Ahead of the north London derby on Sunday, we’ve taken a look at what makes Arsenal and Tottenham both so deadly from corner kicks.
Most would agree that Arsenal have played some of the most attractive and exciting football in the Premier League over the last year, while Tottenham have also become easy on the eye in the early days of Ange Postecoglou’s reign.
We can therefore surely expect an absolute spectacle of pass-and-move football when the two rivals meet in the north London derby on Sunday, right? Quite possibly, but there is another area where both also excel, and it could make the difference at the Emirates Stadium.
Since the start of the 2022-23 season, Arsenal have scored more goals from corners (16) than any other team in the Premier League, while Tottenham have scored the second most (15).
There have been times in recent years when being good at set plays has been linked to, shall we say, a more ‘industrial’ kind of football. But there is undoubtedly a skill in being proficient in that area, particularly from corners, and we decided to take a closer look at what has made Arsenal and Spurs the league’s leaders ahead of their meeting this weekend.
Mikel Arteta’s men have benefited particularly in recent games from scoring from corners. Their last two winning goals in the Premier League have been from corner situations, with Declan Rice firing in at the far post against Manchester United and Leandro Trossard neatly scoring the only goal of the game at Everton.
What is Arsenal’s secret, though, besides the well-discussed influence of set-piece coach Nicolas Jover?
It could be the number of short corners they take, given that’s how Trossard’s goal at Goodison Park came about. Last season, Arsenal took 55 of their 223 corners short (24.7%). Only Manchester United (34.2%), Aston Villa (25.8%) and Manchester City (25.2%) took a greater percentage of their corners in such a manner.
They have also been consistent in their short-corner approach, with no-one in the Premier League having more first contacts from attacking corners than Martin Ødegaard last season (34 – 15.3% of Arsenal’s corners). The next most were centre-backs Fabian Schär (27), James Tarkowski and Virgil van Dijk (both 24), suggesting that Arsenal were the only side regularly using the same player to receive short corners. Only Brighton’s Pascal Groß (8) has more first contacts than Ødegaard’s seven so far this season.
You can understand why Arsenal go short so often, too. Only Villa (17.5%) had a worse success percentage than Arsenal (21.1%) from corners crossed directly into the penalty area last season (success defined as an attacking player making first contact with the ball).
An explanation for this could be that a large number of their crossed corners were aimed at the centre of the six-yard box, (58 – 26.0%), and inswinging corners are something they have clearly focused on. It’s a high-risk, high-reward approach. The defensive team have a better chance of clearing the ball, but should the attacking side get to it first, a goal is likelier than it would be with an outswinger where you would naturally be further away from goal and probably have to generate much of the power for the shot/header yourself.
As mentioned in our recent piece on last season’s corner trends, of Arsenal’s 165 crossed corners, 154 were inswingers, with their approach the most weighted towards one particular type of corner of any team by a distance. That has been even truer this season, with all 35 of their crossed corners being swung in rather than out so far.
Mastering the art of the inswinging corner seems to be chiefly what is leading to their impressive output. An example of its effectiveness came in last season’s 1-0 win against Chelsea at Stamford Bridge. Bukayo Saka curled a corner low into the Chelsea box. As you can see in the image below, Chelsea had seven players plus the goalkeeper in their own six-yard box, while Arsenal had three, with another three just outside ready to cause chaos.
And cause chaos they did as a diving header attempt at the front post from William Saliba led the Chelsea defenders to stand like statues as Gabriel Magalhães made a run for a tap in practically in the centre of the goal. It looked incredibly simple but was very effective.
Saka’s delivery has also been key. He leads the league this season for player’s to take corners that lead to goals, having been responsible for all three for Arsenal, while only Fulham’s Andreas Pereira (8) and Tottenham’s Son Heung-min (7) recorded more than his six last season.
The below graphic shows all 270 corners taken by Arsenal since the start of the 2022-23 season in the Premier League, with just eight of them classed as outswingers. It is such a small number that you wonder if some were inswingers that were mishit.
Arsenal are not just efficient at scoring from corners, but this season they have seemingly become experts at both winning and not conceding them. Arteta’s side have won the most corners in the Premier League so far in 2023-24 with 47, while no side has conceded as few as their 11.
Their penchant for short corners is interesting, though, as statistically it doesn’t lead to a goal all that often, even though it worked to great effect last weekend against Everton when Trossard finished off a neat move.
Seventeen goals have been scored from corners in the Premier League ahead of Matchday 6, with 15 coming from crosses and just two from short corners, including Trossard’s. Last season, the split of the 124 goals scored from corners across the league was 100 from crosses and 24 from short ones.
In spite of that, teams appear to be trying the short route more often. Between the 2015-16 season and the 2020-21 season, the percentage of short corners taken by Premier League teams was steady at between 16-18%. It dipped to 14% in 2021-22, before rising up to 17.7% last season. After the first five matchdays of the 2023-24 campaign, 20.6% have been taken short, despite just two having led to goals. It will be interesting to see if that trend continues.
Tottenham’s goal tally from corners since the start of last season is all the more impressive considering they have had multiple managers in that time. Under Antonio Conte, and the caretaker reigns of Cristian Stellini and Ryan Mason, Spurs managed to match Arsenal on 13 goals from corners last season.
In that campaign, they actually scored at the highest rate, scoring from 6.4% of their corners (Arsenal were fourth with 5.8%). From a small sample size in 2023-24, they are remaining in that area having scored two goals from 32 corners so far – a 6.3% rate.
Former set-piece coach Gianni Vio was widely credited with improving them in this area, and recently told The Athletic: “Normally, teams will spend nearly two hours per week warming up, but just 10 minutes for set-pieces. Considering [all set-pieces make up] 30% of the goals scored, this is a mistake in my opinion.” Unsurprisingly, it appears the teams who work most on set pieces on the training field are the ones who bear the fruit of their labours on a matchday.
With Harry Kane gone and Postecoglou having a very different style to Conte, it was unclear if Tottenham would continue to be a danger from corners, but on early evidence, they seem to be. Their two goals from such situations so far is joint-second behind Arsenal’s three, while only Arsenal (16) and Liverpool (14) have had more shots following a corner than their 13. It is perhaps not much of a surprise as Postecoglou’s Celtic scored more goals from corners than any other side in the Scottish Premiership last season (14).
As you can see in the above graphics, Tottenham’s approach hasn’t changed much despite Postecoglou’s arrival. Slightly more corners are being taken short while slightly fewer are ending up in the six-yard box.
Spurs also showed the usefulness of a quality inswinging corner last weekend in their dramatic 2-1 comeback win against Sheffield United. Ivan Perisic whipped a delivery to the near post, where Richarlison timed his run and jump to perfection to level the score at 1-1.
Of their 32 corners so far this season, 23 have been crossed and nine taken short. Unlike Arsenal, though, they mix it up a bit more, with 14 of their crossed corners swung in and nine swung out, possibly changing their approach depending on whether the opposition are using zonal or man marking. Both goals so far have come from inswingers, though their percentage of crossed corners being inswingers has dropped from 69% last season to 61% so far this campaign.
Spurs could possibly look to cross it even more often as they lead the league for success percentage from crossed corners (winning the first ball) with 47.1%. Again, it’s a relatively small sample size so far, but is currently up from their 27.4% last season.
Something else noticeable about the difference in Spurs’ corners this season is the number of players inside the six-yard box. Last season, they were second behind only Arsenal in terms of average players in the six-yard box from corners with 2.71. That has dropped to just 1.58 this season, 13th in the league. Arsenal are still flooding the box, though their average is slightly down from 3.23 players last year to 3.13 this.
As mentioned above, Son had the second-most corners that led to goals in the Premier League last season. However, he hasn’t even taken one so far this season, with James Maddison taking responsibility for most of Tottenham’s corners. The former Leicester City man has taken the joint-most corners in the league in 2023-24 (25 – level with Saka), though the only one that has led to a goal took the long way round before Cristian Romero slammed in against Burnley.
Of course, for every corner won on Sunday, it will also have to be defended. Both teams have conceded seven goals from corners since the start of last season. Spurs are yet to do so this season while Arsenal have conceded one, so there is little to choose between the two at either end.
Whether Arsenal or Tottenham are able to utilise these skills in what promises to be another thunderous derby remains to be seen but if they keep this up, there could be an argument that both teams will have claim be the most significant thing to happen to corners since Müller (the yoghurt manufacturer, not Kane’s new Bayern Munich teammate Thomas).