Arsenal Women surprisingly drew 0-0 with Brighton & Hove Albion in the Conti Cup group stage on Sunday. In the group stage format, if the match finishes in a draw, penalties are used to decide who should get an extra point. Brighton prevailed 4-3 on spot kicks. Tim Stillman was at the game for Arseblog News, casting a beady eye over proceedings.
Arsenal were not at their fluent best….
But there actually wasn’t a huge amount to worry about in this game or in the performance, even if it was slightly below par. The Gunners started with Beth Mead on the right and Katie McCabe on the left, with Jill Roord upfront. This is the first time Mead, McCabe and Roord have played together as a front three and it, understandably, showed.
Roord played as a centre-forward as a teenager, but with Dan Carter injured, Arsenal don’t have many centre-forward alternatives without Vivianne Miedema. Joe used a lesser competition in which the team are certainly going to qualify from their group to try something new. Katie McCabe has only played as a left-back this season, while Mead usually operates from the left of the attack.
Arsenal struggled to hit their stride in the opening half an hour with Miedema and van de Donk, two players crucial to Arsenal’s build-up play, missing. With Mead and McCabe playing on their natural sides, the attack became too predictable and the wingers ended up hitting crosses into the Brighton area, which the Seagulls were prepared for.
That said, Arsenal created four clear cut chances in a crazy two minute spell towards the end of the half, with McCabe, Mead, Little and Roord all going close. The chances varied greatly in difficulty- Little’s volley would have been a genuine goal of the season contender- but again, with van de Donk or Miedema on the pitch I am sure one of them would have rustled the net.
Jill Roord moving away from the frontline a lot more already in this half to allow runners in behind.
— Tim Stillman (@Stillberto) November 3, 2019
Joe changed the configuration of the forward line at half-time…
“We tried to bring Jill Roord out a bit and away from the frontline to get her and Jordan closer together,” Joe told me after the game. “We thought that would open things up a little and get runners in behind.” Mead moved to the left and McCabe to the right as Montemurro inverted the wingers and Arsenal resisted the urge to opt for hopeful crosses.
It worked initially as Arsenal penned Brighton in and they were very unfortunate not to take the lead in this period of the match when Jill Roord’s header hit the connection between the post and crossbar. However, Brighton responded well to the period of pressure with a couple of dangerous counter-attacks.
“We started the second half pretty well and we were pinning them back and getting through them. But then we let them back into the game,” Louise Quinn told me post-match. Umotong posed a constant threat on the break, ably supported by the support running of Ellie Brazil. Brighton often found counter-attack to be the best method of defence.
With a more clinical striker, the Seagulls would have scored themselves. Quinn intimated that that put some doubt into the team’s minds. “We needed to be tidier and we were letting them in too easily sometimes and that can have an effect on the rest of the team.” Montemurro sent for DvD and Miedema for the final ten minutes and Viv instantly latched onto a Little through ball to force a good save from ‘keeper Sophie Harris.
Arsenal lost patience in the final ten minutes…
“Yeah, that can happen when you’re looking for a goal. We were just trying too hard to force it,” Montemurro reflected when we spoke post-match. A series of overhit crosses and mishit through balls blighted the final period of the game when there were visible signs of fatigue from the Brighton players. The pitch was heavy at Crawley, which often resulted in awkward moments.
McCabe received the ball behind the Brighton defence during the second half, only to find the ball became stuck in the goalmouth mud, causing her to lose her footing. It was that kind of day. That said, Brighton played a weakened side and rested several key players and this is a game Arsenal ought to have won comfortably.
The defence and midfield were broadly fine, as you would expect given how often the midfielders and defenders had played together. That familiarity wasn’t quite there in the final third, which cost them the victory. However, it was absolutely right that Miedema and van de Donk were rested for this game.
The lost points don’t mean much in the grand scheme of the competition and the loss of chemistry is the price of rotating two of your most effective attackers. We saw that Arsenal might struggle if they are forced to play without Vivianne Miedema for a long period, but I am not sure that wasn’t already apparent.
Barcelona will struggle without Messi, exceptional players are difficult to replace. But I don’t think this was an issue of quality in the replacements so much as chemistry. That, I think, was the story of this game.
The good news is that nobody else in Arsenal’s group won. London City Lionesses beat Bristol City On penalties and London Bees beat Charlton on penalties too. Nobody took the full 3 points.
— Tim Stillman (@Stillberto) November 3, 2019