Set pieces they are not our specialty. We’ve improved at a minimum defending them but when it comes to actually creating clear chances, they remain sadly, few and far between. After watching Per Mertesacker’s wonderfully scored header last night, I got to wondering why it is we aren’t doing better at these. It’s a sore spot of mine and I know its a sore spot of many Arsenal supporters. So let’s take a look at it.
This season I can only remember 1 goal Arsenal scored that has come directly as a result of a corner kick (Per Mertesacker vs Stoke). This is nothing new for Arsenal. And if we’re honest, we have never really been totally efficient in this area. For years we have had a huge number of corners per game and really not taken advantage of them. Many games are won and lost due to goals scored from these opportunities. I am sure you are all aware of this, and my intention is not to state the obvious, but try and delve into why we are so poor from these set plays.
As I said this article had it’s genesis after watching Mertesacker’s fantastic header last night in the England v Germany friendly. Not only did he score from that specific header, but he had another one saved brilliantly by Joe Hart. How many times can you remember the BFG coming close to scoring from a corner in the same manner for Arsenal? This is where my gripe stems from. Rarely do I remember Mertesacker, or even Koscielny/Giroud having the chance to really attack the in and around the penalty spot to 6 yard box. I thought about reasons behind this and the first obvious one is our set up. To be frank, Mertesacker’s near post position is starting to wind me up. It worked once in pre season over a year ago and since then it has not really worked enough compared to the number of corners we get.
The next thing to consider is the most important aspect, the delivery. Firstly, addressing it in relation to the near post flick, the ball has to be floated perfectly to where Mertesacker is which is a very tough skill. Although we have players who can do this, they often don’t get it right and when they do there are still other factors to consider. Mertesacker often finds himself stationed between two defenders which makes the margin for error on the delivery very small and it also requires him to battle for the header of no run up. Finally, the other players to have make smart runs that allow them to end up in the same path as the flick. All these things do not come together often enough, even at the top level it is very tough to execute.
The difference between deliveries of that kind compared to a driven cross is that the latter requires the corner take to simply plant the ball in the danger area of the penalty area rather than on to one stationary player’s head. It also provides players with far more time to gauge the flight of the ball, rather than react to a flick made by a player unaware of the runs behind him. Giroud is fantastic at attacking the ball in the air, and Per demonstrated similar attributes last night. Why don’t we allow them the chance to just attack the ball? The likes of Cazorla and Ozil should be able to whip crosses in at pace in the same manner as Toni Kroos did last night. Although his execution is inconsistent, I have liked Theo Walcott’s attempts to really whip corners in. Drop the intricate corner routines and we might convert more of the corners we work hard to get.
How many times have other teams sucker punched us in the past from a corner. We have got much better at defending them, now it is time to hit back with a few goals of this ilk ourselves
When Santi Cazorla arrived at Arsenal, I watched many a youtube video, all of which contained clips of some great free kicks from the little Spaniard. I was naturally excited because I was tired of seeing so many direct free kicks go to waste as players constantly missed the target. Not since Thierry Henry have we had someone who threatened the goal more often than not when presented with these chances. However, last season I got frustrated on many occasions because Cazorla was seemingly shunned when we got opportunities around the box; the fact it was for Podolski and Walcott made me even angrier. Podolski lived off the back of one free kick that should have been saved, and Walcott, well the less said the better. I do not care if they were banging them in during training, if they can’t reproduce when it matters they should be taken off these duties.
Whenever Cazorla has taken free kicks, we have actually come close to scoring on quite a few occasions. I remember the Spurs match this season as a prime example of this as within the first 15 minutes, he had one brilliantly saved and one clever one under the wall miss the post by inches. He clearly showed the confidence and technique of a player who has been in those situations regularly during his career and one who is confident to take on the responsibility. Mesut Ozil too seems to have come in and taken responsibility when a free kick more suited to a left footer comes around. I don’t know much about his free kick ability as I don’t think he ever really got a look in at Madrid with Ronaldo around. Both players also appear dangerous when it comes to inswinging crosses from wide free kicks. Both get good whip on the ball and can pinpoint the danger areas well. We have definitely improved this aspect of our game which is great to see. It isn’t all bad!!
These issues might not seem like huge ones in the grand scheme of things but I felt they were worth documenting. Often these aspects of the games are overlooked when it comes to analysis, with stats focused on rather than an in depth look into the reasons behind the figures. Here’s hoping we score from some type of set piece on Saturday; I will be happy to eat my words.
Tell us what you think? What can or should Arsenal do to improve their scoring chances on set pieces?