the least selfish players the Premier League has ever seen. And in 2002/03, a season in which Arsenal finished a close second in the title race, Henry broke the record for most assists in a single campaign.
He not only bagged 24 goals – just missing out on the Golden Boot to Ruud van Nistelrooy – but he also amassed 20 assists, a record that still stands to this day.
The likes of Cesc Fabregas, David Silva and Kevin De Bruyne have tried but failed to surpass that feat, with the latter matching it last season. So, in homage to one of the greats, we revisit every assist in that record-breaking season.
1 & 2. Arsenal 5-2 West Brom, matchday three
Henry had already netted in the first two games of the season, against Birmingham and West Ham, but he took a rest from his goalscoring duties against the Baggies and turned provider in this early-season rout at Highbury. With the Frenchman in typically stellar form, Gary Megson’s side stood little chance of overpowering the capital club, and within the first 25 minutes Arsenal were already three to the good.
Henry’s first assist of the season was a delightful, defence-splitting chip to compatriot Sylvain Wiltord, who made it 3-0 in the early exchanges, while his second would come in the dying embers, setting up another Frenchman. This time youngster Jeremie Aliadiere got on the scoresheet, bagging his first Arsenal goal in the process after he converted a pinpoint cross from Henry to inflict further misery on a hapless Russell Hoult.
3. Charlton 0-3 Arsenal, matchday six
After a one-game goalscoring reprieve Henry restored order during a trip across the M25, as his first-half strike broke the deadlock at the Valley against Charlton in September 2002. The match marked Kolo Toure’s debut start for Arsenal, and the Ivorian completed an impressive showing with a clean sheet, but it would once again be Henry who stole the headlines.
The lethal finisher followed up his fourth goal of the campaign with yet another last-gasp assist, this time to Edu, whose header evaded Dean Kiely and completed a comprehensive win over Alan Curbishley’s men.
4. Arsenal 2-1 Bolton, matchday seven
In typical Sam Allardyce fashion, the former Bolton manager came agonisingly close to masterminding a gruelling and frustrating away point. However, Henry would have other ideas on that Saturday afternoon against the travelling Trotters.
The idea from the away side was to execute a smash-and-grab, but Henry was having none of it, and he soon took centre stage. His initial opener in the 26th minute was cancelled out by an unlikely source: Gareth Farrelly. As the clock ticked on, Wenger’s hopes of three points were fast slipping away, but in the 90th minute, Nwankwo Kanu struck past Jussi Jaaskelainen and brought up assist number four for Henry.
It was a stellar victory for Arsenal, as Bolton had previously put eventual champions Manchester United to the sword in their last away match.
5. Arsenal 3-0 Spurs, matchday 14
It wouldn’t be until November when Henry provided his next assist, but boy did he mark the occasion in some fashion. That famous North London derby will always be remembered for Henry’s solo effort, which won that year’s Premier League Goal of the Season award, after the Frenchman collected the ball in his own half and galloped nearly the full length of the pitch before slotting past Kasey Keller. But Henry wasn’t finished there and showed little remorse against a 10-man Spurs.
His assist for Freddie Ljungberg shortly after the restart was the stuff of dreams; after collecting the ball in the opposition box, he shimmied to send Ledley King flying to the ground before calmly laying it off to the Swede. 2-0.
6. Arsenal 2-0 Middlesbrough, matchday 19
The Gunners were on a quest to retain their Premier League crown in 2002/03, and Wenger was handed an early Christmas present in late December as his side took apart Steve McClaren’s Boro to remain atop the table heading into the festive period. Celebrating his 350th game in charge at Highbury, Wenger oversaw a a routine 2-0 victory over his side’s North Yorkshire counterparts.
The breakthrough came at the death of the first half as Sol Campbell’s diving header left Mark Schwarzer scrambling, before Henry yet again provided a last-gasp assist, this time setting up Robert Pires in the 90th minute, with the Frenchman side-footing from the edge of the area.
7. Arsenal 3-2 Chelsea, matchday 22
New year, same Henry. On January 1, 2003, the Frenchman showcased another masterclass in the capital, this time scoring and assisting to see off London rivals Chelsea at Highbury. In truth, the scoreline flattered Claudio Ranieri’s side as Arsenal were three up by the time the Blues grabbed two late consolation goals.
After Marcel Desailly scored an own goal in the opening stanza, the final 10 minutes of the match would experience a hive of goalmouth activity, like two boxers going toe-to-toe in a flurry of leather. First Giovanni van Bronckhorst tucked home after being set up by Henry, who would then get on the scoresheet moments later.
Mario Stanic and Emmanuel Petit scored in the proceeding three minutes but Arsenal would hold out for three points.
8. Arsenal 2-1 Fulham, matchday 26
Exactly one month later it would be another west London club who succumbed to the excellence of Henry and Co. With just 17 minutes on the clock, Pires nodded home from a well-executed Henry cross, and the French winger would complete his brace in the closing stages to snatch maximum reward.
9 & 10. Man City 1-5 Arsenal, matchday 28
Back before the days of City’s petrodollar wealth and the Sheikh Mansour era, Wenger’s men travelled to Maine Road and completed an emphatic humbling of the Manchester club. By the time the clock struck 20 minutes, Henry had already found the back of the net and provided two assists for his teammates.
The first came in the 12th minute after an alert Henry intercepted the ball before ghosting into the box and teeing up Pires. Three minutes later he converted in trademark fashion, controlling an up-field ball with his right, before going across goal with his left. 3-0. And four minutes later it would be four. This time with Henry’s pinpoint corner finding Campbell, who rose highest to inflict further misery on Kevin Keegan.
11. Arsenal 2-0 Charlton, matchday 29
Charlton once again felt the wrath of Henry, whose jinking run and timely cross set up Francis Jeffers to break the deadlock. Despite the absence of influential trio Patrick Vieira, Ashley Cole and Lauren, Arsenal completed a double over the Addicks in professional style.
12. Arsenal 2-1 Everton, matchday 31
In the reverse fixture, a fresh-faced Wayne Rooney announced himself to the world with that unforgettable curling effort in the closing stages. Here, in Islington, the teenage phenom would get on the scoresheet again, but Henry would have the last laugh. The French genius provided yet another Frenchman his opening goal of the season, with Pascal Cygan heading home from a pinpoint Henry corner. Rooney would equalise in the second half, but Patrick Vieira would settle the matter moments later.
13. Middlesbrough 0-2 Arsenal, matchday 34
At the Riverside this time but the same result. With the game ticking on Henry decided to take matters into his own hand, dispossessing Doriva before darting deceptively into the box and setting up Wiltord, who opened the scoring with his 16th goal of the campaign. He put the seal on a decisive win with 10 minutes to go after clinically curling home a trademark free-kick.
14 & 15. Bolton 2-2 Arsenal, matchday 35
Despite Henry’s genius shiny brightest at the Macron Stadium, Bolton came away with an unlikely point. The Frenchman first combined gracefully with Pires on the left flank, creating room on a congested byline before menacingly racing into the box and crossing for Wiltord. His second assist was a deft touch to Pires who lashed home from the edge of the box.
16 & 17. Arsenal 6-1 Southampton, matchday 37
With the title already conceded to Man Utd, Arsenal looked to enjoy the final few games of the season, and this rout over the South Coast club was typical Wenger. Both Pires and Premier League debutant Jermaine Pennant netted hat-tricks, but Henry would play another key role.
With Arsenal already three up, Henry collected the ball after a deft touch from Nwankwo Kanu before slipping in Pires to make it four with only 22 minutes on the clock. And just four minutes later Henry would turn provider again, this time setting up Pennant for his debut hat-trick.
18, 19 & 20. Sunderland 0-4 Arsenal, matchday 38
And Henry would finish the season with, not only another goal, but also a hat-trick of assists against a relegated Sunderland. He opened the scoring after collecting Dennis Bergkamp’s timely through ball, bringing up number 24 for the season. Thomas Sorensen stood little chance against an Arsenal side in their pomp.
Henry first set up Freddie Ljungberg before half-time with his cushioned header laying it on a plate for the Swede, and the two would combine twice more in the second half. First with Henry steaming into the box before passing to Ljungberg and then again in the 88th minute as the incisive winger completed his hat-trick.