Talking Tactics

Why Arsenal are leading the way for set-piece innovation

By Adrian Clarke 29 Jan 2024
Gabriel header Talking Tactics

Adrian Clarke analyses the Gunners' goals from dead-ball situations and the threat they'll pose to Forest on Tuesday

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Team analysis - Arsenal

Set-pieces could be a decisive factor when Arsenal travel to the City Ground on Tuesday evening.

Defending dead-ball situations is one of Nottingham Forest’s biggest weaknesses, conceding a competition-high 11 goals this way in 2023/24.

Mikel Arteta’s Gunners, on the other hand, are the division’s leading scorers from set-plays, registering 13 goals in 21 matches.

Arsenal have been beaten on each of their last three visits at Forest across all competitions and will seek to take advantage of the hosts' fragility at corners and wide free-kicks.

We take a look at some of Arsenal’s best set-pieces in 2023/24.

Clearing space at the far post

Arsenal’s most successful corners this season have come from pre-planned routines designed to free up an attacker in space at the back post.

They have achieved this in several different ways.

Last weekend against Crystal Palace, centre-back Gabriel Magalhaes was the target of a pair of identikit new moves that bamboozled Roy Hodgson’s side.

Gabriel (circled blue) lined up on the penalty spot with Gabriel Jesus (circled yellow) picked up by man-markers.

His aim was to slip away from Chris Richards and run onto a far-post delivery from Declan Rice.

Gabriel J and Gabriel M v2

To help facilitate this, Leandro Trossard and William Saliba made runs across the six-yard box, intending to clear that space.

Trossard then joined Ben White by stopping centrally inside that domain, deliberately clogging up that zone, blocking Joachim Andersen from backpedalling in the process. With so many bodies around him, goalkeeper Dean Henderson was pinned on his goalline. 

The plan worked perfectly as Gabriel powered his header home from a pocket of space.

Arsenal's second goal was an exact replica from the opposite side, but this time it was Bukayo Saka delivering the pinpoint corner.

Kai Havertz’s unorthodox position, very deep at the far post, was also interesting as he took a Palace man-marker out of the situation completely, as indicated below.

Arsenal had not scored from this set-piece routine previously, and it caught Palace by surprise.

Overloading at the back

Set-piece strikes from Rice and Gabriel Jesus against Manchester United and Brighton & Hove Albion respectively came from the same playbook too.

Facing teams with fewer man markers and more of a zonal presence at the near post, Arsenal like to set up overloads at the back of the penalty area.

Below, you can see Rice being the target of a 4v2 at the far post.

Rice goal v Man Utd

Gabriel Jesus joined forces with Gabriel to move forward and ensure Man Utd defender Jonny Evans had no room to manoeuvre.

This freed up Rice to control the cross and score.

At home to Brighton, they laid a 4v3 trap at the far post, with Gabriel Jesus the spare attacker on this occasion.

The plan was for all three marked players to make forward runs across the six-yard box, dragging opponents with them – and from Jan Paul van Hecke’s inadvertent flick-on, Gabriel Jesus was left unmarked to head home from close range.

By remaining in the zone at the back post, the striker was afforded a huge amount of space, as you can see below.

Jesus goal v Brighton
Front-post surge

When facing teams who station lots of zonal defenders towards the near post and centre of the six-yard box, highly-rated set-piece coach Nicolas Jover is a big fan of asking his players to make late runs across them.

Saliba’s (circled red) goal against Burnley was a terrific example of arriving on the scene at the last moment to score.

The Frenchman was among a cluster of Arsenal players to gather at the far post before sprinting towards the front post just as the cross was swung in underneath the crossbar.

Saliba v2

Saliba arced his run behind 'keeper James Trafford before nipping in at the last second to head home from a yard out.

Saliba goal v Burnley

Arsenal proved this ploy can work against man-marking opponents too.

Directing their runs from a different angle against Sheffield United, the kerfuffle caused by this "surge" left Eddie Nketiah isolated in a 1v1.

All Nketiah had to do was evade his man, and once goalkeeper Wes Foderingham could only palm the ball down under pressure from White, he was free to slam home.

Nketiah goal v Sheff Utd
Set-play joy

Arsenal’s 10 goals from corners is a division-high total, but they have also scored from two wide free-kicks and a quickly taken throw-in.

This means their tally stands at 13, two ahead of Everton.

Arsenal set-piece goals 23/24
Type of set-piece Goals scored
Corner into six-yard box 7
Second phase from corner 2
Wide free-kick 2
Short corner 1
Throw-in 1

Their strikes from wide free-kicks at AFC Bournemouth and Liverpool were also unerringly alike.

On both occasions they set up a line of attackers in an offside position before darting back onside at the last moment.

Making sure their reverse forward run was in front of their markers and not behind, as indicated below, terrific headed goals were scored by White and Gabriel.

White and Gabriel wide free-kick goals
Arsenal set-pieces

Premier League opponents will have studied how Arsenal have enjoyed such success from corners and wide free-kicks this season, but if the deliveries are right and the movement is sharp, they will never be easy to stop.

Based on what we have seen so far, the Gunners do have preferred types of set-pieces, but Jover and the staff around him are constantly tinkering with new routines.

Forest will have to concentrate exceptionally hard to deny them opportunities from dead-balls on Tuesday.

Also in this series

Part 2: What is behind Watkins' dip in form?
Part 3: How Toney transforms Brentford at both ends of the pitch

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