Arsenal Women have signed four players this summer; a goalkeeper, a defensive midfielder and two full-backs. In some respects, that tells you the area for improvement Joe Montemurro has identified ahead of next season. The Gunners defeated every team outside of the top three for the second season in a row but came up short in the big games with three points from 12 available against Manchester City and Chelsea and an unfortunate Conti Cup Final defeat to Emma Hayes’ side.
I looked at how each signing might individually contribute to the squad a couple of weeks ago. Maritz, Catley and Williams have extensive experience of winning trophies and hints at some changes to the defensive setup in those matches against Arsenal’s title rivals. However, the summer signings are also a reflection of the outgoings.
Emma Mitchell- a left-back, Katrine Veje- another left-back, Pauline Peyraud-Magnin- a goalkeeper and Louise Quinn- a centre-half all left this summer. Danielle Carter also departed but she had already been replaced by Caitlin Foord in January. All the departing players operated in reduced roles last season. Mitchell, Veje and Carter didn’t start a WSL match between them, while Louise Quinn and Pauline Peyraud-Magnin started three league games apiece.
Catley and Maritz will expect to start more games than those players combined next season, while Williams’ presence allows Joe Montemurro to continue his policy of rotating his goalkeepers. What is really interesting, to me at least, is how the summer squad surgery might alter the attack. The personnel are the same but there is far more scope for rotation and competition this season.
Katie McCabe was required to play left-back in every single one of her WSL, Champions League and FA Cup starts last season with Katrine Veje injured and Emma Mitchell out of favour. In Arsenal’s title winning season, she played more minutes than any other Arsenal player and almost all of those as a wide-forward.
McCabe can play on the left or as an inverted winger on the right where she has the ability to move inside and either combine with Jordan Nobbs and Vivianne Miedema, or else cut in and shoot on her left foot. The arrivals of Catley and Maritz, both accomplished left-backs, free McCabe up to operate as a wide-forward again.
— Arsenal Women (@ArsenalWFC) June 15, 2020
Maritz can also operate as a right-back and with her and Leonie Maier in the squad, Lisa Evans can be used as a right-sided forward more often. The Scot’s regular output from the right means she has been Joe’s preferred choice at full-back, a position she hadn’t played prior to Montemurro’s appointment. Maritz’s presence could see Evans pushed forward.
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— Arsenal Women (@ArsenalWFC) July 14, 2020
Last season, Arsenal started with a forward line of van de Donk and Mead flanking Miedema in nine of their 14 WSL games [Mead missed three matches through injury] and in all four of their Champions League matches. There wasn’t a huge amount of rotation in the front three over the campaign. The mid-season arrival of Australian international Caitlin Foord was designed to change this but she was only able to play two games before lockdown.
Foord’s versatility is valuable, she is primarily a wide-forward but can play through the centre too. The latter point is crucial because buying specialised back-up to Vivianne Miedema is difficult- no top-level striker wants that assignment because it involves a lot of sitting on the substitutes bench. Foord can operate as a wide-forward and slot into the centre when required to.
A debut goal for The Arsenal ?
— Arsenal Women (@ArsenalWFC) February 23, 2020
When I asked Joe about the acquisition of Caitlin earlier this year, he pointed to the variety she introduces to the Gunners forward line, “She’s dynamic, she’s explosive. She’s a little bit different to some of the players we’ve got, she’s quite powerful in the final third.” In van de Donk, he has a wide creator and a player capable of filling the second striker role when Miedema wanders outside of the area.
Arsenal is a largely technical team and Beth Mead’s role is to add jeopardy. She tries riskier actions like dribbles, shots from outside the area and crosses to create unpredictability. Foord provides explosiveness in behind a full-back and has a penchant for scrappy, close range goals. Evans and McCabe offer penetration from the flanks and McCabe’s left foot is a valuable weapon closer to the goal.
⚽️ ㅡ @bmeado9's first goal this season assisted by Lisa Evans
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⚽️ ㅡ @LisaEvans_17's first goal this season assisted by Beth Mead
— miedemastuff ⚽️ (@miedemastuff) May 21, 2020
Crucially, the changes potentially give the manager greater options from the bench too. In the 2-1 defeats to Manchester City and Chelsea in February, Arsenal didn’t make any substitutions as they chased both games. Montemurro prizes adaptability over all else and with a forward line of van de Donk, Mead, Evans, McCabe, Foord and Miedema, he has more options at his disposal next season without having signed a forward.