Football News

What a difference a year (and Nicolas Jover) makes: Arsenal are the Premier League’s set-piece kingpins

By Ben Green

What a difference a year makes- Arsenal are officially the Premier League’s corner kingpins

Published: 13:52, 18 September 2022

Arsenal have moved to the top of the Premier League table after a comfortable win over Brentford on Sunday afternoon, leapfrogging champions Manchester City and arch-rivals Tottenham in the process.

The Gunners had a torrid time of things against the Bees in west London last season, falling to a 2-0 loss in 2021/22’s curtain-raiser, with Mikel Arteta’s men infamously floundering from aerial balls into the box. Christian Norgaard notably capitalised on some wayward defending to net the second with his head.

Fast forward a year and the complexion of Arsenal’s make-up has shifted quite drastically. No longer are Arteta’s men weak and frail from aerial attacks, instead their once soft underbelly has strengthened to become ironclad and unyielding, able to fend off high balls into the box, and attack them with gusto.

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Incredibly, Arsenal are now the Premier League’s set-piece superiors having scored five set-piece goals this season, which is the joint-most in the Premier League alongside Liverpool and Tottenham — they’ve also conceded just the single set-piece goal so far.

It’s quite the turnaround from Arteta, who actually appointed set-piece specialist Nicolas Jover last summer, bringing the esoteric Frenchman to north London from Manchester City, having previously worked alongside him under Pep Guardiola when he was a coach at the Etihad.

His impact was immediately noticeable as the Gunners became quite the deadball doyens in the Premier League, a reputation completely at odds with the religiously-on-the-floor brand Arsene Wenger spent years cultivating in north London. But it serves well to emphasis the versatility of this new version of Arsenal under Arteta.

In fact, Arsenal ranked third in the entire Premier League in 2021/22 for set-piece goals (16), joint-fourth for direct set-piece assists (eight) and fifth for set-play expected goals (15.06). They also conceded just eight goals from set-pieces, the sixth-best record in the league.

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When you consider the season before (2020/21) that Arsenal had the third-worst record for goals scored from set-pieces (six), ahead of only relegated duo Sheffield United and Fulham, then you can start to see just how good they have become from deadballs. In fact, the club ranked second-last for set-play expected goals (7.08) in 2020/21 as well, and that rocketed up to the aforementioned fifth-placed ranking in 2021/22 (15.06).

This afternoon in the capital that newfound reputation was on full display as William Saliba and Gabriel Jesus got the Gunners in front with headed goals; the former netting from a corner, and the latter directing a sumptuous Granit Xhaka cross past David Raya.

Saliba’s effort also ended an incredible run from Arsenal in which they had netted 10 consecutive goals with the left foot of one of their players in the Premier League. They have also scored two headed goals in a single game for the second time since May, beating West Ham 2-1 from two aerial finishes.

Fabio Vieira put the gloss on the win with a scintillating strike to open his Arsenal account. But all the talk with be on Arsenal’s continued aerial superiority. Arteta has made his side both strong on the ball, and in the air. It’s a deadly combination, and one Arsenal fans should be very excited about.