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Who is Arsenal’s new set-piece coach?

By Sumaiya Vawda

Arsenal’s Scottish pre-season tour has closed without ceremony. A loss and a draw offered little insight into Arteta’s tactical set-up for next season but did provide a refresh of fitness and faces. A surprising feature has been the Gunners’ poor defending from set-pieces. Has this anything to do with the introduction of a new set-piece coach?

Nicolas Jover has come through the turnstiles at London Colney following Andreas Georgsen’s exit. Under Georgsen’s tutelage, Arsenal conceded just 21% of goals from set-pieces, the lowest of all teams in the division (per @Orbinho). This represents a distinct improvement from the 2019/2020 season, where Arsenal conceded the highest proportion of goals from set-plays.

Additionally, the North London outfit allowed only 22 shots on target resulting from set-pieces- another league-best record. Thus, it can be concluded that Georgsen’s work was effective on the defensive front. Offensive set-pieces, however, were a more muddled matter. Confusing patterns, multiple takers and poor execution led to a meagre three goals from corners in 2020/21.

Nicolas Jover steps into his role at Arsenal, having served two years at Manchester City. There, he would have acquainted himself with Mikel Arteta and the philosophy of Pep Guardiola. Jover’s start in football was as Technical Director of an amateur side, and like Georgsen, Jover has previously worked at innovative Brentford. During an old interview, Jover admitted, “I dream of developing a recognisable style of set pieces, just like a playing style.”

Last season Arsenal scored on six occasions from set-pieces, where City scored 13 (WhoScored). Of course, this aligns with the teams’ respective fortunes and attacking talent more than being a referendum on a specialist coach. However, Arteta will be hoping that the appointment can spark improvement in attacking set-piece patterns while maintaining the defensive stability attained. In Pépé, Jover has a capable but inconsistent tool to sharpen. An interesting aside is the potential signing of Ben White, who does not statistically excel in aerial battles, and its impact on set-piece defending.

Set-plays have evolved in emphasis and intricacy over the years. It’s difficult to rid the memory of footage of Unai Emery slinging in crosses to be attacked in a somewhat chaotic scene. Yet, 2018/19 proved to be fruitful on the set-piece end, scoring 13 under the watchful eye of Juan Carlos Carcedo. The title-winning Liverpool team and England at Euro 2020 highlight the gains to be had from intuitive throw-ins. Arsenal can undoubtedly benefit from turning the tide on foul throws and slow set-piece reactivity.

The sometimes comical defending of corners this pre-season has raised eyebrows. Yes, it correlates with the arrival of Jover, but the Frenchman has hardly had time to dirty his boots in London. A combination of youth players, new partnerships and poor communication and awareness has perhaps created set-piece uncertainty. Jover will have time to impose his ideas and refine the team’s set-plays ahead of the new season.

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