No doubt, Henry was the most important player in “the invincible” squad. However, were Arsenal a one-man team in 2003/04 season? This question would be analysed in this post. As the top goal scorer in the team, Henry scored 41% (30) of the team goals (73) in that season.
As shown in the above chart, Henry absolutely outperformed other players in terms of goals. Apart from Henry and Pires, nobody else scored more than 4 goals. Probably the best striker in the world at that time, Henry was able to do something different comparing with other strikers. For example, a target man needs crosses provided by teammates. A poacher needs through ball or penetrative pass. However, when somebody gave Henry the ball, he had the ability to do the rest by himself. For example, the following video shows how good his dribbling was.
In this goal, the assist was made by Henry as well because I will code it as “self-assist” if the goal scorer scored the goal by beating opponents by dribbling. My definition of “one-man team” is that the team is heavily (or just) relying on the performance of certain player. Was that the case in the “invincible” squad? The above evidences and examples may suggest a “yes” but I argue Arsenal were NOT a one-man team because of three reasons.
Reason 1: Pires was an efficient and reliable goal scorer also
There were seven penalty goals which were all scored by Henry, so it would be fair to take them out and look at the goal distribution again.
Henry’s 23 goals took 35% of the team goals. As shown in the chart, there was a second reliable goal scorer in the team as well. Pires scored 14 goals which were 21% of the team goals. Apart from analysing the number of goals, the efficiency should be considered as well. The top 5 goal scorers in the team were taken out. Their number of goals were normalised by considering their number of starting appearance as well.
Henry was still the most efficient striker, scoring 0.61 goals per appearance. The goal scoring efficiency of Henry and Pires were much better than the rest of the team. The above two charts show that in terms of goal scoring, Arsenal were not only relying on Henry due to the presence of Pires who was a efficient and reliable goal scorer as well. When the position of the goal scorer was considered (own goals were taken out), it further supports my argument.
The forward players scored the most (33 goals) which was 53% of the team goals. However, it also shows that the midfield of Arsenal was a strong goal scoring force by scoring 44% of the team goals. I agreed that the forward players heavily relied on Henry who scored 23 out of 33 (70%) forward players’ goals. However, it was not the case for the whole team.
Reason 2: The responsibility of making assist were shared by several players
Apart from being the top goal scorer of the team, Henry was also the top assist maker as well, making 18 assists in that season. Only 3 of them were self-assist by dribbling past opponents before he scored. However, Henry’s effect was not as obvious as shown in the goal chart because he took only 26% of the team assists.
The chart shows that the responsibility of making assist was well shared by several players. The most obvious top 3 assist makers were Henry (26% – 18 assists), Pires (17% – 12 assists) and Bergkamp (15% – 10 assists). This chart could be analysed in two perspectives. Firstly, Arsenal had a good strikers’ partnership of making assist. Although Bergkamp hadn’t scored many goals (4), his contribution in making assist was obvious. The Henry-Bergkamp partnership took 41% of the team assists. Secondly, the 6th assist maker was Cole who was a left back. Considering the left side combination (left back, left midfielder, left forward), the Cole-Pires-Henry combination took 49% of the team assists. That means for every two goals Arsenal scored, one of them was assisted by one of the left trio. It shows how strong the left side of Arsenal was (I will write a post for this topic in future). The above two evidences show that even Henry was a world-class player, there were some top players playing with Henry at that time. By considering the position chart, it shows that the effect of forward players in making assist was not as strong as goal scoring, decreasing from 53% to 48%.
The contribution of defenders increased a lot from 3% in goal scoring to 10% in assist making, while midfielders had a more or less same percentage (44% and 42%).
Reason 3: Henry was NOT the most efficient player in building up goals
Looking at the assist can only give a clue about the final pass; it doesn’t show you the build-up of the goal. In order to analyse the players’ contribution in the build-up of the goals, the players involved in the goals have to be considered. Note that the set play goals were excluded in the following charts.
Only the top 6 players were shown in this chart. In 52 open play goals, Henry was involved in 35 of them (67.3%). There is a little gap between the top 2 players (Henry – 35, Pires – 30) and the other players. It shows that Henry and Pires were still the two key players in Arsenal’s build-up of goals. Similar to the assist chart, Bergkamp got the 3rd position. However, in the starting line-up of Arsenal, Bergkamp had the least starting appearance (21) comparing with Henry (38) and Pires (33). It shows another picture when the appearance was considered to normalise the data.
In fact, the overall trends of two charts are very similar but Bergkamp’s performance and efficiency was the best when the data were normalised with number of appearance. For every single starting appearance, Bergkamp was involved in building up at least 1 goal. On the other hand, the difference between Henry and Pires became much less (only 0.01) which imply that their efficiency were pretty much the same. With the age of 34 in that season, Bergkamp didn’t play as much as before and wasn’t the focal point of attacking. However, with his high level of technique and vision, he still played a key role in building up the goal even he was not the person to make the assist every time. The following video is an example to show Bergkamp’s vision and technique to pass a “killer ball” penetrating two lines of defence.
To conclude, there is no doubt that Henry was a key player in the “invincible” squad. However, Arsenal were not a one-man team because other players played key roles in different aspects. Pires provided efficient and reliable source of goals. Cole had a great contribution of making assist. Moreover, Cole played a key role in assisting Pires and Henry in the left side because the combination of these three players took half of the team assists. Although Bergkamp didn’t contribute much in scoring goals, his contribution was mainly focused on assist and build-up of goals. He was the most efficient player in building up goals.