Tactics Journal

by Kyle Boas

Analyzing football tactics

Arsenal's devastating six-yard box corner kick routine

Declan Rice’s surgically precise and consistent delivery from the left-side into the six-yard for Arsenal, paired with with the aerial prowess of his targets, Gabriel and Havertz, makes this world football’s most reproducible corner kick routine.

Figure 1.1 - Declan Rice's target prior to Arsenal moving from the far-side to the target.

Since the West Ham match, Declan Rice has been taking corners from the left-side for Arsenal, and the weight, pace, and accuracy on his cross is perfect every-time. I have not seen him misplace a cross from a corner since.

This is the type of corner that will make you buy new defenders. If you don’t have the correct profiles to deal with the physicality Arsenal have in the box, if you whip it in with enough pace, and the targets are placed in the correct spots, you can’t really defend against this cross.

Rice aims for the space inside the six-yard box, close to the goal, just in-front of the goalkeeper. When there’s the correct amount of pace on the cross, the goalkeeper can’t come out, and the defenders have little time to react. All they can do is jump and pray they get some contact on the ball.

Normally the cross is the hard part, but Declan Rice is too accurate. The hard part is the header, but Arsenal are beginning to perfect that. Imagine having the ability to score one goal whenever you want. Both teams could be tired, your team is defending well, but Arsenal win a corner, and they score. That is devastating.

It’s devastating because Arsenal are ahead of the curve in the evolution of modern football. They have brought in the height and physicality before everyone else, when it has gone out of favor for a decade. Most teams in the Premier League are not built tall. With the need for ball-playing center-backs and more technically gifted midfielders, with tall target men falling out of favor; the amount of tall physically imposing players in teams is less than what you’d find in earlier generations, like in the 2000s for example. But now that is making a comeback.

Arsenal have the height and physicality, and now they have the accuracy. You can stop them in open-play, but you’re behind a goal off one simple corner. Devastating.

Figure 1.2 - Targets Kai Havertz and Gabriel's position at the start of the routine.

Arsenal start by overloading the far-post, and then when Rice is ready to take the corner, they move to the front-post, the target area. Doing this makes it difficult for Tottenham to track the targets, as they defend the cross zonally.

Figure 1.3 - Ben White backs his body into Tottenham goalkeeper Guglielmo Vicario.

The pace and placement of the cross means that Vicario can’t come out to claim or punch. There’s not enough time. To add some extra assurance that that won’t happen, Ben White uses his body to unsettle Vicario, just before Rice kicks the ball. That’s one benefit.

The second benefit is that when Rice kicks the ball, Vicario is off-balance and discombobulated. He can’t track the ball as effectively, so if the ball is headed in, he won’t likely be able to get a strong enough hand to bat it away to safety. If he makes the save, the ball will likely fall to the floor just in front of goal, where Arsenal are crowded.

Figure 1.4 - Declan Rice's target area when he hits the cross in.
Figure 1.5 - Arsenal forming a line in the path of the ball, in the six-yard box, as the ball is crossed in.
  • Thomas Partey leads the line. He’s there in case Rice under-hits the ball. He can flick it on.
  • Gabriel is the first to jump, he’s the secondary target if the ball is slightly under-hit. By jumping he blocks the view of the defender marking Tomiyasu and Havertz.
  • Tomiyasu blocks off the defender behind, Van de Ven, which makes Van de Ven gravitate towards Tomiyasu.
  • Havertz is the main target because he’s in the best position to head the ball straight into the net from close range.
  • Saliba remains on the back-post for the tap-in if the cross is over-hit, or if there’s some kind of small deflection or dinked header.
Figure 1.6 - Gabriel and Kai Havertz jumping for the header, with Takehiro Tomiyasu preoccupying Tottenham defender Mickey van de Ven.
Figure 1.7 - Side angle of Gabriel and Kai Havertz jumping up for the header.
Figure 1.8 - Kai Havertz making contact with the header unmarked.

This is the basketball equivalent of a 7-foot tall center dunking on a 6-foot forward. It’s unstoppable. It is very hard to guarantee a goal in football, but this is as close as you can get. It’s not one player’s heading ability, it’s all of them, and their ability to toy with the opposition physically.

Tottenham are one of those less equipped teams when defending corners. It’s defenders Cristian Romero and Mickey van de Ven versus everyone else, and van de Ven is just tall, he’s not particularly good heading the ball from a cross. They don’t have the players to mark Partey, Gabriel, Tomiyasu, Havertz, White, and Saliba equally. Every team they play, except for some exceptions, like Everton for example, it is a mismatch.

Match: Tottenham 2-3 Arsenal, 28 April 2024

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