Reading Women 0 Arsenal 4: Analysis

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Arsenal swotted Reading aside 4-0 in the WSL on Sunday with a commanding performance, especially in the first half as the Gunners strolled into a 3-0 lead. What was notable was how many times Arsenal got in behind the Reading full-backs, with Mead, Catley, McCabe and Maritz all finding joy in those spaces.

I asked Jonas Eidevall about this after the game. “Something we saw in their game against Manchester United- their full-backs were very aggressive. We prepared a little bit for that.” Whether by happenstance or design, Arsenal created a chance via this avenue in the opening seconds of the match and the theme continued for the first half.

It actually comes from a transition and Jonas’ answer to my question suggested this wasn’t planned per se, beyond the fact that he expects his forwards to press he hadn’t devised a precise plan for pressing the full-backs any more than the centre-halves. “Sometimes we just won the ball in positions high up the pitch where we could get behind their full-backs.”

That’s exactly what happens in the opening seconds. Eidevall wants Arsenal to get the ball forward more quickly than the team did under Joe Montemurro, whose game was about more patient possession. The idea is that even if a quick forward pass is not accurate, it opens up a counter-pressing opportunity. Beattie receives the ball from kickoff and immediately looks for a long, forward pass and Frida Maanum, at the bottom of the screen, is already running forwards looking to counter-press.

Reading deal with the long pass initially but Arsenal already have numbers around the ball, swarming the home side and Katie McCabe nips in to win the ball high up the pitch.

McCabe cuts the ball back to Miedema, whose shot is saved but the Gunners have forged a shot on target by pressing Reading in wide positions in the opening 20 seconds.

For Miedema’s second good chance in the 4th minute, we see once again how Eidevall’s insistence on getting the ball forwards quickly and then counterpressing is beginning to take hold. Lia Wälti presses Reading into coughing up possession from their own throw-in and the ball finds Mead on the right touchline and she immediately looks for the forward pass.

The pass is cut out but Katie McCabe harries Deanna Cooper in possession and causes a turnover again.

Mead has already read the situation and starts running forward ready to provide an option for McCabe on the overlap. Katie duly finds Beth and Reading’s defence is completely pulled apart because Arsenal have pressed them at a vulnerable moment.

Mead chops her way past Cooper and pulls back for Miedema, whose shot is blocked. You can see Eidevall’s insistence on getting the ball forwards early and quickly and then compressing the space coming to fruition. Mead and McCabe are excellent pressers, which probably explains why they were picked for the wide positions.

After the victory over Slavia Praha on Thursday, Jonas spoke about his desire to see Arsenal switching play quickly to stretch opponents. “The problem with us not switching the ball quickly was that they didn’t need to cover that much ground in defence. When we started doing that in the second half, it’s not a coincidence that we started scoring. We made them cover more ground so they became detatched in their organisation and the game opens up.”

Arsenal opened Reading up with a quick switch of play shortly before their first goal. As Lia Wälti picks up the ball in midfield, look at how Frida Maanum has moved over to the touchline to create a wide overload with Katie McCabe.

Wälti finds Miedema in-field, who has dropped to link the play and she quickly turns and switches the ball to the right. Reading’s players have all shifted over to Arsenal’s left because that is where the ball is and where Arsenal have created an overload.

As Miedema plays the ball to Mead, you can already see a numerical superiority with Maritz joining Mead, which means Woodham has to shift across. Kim Little has drifted into the space she needs to leave behind. Essentially, a three on one situation has been created in Arsenal’s favour due to the quick switch of play.

Eidevall talked about getting more out of setplays during the summer and just look at how aggressive the setup is for the opening goal from Jen Beattie.

This sequence just after the opening goal once again shows you how Arsenal used wide overloads to expose Reading. Lia Wälti finds Maanum, who has once again drifted over to the left and her flick finds McCabe.

Look at how many Reading players have been pulled over to Arsenal’s left but Maanum’s quick action has them rocking back on their heels.

Remember the sequence where Little popped up on the right to create an overload with Maritz and Mead? Here she is doing the same on the left with Maanum and McCabe, continuing her run in behind the Reading right-back and right centre-half.

McCabe finds her with the pass to the by-line but Little’s cutback is cut out. But because Reading are a team that presses, they don’t keep defensive shape which makes them vulnerable to transitions and quick, one-touch sequences like this one.

Arsenal once again use Reading’s off-ball aggression to create a very similar pattern a few minutes later. Beattie finds Catley on the left touchline and, again, Reading right-back Bryson immediately tries to press the ball.

This leaves space in behind her and Katie McCabe runs into that space but Catley’s pass just has a little too much sauce on it and Reading ‘keeper Stewart is off her line to collect.

The third goal comes from the right flank but, in truth, Arsenal don’t have to do anything remarkably sophisticated. As Stewart clears her lines, look at how high Reading left-back Woodham is positioned. When Leah Williamson competes for and wins the long-ball, Woodham is nowhere near Beth Mead.

Mead stayed forward when Reading cleared the ball long and she profited from that decision as Williamson forces a turnover. Again, this is what Jonas was talking about post-match when he said, “Sometimes we just won the ball in positions high up the pitch where we could get behind their full-backs.”

From here, Mead once again chops her way past Cooper who cuts the ball back for Vivianne Miedema and the Dutch forward makes no mistake.

Once again, Arsenal had forced a transition and exploited space behind the Reading full-backs. With a sizeable lead and a game in Czech Republic on Thursday behind them, Arsenal called the dogs off a little in the second half. There was plenty in a devastating first 30 minutes to show that the Gunners’ pressing game is developing and that they targeted the space behind the Reading full-backs to good effect.

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Kavit

Great analysis, keep it up!

YaGunnersYa

Best post-match analysis on the internet is to be found on Arseblog. Thanks, Tim!

I’m feeling good about this squad. Looking forward to seeing Miedema and Heath play together.

beNZed

Re: Jen Beattie yesterday Eidevall said:

“…. I am aware of her history at this club but maybe a nice part of me coming in as a new coach is that players don’t have a previous history with me, it’s all a blank paper. ”

What is this alluding to?

Gravox

Seems like he understands players have had previous successes and failures but, while he takes advice from other coaches who were here before him, he mainly judges every player on what they are doing right now. Similar to Arteta (I know people frown on men’s team comparisons but it’s relevant) who said that everyone starts with a blank slate.

Peter Story Teller

You have to hand it to her after such a devastating illness to come back almost immediately at the level she is playing at is pretty incredible.
I also wonder if Jonas realises that on her first stint with the club she was more of a goal scorer than a defender?

beNZed

OK thanks, I didn’t know about the cancer diagnosis myself.

Tapps

Beth Mead is an absolute joy to watch!

Eeleen

I love how we seem to have simplified our game in every sense. We are much less dogmatic and much more practical. We are pressing team when needed, but after 6 games in a month and international break ahead for many players, we didn’t have to continue pressing after we already had four goal lead. We still play out from the back most of the time, but booting it long when needed means we don’t overburden our backline and they seem to be much more relaxed doing it. We have good setpiece takers, so just put our tall and physical… Read more »

CJ Mc'cloud

Don’t comment often if at all but that was brilliant analysis really interesting breakdown of the tactics which has opened my eyes up to a new approach to the beautiful game. Really excited for what the women’s team will do this season.

Gravox

So out of all their competitive games this season what’s the for and against? It seems like they’re just trouncing every team they come up against. It’s fantastic!

Matthinc

Chelsea game was pretty close tbf. Meado’s winner was clearly offside…

Peter Story Teller

At least she used her feet unlike another North London club who shall remain another North London club!

We deserved a bit of luck going our way to put Emma Hayes in her place anyway. And no we don’t want VAR unless it is going to be implemented properly and not perform an infinite analysis of every blade of grass on the pitch after each phase of play as it seems to at present.

PeteyB

Hello. First off, great article, great coverage. I am significantly more interested and better informed about the womens team thanks to your efforts. I’ve one question/comment/observation that has nagged at me for a few weeks, so I’m gonna ask. I notice a lot when you write you speak in first name terms. Beth, Katie, Viv, etc. Is this a factor of you personally being on first name terms with a number of them? Is this a common practice when reporting on women’s football (I don’t really read beyond this website)? It struck me as slightly unprofessional. I don’t know if… Read more »

chepetin

Interesting question. When I think about how we refer to players on the men’s team I guess it’s even more familiar, often initials or nicknames – Auba, Laca, Saka, KT, ESR, Gabi, etc. I get the sense that Tim knows them all rather closely. Plus, how would you prefer they be referred to? By surname?

Peter Story Teller

It is actually interesting but you are right we do tend to use Christian names or nicknames even though most of us do not know the players personally. I think it probably stems from the fact that the women players are much more approachable than the men. After the game they will come to the touch line and have a chat with the spectators, for example. There is also more of a family atmosphere at the women’s matches and not the tribal bravado that can exist at certain men’s games. As far as I know, none of them have complained… Read more »

It Is What It Is

I don’t think El-Neny has a Christian name. While we’re communally auto-correcting, ‘first name’ works too.

PS Any news of your brother Pete?

Peter Story Teller

Why would we mention Elneny on a blog about women’s football?

How would you even know if I have a brother or not?

Peter Story Teller

BTW if you look up the definition of “Christian name” you will note that since the days of William Camden (1551 – 1623) in English speaking countries such as the UK this term relates merely to a “given name” to differentiate between members of the same family and does not necessarily infer any religious intent at all!

PeteyB

This is an excellent point. I guess it is me being weirdand hypersensitive… Perhaps as a relative newbie I feel I uncomfortable since I’ve not been part of the gang long enough to feel that level of connection.

Peter Story Teller

No problem mate! Welcome to the gang!
You’ll soon be in there with the abbreviations and nicknames, don’t worry!

Fun Gunner

Your point is fair, but as previous commenters have noted, the use of first names by the fans reflects the greater informality of the women’s game at this stage. I would also say it can also be a sign of affection – fans use first names for players and managers they are particularly proud or fond of in both the men’s and the women’s games – Arsene, Rafa, Emma, etc.

Plus Tim does genuinely know them as people!

Fun Gunner

Just to amplify, initially I did try always to refer to our players by their surnames or at least by their full names, but I ended up liking and admiring them so much that I cracked… And then it was Katie and Viv and Kim and Leah etc. etc all the way!

Tim Stillman

I think the distinction I should probably take forward is not to do it in these analytical articles but maybe it’s ok in an interview where the setting is more personal / informal.

Tim Stillman

Completely fair comment and am always open to this sort of feedback. It is two fold if I am honest. So I do do it when I write about the men’s team but probably not as much. If I am writing an article about one player, I will use the forename just for the sake of variety (I will probably use a nickname too, so if I write an article about Lacazette, I will use the odd “Alex” or “Laca.” On the other hand, yes, subconsciously I am probably more inclined to do it when writing about the women’s team,… Read more »

Elise

Love the professional response here Tim 🙂

PeteyB

Thanks Tim. Funnily enough in the ~24 hours or so since I wrote this I’ve become way more conscious of everyone’s willingness to immediately refer to Tomiyasu as Tommy barely 5 minutes after he came in the door… and in all the years reading your (excellent) articles I never worried about the same thing.

On reflection I am thinking it’s just me being hypersensitive. Maybe by the end of the season it will all feel more normal. Keep up the

Elise

Question; what is it that makes the setup for the corner that Beattie scored from aggressive? I’m a bit of a soccer newbie, and I realized I could use more explanation… they’re all standing there in a clump, and Beattie is tall and jumps really well. But how is it aggressive compared to, say, Arsenal players more spread out in the box and Jen Beattie winning the header?

Tim Stillman

You’ve pretty much got it 🙂 It’s unapologetic and there’s nothing really to work out about it if you’re a Reading player. You know what the aim is before the corner comes in. It’s going into that area and you just have to try to compete for it, there’s no decoy runs or anything like that. It’s just ‘we’re putting Beattie there, we’re aiming for her head. Good luck!’

Peter Story Teller

Brilliant explanation, Tim! 🙂
While Jen, sorry Ms Beattie, is on such fine form we should try this more often and if she misses it then Lotte or Anna can nod it in instead. I for one am glad to see alternatives to EVERY corner taken short only for the ball to end up back in our own half or being crossed in anyway 5 yards from the corner flag!

Elise

Thanks Tim, that’s helpful! So, it’s about directness too.

Elise

Which in general fits with how Jonas’ style seems to compare to Joe Montemurro’s ‘snake-charming’

Peter Story Teller

Love that analogy!

Xuan

All the top teams play direct- press hard and high, risk the forward pass. You have to be able to match that intensity or you just get steamrollered. I was watching bayern-freiburg- i dont think our players are inferior. Their midfield is helmed by Magull-Zadrazil, which i dont think is any more physical nor technical than Little-Wälti. But both are robust in 1v1s, and the other players are disciplined in tracking back and pressing. So i am looking forward to see how eidevall can unshackle the girls and bring them to the next level. With the right tactics, we can… Read more »

Peter Story Teller

Looking good so far.
You are never going to dominate the game against top teams in the same way as we do against lower ranked opponents, but if we can live with the opposition in those big games there is a chance of winning as in the Chelsea match and the Man U game last season.
Let’s hope the improvements keep coming.and we can consistently perform at the highest level.

Gunner H

In respect of the debate about using the player’s first names, I personally much prefer to read about Leah, Kim and Katie, rather than Williamson, Little or McCabe – it’s a much nicer read and not at all unprofessional or sexist. I am sure most of our site commentators will agree that it blends well with our affection for the players we follow, and that any type of political correctness as is being suggested is unwelcome on our very friendly site. I feel it’s very much OK with the first names in both the analytical articles and the interviews given… Read more »

PeteyB

I feel like a formal retraction is in order!
I think it is a familiarity thing. Keep doing what you’re doing Tim. I’ll catch up in time.