Premier League title race

When a team is desperate to score, corners are a key element of the game. Emblematic of this is when Manchester United won the 1993 Premier League title, especially in their game against Sheffield Wednesday. How has this changed over the years, and if so, how exactly?

In this blog, we will discuss the importance of corner kicks in the Premier League, especially for a team in the title race. Make sure to visit our LV BET Sports Blog for more interesting articles. 

Importance of corners in Premier League football

Goals from corners has been important for previous champions. In the past 16 seasons, only five Premier League winners have scored less than 10 per cent of their goals from corners. The highest tally came from Man. United in 2007-08, when nearly a fifth of their goals (18.8) were scored from corner kicks. 

Ever since data and technology were adopted by most of the Premier League clubs, the competition at the top has been tough to say the least. So, coaches and teams across the country are looking to find marginal gains that will give them the edge over their competitors, and it might be something like corners or set piece routines that will elevate their chances of getting into the top four or winning the title. 

The Premier League has been dominated by Manchester City and Liverpool in the previous five years, and in the summer of 2018, Liverpool looked at set pieces to give them an advantage over Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City. This shift in focus can be seen through the number of big chances created, not solely by goals scored. Jurgen Klopp sat with his assistants Pep Lijnders and Peter Krawietz to revamp the club’s set-piece routines. During that season, Liverpool missed out on the title by a point, but their 14 goals from corners – the highest in the league that season – helped them get so close to City. This factor might have helped Liverpool close the gap even more as Manchester City does not emphasise set pieces in their game; they look to run down teams by shifting the ball from one side to the other in the hope of creating a gap in the defence. 

Nicolas Jover and his influence on Arsenal

Jover is renowned for being one of the best dead ball specialists in the Premier League or even in the world. He enjoyed a great stint with Man City, but he moved to Arsenal two years ago with the task at hand – making Arsenal great again. Together with Mikel Arteta, he was able to change things up, and we have plenty of examples demonstrating his effectiveness. From an area of weakness for Arsenal, corners have now become an area of strength, with 46% of Arsenal’s Premier League goals coming from set-pieces this season compared to just 11% last season. The 46% figure owes a lot to the summer signings done, as to make things work, you need the right men in the right place. 

The method of having a compact team when defending set pieces and a meaningful plan when attacking them is what Nicolas Jover brings to the table. The previous set-piece coach that Arsenal had – Andreas Georgson, got the Gunners to defend set pieces but left a lot to be desired when attacking them. 

Let’s take a look at the stats with regards to corners scored and conceded in the last four seasons for Arsenal:

2018/19 Season – 13 goals scored, contributing to 18% of the total – 10 goals conceded, contributing to 19% of the total.

2019/20 Season – 12 goals scored, contributing to 21% of the total – 15 goals conceded, which contributing to a staggering 31% of the total.

2020/21 Season – six goals scored, contributing to 11% of the total goals – five goals conceded, contributing to 13% of the total. 

This season after 19 games played, Arsenal have scored seven goals making up a 15.6% of the total goals. 

Another aspect of Jover’s work with Arsenal is not only the goals scored directly from corner but also the second phase of the set piece. In the Premier League, this ability to convert from a corner kick is vital to the success of a team, at either end of the table. A very good example of the work that Jover has been able to do with the Gunners is by re-watching the first goal of the season against Crystal Palace.

Crystal Palace’s defensive approach on this corner is to have four man-markers, with Eze moving out towards the edge of the box in case Arsenal play the short corner and four zonal markers in the six-yard area. Arsenal has two runners in Gabriel and Granit Xhaka, with Gabriel Jesus in a peculiar position by the byline beyond the back post and three players outside the box in case they lose the ball. Oleksandr Zinchenko is one of the three players outside the box, and he is mainly there in case Arsenal lose possession, he is unmarked. Thus has a free run into the box. Gabriel makes a move to the first post dragging out a player with him and removing him from the centre whilst Xhaka drops deeper, outside of the box, to replace Zinchenko, who is making the forward run into the box. This creates a lot of space for Zinchenko to jump unopposed, heading the ball into the opposition penalty box where Arsenal has three players ready to pounce. Martinelli nods it home, giving Arsenal the lead. 

Another example was in the most recent game against Manchester United. United have a defensive setup with three players to defend against the short corner, two man-markets and the rest are zonal. Saliba and Xhaka start to drop once the short corner is played, Xhaka moves to the free space towards the edge of the box, and Saliba drops to allow Zinchenko to advance. The Swiss international then calls for the pass, but Martinelli obliges as McTominay is closing off that space. So Martinelli plays it backwards to Saliba, who plays the ball into Zinchenko, and it looks like the Arsenal routine is neutralised. Zinchenko then plays a neat ball into Xhaka, with McTominay still making his way over whilst Bruno Fernandes shifts his focus away from Martinelli towards Xhaka, which allows the Brazilian winger to make a forward run into the space with the rest of the United defenders occupied by the Arsenal players in the box. Xhaka recycles the ball back to Zinchenko, who is free to advance and move away from Antony, this forces Christian Eriksen to move up towards Zinchenko, and thus Arsenal has the overload again, with Xhaka the unmarked man this time. Zinchenko plays the ball into Odegaard, who finds Xhaka out wide, who whipped a cross towards Nketiah, who attacks the blind side of Aaron Wan-Bissaka to head his goal. 

What does the future hold? 

As we have discussed throughout this blog, many Premier League teams are looking at set pieces and, most importantly corner kicks to close the gap to their rivals or to extend the gap even further. At the moment, only Arsenal and Manchester United have set piece coaches. Will we see an increase of managers who focus solely on dead ball situations? At this moment in time, we are seeing more attention paid to small factors in the game looking for a bigger impact such as, throw-ins. 

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