Joe Montemurro made changes to the right side of his team for the visit of Brighton & Hove Albion on Sunday. Anna Patten came in at right-back ahead of Noelle Maritz and Leonie Maier. Jordan Nobbs started on the right wing, while Leah Williamson came back in at right centre-half, with Lotte Wubben-Moy shifting over to the left of defence. Lia Wälti started on the bench.
In some ways, I think this explains a slightly disjointed performance but, at the same time, these changes were part of a deliberate plan to overload Brighton using the right flank, where both of Arsenal’s goals came from. I asked Joe Montemurro about this after the game and he confirmed the work on the right was choreographed.
“We had Anna Patten really coming inside to create the second or third number 10, we worked on advancing down that flank. But more importantly, if we couldn’t, we could overload their midfield. Brighton play a 442 so they only play two players centrally- we found space by dragging out their wide midfielders.”
However, Joe did need to make a tweak before the changes bore fruit, moving Jordan Nobbs to the left flank and Beth Mead back to the right half way through the first half. “Jordan’s natural inclination when playing wide is to come inside and because Anna Patten was inverting on the right, we just felt we needed a more classic winger on that side and we worked on something a little different with Anna and Jordan’s movement during the week. but
“Their full-back wasn’t coming inside, she was staying outside so we felt a winger would be better on the right. We felt Jordan moving to the left and going from outside to in would suit us a little better and she got her rewards with the goals.” Both goals came from moves built on the right-hand side with Jordan Nobbs finishing as she moved onto the left.
Arsenal targeted the right flank consistently in the first half. Joe talked about inverting Anna Patten to be another midfielder and the first time Arsenal build an attack down the left, we see what he means. Look at Patten’s position here as Roord crosses from the left. She is positioned much more like a central midfielder than a full-back.
We see here the attempt to create an overload. Patten and Nobbs are probably slightly closer together than they should be. However, Danielle van de Donk has moved to the right outside of Patten. DvD’s cross is cleared on this occasion but it’s a warning shot for later on…
The idea was for van de Donk, Nobbs and Patten to form a triangle on the right and drag Brighton’s midfield two over to that side.
In this example, we see DvD drift over to the right to collect the ball from Leah Williamson and, in doing so, she takes a Brighton midfielder with her.
The ball is progressed back to van de Donk in the right-back area and look at Patten’s reaction. She immediately inverts into a more central position, into a hole created by van de Donk’s movement from inside to outside.
Patten collects the pass in a right central midfield position and moves the ball to Nobbs on the outside. Look at how many Brighton players have been dragged out of position by Patten and van de Donk essentially swapping positions.
Now Patten has space to run into on the right. Patten’s cross is eventually blocked but the idea is clear.
When the first goal arrives, it comes from a move on the right. This was less about Anna Patten inverting and more about general rotation of positions. Look here as Leah Williamson picks the ball up in the right-back position more or less, with Patten tucking in behind her to cover the space.
Danielle van de Donk moves to the right flank with Beth Mead swapping roles with her. Ordinarily you would expect this to be a Patten pass to Mead (who has now moved to the right) run. You can see that the Brighton players are confused and don’t know who to track and end up tracking nobody.
Van de Donk’s cross takes a ricochet but Jordan Nobbs has motored into the area from the left flank and her shot squirms under Megan Walsh to give Arsenal the lead.
— Barclays FA Women's Super League (@BarclaysFAWSL) April 25, 2021
We saw this move time and again down the right in the first half. Look again as Kim Little picks up the ball here, again Anna Patten immediately moves inside to create an extra midfield presence and we can also see that she is not picked up because Arsenal have outnumbered Brighton in that area.
Kim Little tries to pick out Miedema and the ball has a little too much on it. Patten is in midfield again and Danielle van de Donk has crept over to the right flank. As Megan Walsh collects the ball and the move breaks down, we see DvD and Anna Patten zigzag back into their “traditional” positions.
One example of what Tim (and Joe of course!) was talking about with those overloads:
– Mead drops down/wide
– Patten inverts inside
– Miedema dropping deep and Nobbs shifting over to overload the 4-4-2 https://t.co/W4kCZWoJDT pic.twitter.com/dg8KPZOzNA
— Carlon Carpenter (@C_Carpenter14) April 25, 2021
The second goal also comes from a move on the right but this is less about choreography and more to do with game state. Brighton are pushing for an equaliser and there is space. The goal was quite rare for Arsenal in that it came from a counter-attack. Because of the way teams tend to play against Arsenal, the Gunners have the lowest proportion of their goals from counters in the WSL.
Shortly before the move, look at how aggressive Brighton’s positioning is as they attack. That means there are gaps to exploit if the move breaks down.
Arsenal get a throw in next to their own corner flag and centre-half Victoria Williams has pushed right up to challenge Vivianne Miedema but she doesn’t win the ball and that puts her in trouble. Arsenal often use Miedema as a release valve for throw ins when space is tight because she is so strong at holding the ball up.
The ball squirms to van de Donk and she displays her quality with an outstanding first-time pass to Miedema, who has left Williams in her wake. Jordan Nobbs is essentially in central midfield at this point of the move.
Mead and Nobbs instantly recognize their roles as van de Donk sets Miedema free. Mead, the right winger, attacks the front post and Nobbs, the left winger, attacks the back post, creating a clear line of attack and separating Brighton’s defenders in the process.
Miedema shows her intelligence here because she is thinking two moves ahead. She knows that passing to Mead doesn’t give Beth a good shooting angle; but she knows passing to Mead will attract the Brighton centre-half to her, leaving space for Nobbs on the back post.
Once again, Arsenal overloaded on the right and created room for Jordan Nobbs to finish from the left.
— Barclays FA Women's Super League (@BarclaysFAWSL) April 25, 2021
With thanks to @miedemastuff for the graphics.