You won’t concede 15 corners and not have one scored against you.
Call it a testament to our naivety in converting set-pieces or an admission to our defensive frailties, but one certainty is that we are nowhere near our comfort zones when it comes to set pieces. Whether it is getting free kicks to reach our players, swinging good corners in or even getting good graces from Referees when our players are tripped in the box, there’s been no luck with Arsenal and set pieces. Saturdays’ derby with Tottenham provided ample evidence on why we must improve on our set pieces.
Against Tottenham, we had twice as many set pieces as we have had in all our other League games but couldn’t take advantage of a single one of them. For a team who has conceded a good number of goals from the similar situations, you would think we would know how to handle such by giving the opponents a taste of their own medicines. However, scoring from set pieces has not been our forte even in seasons past.
Wenger’s excuse was that Vertonghen and Kaboul possess physical qualities that gave them an edge over Arsenal players. While admitting our team is composed of players closer to the earth than they are to the sky, there has to be a drill which would see us take the set pieces to our own advantage. The positioning of our tall players has to be calculated to perfection. Mertesacker, Koscielny and Chambers are the tallest outfield players in the team and hence will usually be the core targets. With the perfect ball and the perfect jump, we should be hitting the target when the ball is aimed at these players.
But the issue of the deliveries has to be addressed as they have been poor. The major issue appears to be the lack of a dedicated taker for the set pieces. Chelsea has Fabregas, Leighton Baines for Everton, Steven Gerrard and Rooney for Liverpool and United respectively. In our case, it has more or less been a case of who fancies it. Alexis, Ozil, Cazorla and Chamberlain have all taken the duties at different times and while each player has his strengths, one player has to be chief in that responsibility. Teammates will get used to his delivery while by constant repetition, he will get used to the positions usually adopted in such conditions by teammates.
As good as the others have been with their deliveries, this is one office which Ozil should be granted on a full-time basis as taking a set piece is only an extension of giving a regular pass. The home game against Stoke last season saw him provide three set-piece assists, setting up goals for Ramsey, Mertesacker and Sagna all from free-kicks. The assist to Ramsey against Cardiff and the one to Giroud at home to Newcastle give credence to the fact that, as with ground balls, the German can place a perfect ball on a player’s head with the right balance of pace and spin. Of Gerrard’s 13 assists for Liverpool last season, 7 were from direct set-pieces, not least among them were 2 planted on Skrtel’s head within the first 10 minutes of our encounter in Anfield.
Corner kicks may be a little more demanding, having to negotiate the ball through various defenders, but with good practice and good communications between targets and taker, we could start reaping the benefits of scoring via set pieces, that which many teams have reaped from, and have harmed us with.
Arsenal need to work on the very thing that has worked against us for a long time!
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