Arsenal title win in spite of David Raya as ‘little nuisance’ also receives undue credit

Will Ford
Raya Arsenal
David Raya made a blunder for Arsenal against Tottenham.

If Arsenal win the Premier League title it will be in spite of their goalkeeper and thanks to Nicolas Jover, but in much smaller part than the set piece coach’s celebrity would suggest.

By half-time, Micky van der Ven had had a goal ruled out for a marginal offside, Christian Romero had hit the post with one header and put another marginally wide, and Son Heung-min had blazed a shot well over the bar when through one-on-one with David Raya.

Tottenham had by no means been outplayed by Arsenal and had had a similar quality and type of chances. They had an xG of 0.67 to Arsenal’s 0.70, but were 3-0 down.

Saka scored the typical Saka goal (shame no one told Ben Davies), cutting in from the right and sliding the ball past Guglielmo Vicario after a very quick break from back to front featuring calm heads in tight spaces and an excellent switch of play by Kai Havertz. It was a rare bit of absolute quality from the Gunners in a game in which they otherwise struggled to assert any real authority.

Spurs fans twice had to endure the celebrations of Arsenal set piece chief Nicolas Jover, first after Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg headed beautifully into his own net and again when Kai Havertz continued his excellent run of form which has now seen him score eight goals in his last 11 Premier League games.

Jover’s been made an assistant coach celebrity by standing up whenever the Gunners have a corner or free-kick. For no apparent reason – surely if the set piece coach has coached set pieces effectively the players should require no in-game input? – other than for him to receive the maximum amount of credit for each of the 16 goals they’ve now scored from corners this season. Possibly more credit than he deserves.

Arsenal’s third goal of the game and second from a corner saw Declan Rice cross the ball for fellow summer signing Kai Havertz to nod in while Tottenham players stood around watching. The Arsenal uplift in success from set pieces has at least as much to do with recruitment than the impact of that “little nuisance”, as Gary Neville described Jover, to avoid calling him a smug pr*ck on live television.

Arsenal of course deserve credit for that though. It makes perfect sense when building a Premier League team to always have an eye on set pieces. It’s the reason they won this game, and is a huge reason why they’re still in the title race.

They’ve got excellent inswinging delivery – through Bukayo Saka from the right and Rice from the left – and a team of giants. And sure, Jover has directed them to run from the back post to the front and employs some of them to block the opposition defenders, but let’s not pretend he’s some sort of dead-ball magician not relying on the two things that have always made teams successful in those situations: good delivery and big blokes.

Arsenal didn’t create a huge amount in open play other than Saka’s goal, in what – simply because of that relative lack of fluency compared to their crushing win over Chelsea – we’re obliged to refer to as ‘a performance of champions’. In the first half, maybe, but chaos reigned in the second.

On BBC Radio 5 Live ahead of kick-off, because of the line of questioning and baffling obsession with the Golden Glove award to illustrate the quality of a goalkeeper, Mark Schwarzer was left with little option but to extol the virtues of David Raya.

He currently has 14 clean sheets this season and – two clear of Jordan Pickford – will probably win the Golden Glove. But if Arsenal win the title, they will have done so in spite of him.

What was he thinking? What was the best outcome of him successfully dinking the ball over Christian Romero? Dejan Kulusevski was the player behind Romero in any case. We know what the worst outcome was: a Spurs goal and a way back into a game that should have been beyond them. A ridiculous decision from a goalkeeper whose clean sheets flatter to deceive.

He’s had Ben White, William Saliba and Gabriel Magalhaes – who have been unbelievably good – in front of him for near enough the whole season. And when the Brentford loanee has been faced with one of the 2.18 shots per game on target (no goalkeeper has faced fewer), he’s been among the worst in the Premier League at stopping them. He’s quite simply just not been very good at any aspect of being a goalkeeper, and to sign him permanently on the basis of clean sheets would be an absurd decision from a recruitment team that doesn’t make many bad ones.

Certinly not when it comes to their set piece focus, which won them the North London derby and could win them the Premier League. Thanks, but in smaller part than his celebrity would suggest, to their “little nuisance” Nicolas Jover.