The 2021/22 season has seen a number of improvements in many areas for Arsenal. For one thing, the defensive rigidity in the team has improved, as has the overall cohesion among the back line.
The formidable duo of Benjamin White and Gabriel Magalhães have already shown off just how solid look at the back, with Takehiro Tomiyasu and Kieran Tierney looking equally solid.
But one area that has seen an improvement, is an area that Arsenal were already very well drilled in – set pieces.
Last season, Arsenal topped the Premier League table for goals conceded from set-pieces, with 5, with Manchester City and Southampton coming a close second with 6.
However, the departure of Andreas Georgson, the team’s set-piece coach, in the summer, meant that many feared that Arsenal would potentially drop off in the Swede’s absence.
Arsenal compensated for his departure by appointing Nicolas Jover from Manchester City in the summer.
This season, Arsenal are looking like one of the set-piece kings of the league, with a staggering record of only 5 goals conceded from set-pieces and are the only team in the league to have not conceded directly from a corner.
The underlying data of Arsenal’s prowess at both defence and attack from set-pieces has been a mixed bag since Arsène Wenger’s departure.
** Season is still ongoing.
In Wenger’s last season, Arsenal were a beast from set-pieces, level with Manchester City and only behind, surprisingly, Bournemouth. They weren’t bad in defence either, with Shkodran Mustafi and Laurent Koscielny’s aerial dominance and the occasional run out for Per Mertesacker allowing Arsenal to command the heavens a little more.
In Emery’s first season with Arsenal, it’s fair to say that it was a transitional period. Though Wenger’s performance was marginally better, overall, Emery wasn’t far off his predecessor in either metric, especially after the introduction of set-piece extraordinaire Juan Carlos Carcedo.
The second season after Wenger’s departure meant that Arsenal had two managers (three, if you were to include Freddie Ljungberg’s brief stint), so the results are somewhat skewed. However, in all competitions, Arsenal conceded 13 goals after Emery’s departure, having only conceded 4 beforehand. Emery had been slowly turning the tide in that regard, however, his struggles in other areas ultimately cost him his job.
With the appointment of Andreas Georgson from Brentford, Arsenal improved dramatically in defence. Topping the table for goals conceded from set-pieces. Although, they weren’t much of a threat from them either, barely scraping 6 goals, ranking 18th in the league.
Attack is still the weaker point of Arsenal’s set-piece strategy, but a respectable 9 goals isn’t too shabby. The main thing is the rigisty in defence. Arsenal have dropped a rank, but given their performance in other metrics and the overall solidity of the team’s defence and the fact that they have yet to concede from a corner, shows how much Arsenal are improving, especially as the season is not yet over.
Of course, the players have to shoulder some of the praise for these statistics. The performances of Rob Holding, Benjamin White and Gabriel Magalhães, as well as the surprising aerial dominance of Takehiro Tomiyasu has made Arsenal a formidable defensive force.
But it is clear to see Jover’s influence over the team.
Whenever Arsenal have a corner to defend, Mikel Arteta dutifully stands aside (or even sits down) to allow Jover to direct from there. Whenever Arsenal score from a corner, however scrappy, while the players celebrate, the coaching staff immediately flock to Jover and congratulate him.
Jover’s influence at Manchester City was staggering. Pep Guardiola is himself a managerial and tactical juggernaut, so the fact that Jover, 10 years Guardiola’s junior and with considerably less experience and silverware on his CV, was able to pull rank on set-pieces was impressive to say the least.
Recruitment has played a large part in Arsenal’s defensive solidity this season. Aaron Ramsdale has been a very useful part of Jover’s approach as well.
Ramsdale was signed in the summer on the recommendation of Goalkeeping Coach, Iñaki Caña Pavón – who liked Ramsdale’s distribution, his athleticism and, most importantly, the way that he commanded his box.
Arsenal weren’t exactly struggling with Bernd Leno between the sticks beforehand. The German shot-stopper has been arguably one fo the best goalkeepers the club have had in the Emirates-era, but he does not have a full command of his box, preferring to stay rooted to the goal-line were needed.
Ramsdale’s command of the box means that he can, where comfortable, catch or punch the ball away where needed, especially if his defenders are caught slacking.
Though signed last season, Gabriel Magalhães is essential at both ends of the field for Jover; having already proven to be too much to handle for opposition defenders, he is also a formidable presence at the back too.
Benjamin White does not quite the same aerial command as his Brazilian partner, however, he has improved a lot of late and his competent man-marking has proven to be just as essential.
When going down to 10-men, Arsenal will often rely on Rob Holding. When White has been unavailable for selection or when Gabriel has had to serve a suspension or when White is shunted to wide to cover at right-back, Holding is an essential cog in the machine too, especially given his own aerial prowess.
Fullbacks are seldom as important to set-piece plays as central defenders. Given the propensity for the ball to be played into the middle or for the “route 1” tactic, fullbacks are normally less interested in the aerial portion of the game. Despite this, Takehiro Tomiyasu, himself already becoming Arsenal’s own Mr. Dependable, has been a welcome addition for Jover to work with. Tomiyasu’s height, mixed with his strength makes him a formidable presence in the Arsenal penalty area.
Jover’s presence has been felt all around Europe. Mads Buttgereit, who works as et-piece coach for the German national side, has been full of praise for Jover and the work he is doing with Mikel Arteta’s side.
“There are a few set-piece coaches who I know personally but, in my mind, I think Nicolas is the best. He is fantastic.”Mads Buttgereit, German National team set-piece coach
While Arsenal’s open-play goals are not as encouraging as one might have hoped, from set-pieces they are lethal and only one man can take the credit.