Arsenal Women’s pre-season concluded as quickly as it started with friendly victories over Chelsea at Emirates Stadium and a 4-0 win at Sp*rs. The games also represented a first opportunity for new coach Jonas Eidevall to see his new team in a match situation and it was also the players’ first chance to play under the newly appointed Swede. Here are three things I will be keeping a close eye on in 2021-22 for the Gunners.
More pressing and broken play in the final third
Eidevall has spoken a lot about getting his team to press intensely in the final third under his stewardship. Referencing Anna Patten’s goal against Sp*rs last weekend, Eidevall was clear on the reasons that the construction of the goal really pleased him. “When you see the goal that Anna scored, Freya (Jupp) took on the keeper and missed.
“But she is the first player to counter-press and get the ball to Alex (Hennessy) who takes the shot and Anna scores. That’s what we want to see, players thinking of the next action.” Arsenal pressed under Joe Montemurro but not to the extent that I think we will see under Jonas Eidevall. Joe’s play was built much more on a “snake charming” style.
Arsenal often went backwards to go forwards again, they would keep the ball around the half-way line or even in their own half in order to tempt deep defensive blocks to edge away from their own area. Once Arsenal had successfully tempted the defence up the field, they would try to move quickly in behind them. It will be different under Eidevall, he wants the ball to go forwards quickly.
That will inevitably lead to lower accuracy but in those moments, Arsenal can counterpress and win the ball back while defensive blocks are disorganised. This is much more in line with how Emma Hayes’ Chelsea play, for example. I think Eidevall has attackers that suit this style too. Nikita Parris is a “broken play” forward, she likes to run in behind teams and would benefit from receiving the ball in these situations.
Beth Mead’s superpower is pressing opposing full-backs and regaining the ball high up the pitch. It’s one of the reasons that she remained a stock selection under Joe Montemurro, because she offered that ability to counterpress and create chances in a much different way to the other attackers.
Mead made 18 interceptions in the WSL last season, the fourth highest in the squad, Lia Wälti made 22 and Lotte Wubben-Moy 17. Her interception numbers map more towards the defensive players in the squad, it’s just she does it in the opponent’s half. Jordan Nobbs is an excellent presser and “broken play” player too. I think she will benefit from this style under Jonas, where her propensity to make quick forward actions will really suit this new approach.
We know Caitlin Foord has excellent physical properties as well, Katie McCabe, Steph Catley and Noelle Maritz are all front footed full-backs who like to make interceptions and Frida Maanum is a midfielder who enjoys breaking forward late in moves. Allied with the more creative edge that Mana Iwabuchi and Kim Little bring, I think Arsenal have the ingredients to adapt to this new style. Vivianne Miedema will be Vivianne Miedema regardless of which style you play.
The Viv-Parris connection
Last season, Vivianne Miedema’s creative numbers dropped. She went from eight WSL assists in the adumbrated 2019-20 season (where she played 14 games) to five assists last season in 22 WSL games. The biggest reason for this was the awkward attempt to fit Jill Roord into the side as a number 10.
Put simply, Roord liked to occupy the same areas that Miedema would often drop into when she comes away from the forward line to knit play together. Nobbs and van de Donk are slightly more fluid in their interpretation of the number 10 role. They tend to drift into attacking spaces from deeper, whereas Roord’s starting position was always more reminiscent of a second striker.
I think, through no particular fault of Roord’s, this cramped Miedema’s creative style last season. Arsenal’s 10s (Nobbs and Iwabuchi) don’t present this issue, so I see Miedema floating into that number 10 position far more readily. This is where the addition of Nikita Parris is very interesting indeed.
Parris is a wide-forward but she is very much in the second striker mould of wide forward. She doesn’t especially want to drop deep and become involved in the build-up. She will be quite happy for Viv to go a wandering and she will happily wait to run in behind her full-back and benefit from Miedema’s creativity.
Essentially, when Viv drifts, Keets is far more likely to fill the striker spot and wait for the service. I am really excited about this link-up next season and with one of McCabe, Foord, Mead or Iwabuchi on the left to complement, I think Miedema and Parris will effectively become a unorthodox strike pairing.
What will the defence look like?
Arsenal currently have Leah Williamson, Simone Boye, Jen Beattie, Viki Schnaderbeck, Lotte Wubben-Moy and Anna Patten who play principally at centre-half. Patten has played more of her football at right-back since re-joining the club so might well be considered the back-up to Noelle Maritz there.
Five centre-halves for two positions is probably one too many. The signing of Simone Boye is an interesting one, she has played under Jonas Eidevall before and he obviously identified something that she could bring to the team. Boye is 29, Beattie and Schnaderbeck are 30. Williamson is 24 but will probably reach 200 Arsenal appearances during this season.
They don’t lack experience at centre-half but I also don’t think Eidevall would bring Boye in unless he sees her as a regular starter. I wonder if, given their injury issues over the last 18 months or so, we might see Beattie and Schnaderbeck phased out- I just can’t see why else the coach would bring in a 29-year-old defender when he has two 30-year-olds there.
At right-back, Arsenal have Maritz, Patten and Evans at time of writing, at left-back, we will also see a mouth-watering dual between Katie McCabe (who can also play on the left-wing) and Steph Catley. If the club does not sign another defensive midfielder to deputise Lia Wälti with Malin Gut currently injured, then Leah Williamson might be needed in midfield, which eases the logjam slightly.
Eidevall is also a coach who likes to move freely between formations and the option of playing with three centre-halves is very much in play. There will likely be at least one departure from the squad before the transfer deadline passes due to this abundance but it will be fascinating to see who gets the lion’s share of the minutes alongside Leah Williamson at centre-half- my bet would be Simone Boye.