Bukayo Saka grabbed the ball like a man in a hurry. The corner routine that won Arsenal the game at Goodison Park was anything but rushed, though.
From the moment he placed the ball down to the moment he tapped it to Martin Odegaard, 26 seconds had elapsed.
Sky Sports latched onto it as a seemingly excessive amount of time but Opta statistics show the average delay between the award of a corner and the kick being taken was actually 33.2 seconds in the Premier League last season.
From the moment the ball went dead in the 68th minute on Sunday it took 37 seconds for Saka to resume play. The reason it felt longer was that there was not a huge delay in fetching the ball; When Amadou Onana managed to divert the ball for a corner, Saka retrieved a nearby replacement behind the byline and he was at the flag within 11 seconds.
Arsenal were chasing a winner so were not timewasting. Why, then, did Saka stand over the ball for such a long time?
It appears to have been a plan designed to, first, distract Everton and create an overload through a series of subtle movements.
As Arsenal’s players lined up in the box, Gabriel put his arm up and patted his head as if to signal he was the target. The longer Saka did not use the option of Odegaard, the more it seemed inevitable he would eventually cross the ball.
Eventually, the crowd began to get restless with the delay, as did Jordan Pickford and James Tarkowski. When Pickford moved out from his goal and flailed his arms in protest at the referee, Saka nudged the ball to his captain.
Tarkowski was stationed on the six-yard line but Everton don’t defend corners with men at the edge of the box so he split his roles between defending that area and getting out to the spare man, Fabio Vieira.
When Odegaard played the ball, the centre-back sprinted to deny a clear shot but Leandro Trossard had made a sneaky arced run down the side of Amadou Onana — the first potential hole to play through.
Vieira instead played square to Zinchenko. Dwight McNeil and Gana Gueye had made it two-v-two at the corner flag but Zinchenko attracted the latter towards him, helping Arsenal gain an overload.
When Odegaard got the ball again, McNeil darted out to press the Norwegian, which opened up the space behind him for Saka to burst into.
As that was unfolding, though, Trossard silently got into position for the next pass. As the Everton line dropped in anticipation of Saka playing the ball across, he went in the opposite direction, drifting into space.
Saka cut the ball back for the Belgian to strike first time with his left foot into the far corner.
Eight of Arsenal’s corners against Everton were short — from a total of 11 (73 per cent) — the most they’ve taken in a single game across the past five seasons, although the final two were motivated by wasting time with victory in sight.
It was a massive increase on previous seasons. In 2020-21, Arsenal took 21.7 per cent of their corners short, while in 2021-22 that number fell to 11.5 per cent and last season the share was up at 24.7 per cent.
There had been no indications in the four previous league fixtures that a change in strategy was forthcoming. Against Nottingham Forest, Fulham and Crystal Palace they did not take a single one of their 24 corners short and against Manchester United only a third of their 12 corners went short.
Everton seemed like a bespoke plan, as Trossard explained.
“Obviously, they have a lot of tall guys and they are good in the air and on set pieces, so that’s where we wanted to exploit them. I think it helped, and that was the idea behind it. We work hard on everything tactically,” he said.
Everton’s first warning came in the ninth minute, when Arsenal worked space for Fabio Vieira to get a free shot off from inside the penalty area.
As with the goal, Ben White started in the box but, as soon as it was played short, sprinted away from goal. His initial position may have been to drag another defender in but when no one followed, it meant Arsenal had another spare man.
Martinelli made a run to the front post at the same time but Odegaard played the ball back to Zinchenko, who was in a good crossing position.
Again, Arsenal started with a two-v-two out wide but, with a simple backwards pass, Gueye had been sucked out. Vieira drifted off him and continued his run into the box, leaving him spare.
Zinchenko punched the ball into his feet on the half-turn.
And Martinelli made a run in behind, his marker Onana — and Tarkowski, the spare man — both took as a cue to follow him.
Vieira came inside but the ball was on his weaker foot and he sliced the chance wide.
In the second half, Trossard instigated the first short routine.
Everton set up a half-zonal, half-man-marking system which meant he was able to roam freely. He walked from the penalty spot towards Pickford, signalling instructions to his team-mates.
He waited until McNeil, the man on the front post, had momentarily turned away to make an option for Saka.
As the ball was played, Odegaard sprinted towards the corner but Trossard slowed the ball down as it became clear they were lining up the ball out to Zinchenko for a shot.
Despite Everton being aware of this, Odegaard and White acted as blockers to stop Tarkowski and Gueye from getting out to the Ukrainian.
It created room for Zinchenko to shoot but Tarkowski did well to block.
That deflection led straight into their next routine. It was the simplest of the game but almost came off. It started with Vieira tapping the ball to Odegaard and maintaining proximity to one another, which kept Gueye deep in his box.
Zinchenko had lots of room to creep forwards and shape his body to cross the ball first time.
As the ball was played out, Everton’s defensive line naturally shifted up too. Arsenal looked to capitalise by having Saliba go against the grain at the back post.
He timed his run perfectly and the angle for the cross into space opened up as planned.
But Tarkowski positioned himself well and headed clear the cross, which was too low.
Arsenal’s pressure was building but it still seemed like a short corner was their likeliest route to goal. Just a minute before the breakthrough did come, they had another from the same side.
Saka took 34 seconds to take it but there was no convoluted journey around the edge of the box.
Trossard ran away from goal to drag Tarkowski and Onana away from their front-post positions, the area Arsenal eventually wanted to expose.
Odegaard crept forward in a one-v-one against McNeil, waiting on the right moment to shift it onto his left foot.
Saka then crossed paths and got in the way of McNeil, meaning there was no pressure on the ball.
While Arsenal worked the space to deliver, Gabriel Jesus and Saliba worked an area to attack. The Brazilian backed into Ashley Young, who had been on the goal line, and pushed him towards the back post.
Meanwhile, Saliba got in between Dominic Calvert-Lewin, a zonal marker, and Abdoulaye Doucoure just outside the six-yard area.
He gave the latter a little nudge in the back to give himself room to sprint forwards to an inviting gap, only for Odegaard to overhit the cross.
Mikel Arteta’s side struggled to carve many clear-cut chances from open play but their threat from short corners was clear.
It is rare to see a team display such creativity and cohesion on complicated routines but Arsenal managed it, with the winner at Goodison Park the 16th goal from a corner since the start of last season.