12 PL goals in three seasons
Streams of West Ham supporters were spotted leaving the London Stadium at half-time on Sunday. It was a demolition job from Arsenal. The Gunners led 4-0 at half-time, and made it 6-0 after 90 minutes. Mikel Arteta recorded his biggest win as Arsenal boss, and inflicted the Hammers heaviest home defeat in 61 years. Arsenal completely embarrassed a West Ham side usually known for being defensively solid, and backed up their impressive 3-1 win over fellow title challengers Liverpool the week before. Once again set pieces were a potent weapon for the Gunners.
William Saliba nodded home the opener from Declan Rice’s excellent whipped corner after 32 minutes. It had been coming. Arsenal had already threatened to expose West Ham at the back post on numerous occasions. In the 44th minute Saliba’s centre-back partner Gabriel was in on the act, rising highest to convert Rice’s free-kick for the Brazilian’s fourth of the season. It’s now a Premier League high 16 goals from set pieces this season for Arsenal. Their excellent record could be the factor that wins the North London club their first league title in 21 years. Back then under Arsène Wenger, it was defending corners where Arsenal looked most vulnerable. Often accused of a lack of sturdiness and fight. However, since the appointment of French set piece coach Nicolas Jover in 2021, whom Arteta brought from Manchester City, the North London side have added a new dimension to their game.
Set pieces could be key to Arsenal’s title ambitions
On average there are between 10 and 11 corners in every Premier League match. So around 5.5 for each team. It doesn’t take a genius to see that if you can turn those five or six corners into genuine goalscoring chances, you are maximising your opportunities to be successful. As such, it has been an area of focus at the Emirates.
Every time Arsenal get a corner or dangerous free-kick, Arteta takes a rare seat in the dugout. Set piece specialist Jover rises. Patrolling the technical area, and barking orders at the Arsenal players. His work is paying off. As can be seen in the graphic above, Arsenal have scored more set piece non-penalty goals than any other team in the Premier League this season. Last term, the Gunners scored 15 league goals from set pieces – only bettered by Liverpool (17) Tottenham (16) and Brentford (16). However, the season before Jover headed south from Man City, only Fulham and Sheffield United had scored fewer goals from such set piece situations.
Speaking to TNT sports after Arsenal’s 5-0 victory against Crystal Palace last month, winger Bukayo Saka said, “We do a lot of work on set pieces. Nico, our set-piece coach, does a really good job though, he tries to make it fun and he’s enjoying it. What he’s doing is clearly working so we’ll have to continue doing it.” In November, Leandro Trossard was speaking about Jover: “It’s a pleasure to work with him. He’s really clever on set-pieces. It’s such a great aspect in the game where you can open up a game. It helped us already a lot.” And Trossard was a key component of Arsenal’s threat from corners on that afternoon against Palace at the Emirates. The Belgian would spin and block the jumping route of Palace’s main attacker of the ball Joachim Anderson. It played a part in Gabriel’s opening goal, and from then on the Dane was obsessed with the movement and blocking of Trossard and looked at heads and tails defending every set piece.
Is Gabriel the best goalscoring centre-half in the Premier League?
The signing of centre-back Gabriel from Lille for €26m in the summer of 2020, is looking more and more like one of the great Premier League transfer coups with each passing season. The Brazilian has formed one of the most formidable centre-back partnerships in world football alongside Frenchmen Saliba. His aggressive front foot defending the perfect accompaniment to Saliba’s calm and composed nature. But it’s not just his elite defending that have made Gabriel stand out in an Arsenal shirt. He has become a menace in the opposition box, with his leap and the timing of his headers causing nightmares for defenders.
In the past three seasons, no centre-back has scored more Premier League goals than Gabriel’s 12. Ben Mee and Virgil van Dijk come closest with eight for Mee and seven for van Dijk. His goals per game ratio in the division of 0.12gpg can only be matched by two centre halves in the history of the division to have played 100 games or more – Thomas Vermaelen (0.12gpg) and Frank Leboeuf (0.12gpg). The all-time top goalscoring centre-back in the Premier League John Terry, who scored 41 times, has a 0.08gpg ratio.
Gabriel was an ever present in the Arsenal team last season, and is third in the list of most consecutive league games played for the club, having made 75 appearances in a row from 2021 until he was left out in the Gunners home 2-2 draw to Fulham at the beginning of this season. The 26-year-old is a pivotal part of this Arsenal team in both boxes, and will be key to any challenges the Gunners make for either the Premier league title or the Champions League. Gabriel has a current market value of €60m, and could be set for another rise in value in the next Premier League market value update in March.