“When you look at the game objectively as a whole, we should have won because we created so many goal scoring opportunities. The game was similar to plenty of games we have won three or four nil with the difference that we didn’t convert the chances.” These were Jonas Eidevall’s words to Arseblog News post-match.
Arsenal had 19 shots against Spurs, six of which were on target. Spurs had 11 and also had six on target. FBRef had Arsenal at 2.0 XG and Spurs at 1.5XG. For comparison, in the 4-0 victory over West Ham, FBRef awards Arsenal 3.0 XG and West Ham 0.7. In the 3-0 win over Everton, it was 1.8 to 0.2 XG in Arsenal’s favour. The 4-0 victory over Aston Villa saw Arsenal produce 1.7XG to 0.5.
Broadly, Eidevall is correct about Arsenal’s chance creation but the difference is that Spurs created chances themselves and though the visitors did enough to win the game, this was the closest contest in terms of XG for Arsenal since the opening day victory over Chelsea.
Felt yesterday was exactly what was needed not just to start the weekend but for Arsenal Women too
Rehanne Skinner’s Spurs were confident throughout and took the game to them in a way few teams do in the WSL, and that’s the only way to truly improve https://t.co/2RpB0AtwoL
— Art de Roché (@ArtdeRoche) November 14, 2021
Spurs boss Rehanne Skinner said post-match that she and her team had learned from Arsenal’s mastery of transitions in the recent 5-1 FA Cup quarter-final defeat at the hands of Arsenal. Spurs certainly did that, however, Arsenal forced a great chance in the first minute from a high turnover, as McCabe collects Zadorsky’s underhit clearance and combines with Miedema to set up Beth Mead at the back post.
If this opportunity is taken inside the first 40 seconds, it’s a very different game. However, Arsenal did struggle to create by playing through Tottenham. This was down to a mixture of Spurs’ organisation, their greater concentration on transitions and the fact that Arsenal were probably light a scheming, creative presence.
This was the same midfield that started the away match against Aston Villa and were held pretty comfortably to a scoreless first half until Mana Iwabuchi was introduced at half-time and changed the game. Iwabuchi did not come on until the 84th minute and Jordan Nobbs not until the 67th. Arsenal needed at least one of them earlier for greater presence between the lines to open the game up.
Look at this shot as Frida Maanum collects the ball and Arsenal try to build an attack. The midfield trio is very flat and there isn’t a buffer between the midfield and Vivianne Miedema. Ria Percival is a spare Spurs defender in the centre circle because nobody is giving her a problem or causing her issues with movement. Arsenal do end this move by forcing a corner as McCabe carries the ball forward but she gets no further than the corner flag.
Look again here as the ball breaks for Arsenal after they clear a Tottenham attack. Maanum and Wälti are in the same position with Little vertically across from them. Ideally, Miedema should be a few yards further forward here with either Maanum or Little standing where she is to give Arsenal an extra line of attack. Once again, Ria Percival is a spare defender with nobody to mark. Spurs win the ball back on this occasion through Ashleigh Neville.
Arsenal repel the subsequent attack and feed the ball out to Beth Mead on the right but again Arsenal’s midfield structure could do with a more advanced presence. It’s Clemaron, who played alongside Percival in the double pivot, who has nobody to mark really and Miedema is isolated again.
In this example, Maanum has made a run beyond Clemaron and Catley finds her and we can see that it creates a much more dangerous situation.
As a result, Ashleigh Neville is pulled out of position to meet Maanum and McCabe has space to attack on the left.
On this occasion, Neville gets back well in fairness and makes a last ditch tackle. But it creates stress for Spurs, the likes of which Arsenal didn’t quite force often enough.
Arsenal’s other big chance from open play came about when Frida Maanum takes up a dangerous position between the lines as Lotte Wubben-Moy takes the ball forward.
Maanum’s pass is initially intercepted by Neville but McCabe forces the turnover by winning it back. Maanum’s aggressive positioning has created a hole in the Spurs defence.
It just buys McCabe enough time and space to prepare a shot, which clips the crossbar. But Arsenal just didn’t quite do this regularly enough during the game. Spurs also did a good job of compressing the space between their lines. In the 5-1 Cup defeat they played a fairly flat 532 system, here they played a 4231 to give the team an extra platform both to defend and attack. The double pivot of Percival and Clemaron stayed put in front of the defence and that allowed the attacking quartet of Ubogagu, Graham, Simon and Williams to seek opportunities to counter-press and counter-attack.
Arsenal ought to have had an equaliser in the 80th minute but for one of the worst refereeing calls I think I’ve ever seen. Jordan Nobbs wins the ball on the left and funnels it towards Beth Mead and, crucially, immediately runs into the space. This was the sort of forward momentum a lot of Arsenal’s play missed in the first two thirds of the game. It was also one of the few times that they really created a triangle on the flank and those triangles have been a big part of the team’s success in recent weeks.
Nobbs receives the return pass from McCabe but, having let Arsenal’s advantage run for four whole seconds, the referee decides, inexplicably, to pull the play back just as Nobbs winds up a shot from 18 yards. Difficult to take from an Arsenal perspective but an example of the kind of forward motion Arsenal’s midfield didn’t quite show enough of overall. The referee then compounds the error by booking Beth Mead for, I think, taking the subsequent free-kick too quickly (?!)
“We had a really poor ten minutes after their goal where we lose control and where the game could have gotten away from us if Tottenham had scored a second goal.” This formed a key part of Eidevall’s assessment post-match and he is not wrong, the vast majority of Tottenham’s 1.5XG is made up by the goal itself and the ten minutes just after.
Game state was partially responsible for Tottenham’s greater goal threat compared to a lot of Arsenal’s opponents this season. Spurs had three shots in a six minute interval between the 46th and 52nd minutes and then another five in a six minute spell between the 65th and 71st minutes. They had two further in the 80th and 87th minutes. The majority of their threat was carried in two condensed periods of the game when, in truth, the result ought to have already been beyond them.
— Barclays FA Women's Super League (@BarclaysFAWSL) November 13, 2021
Some of Tottenham’s high XG is accounted for by the fact that the goal comes from a rebound (so there are two lots of XG counted for one play) and their other big opportunity, the miss from Ashleigh Neville, also comes from a rebound.
However, on this occasion, Tottenham were well organised and compressed the space between the lines very well, not allowing Arsenal to pick through or to hit them in transition and Arsenal probably didn’t do enough to move Percival and Clemaron around in front of the Tottenham back four. However, Arsenal created enough good chances to make a breakthrough well before Rachel Williams’ goal and had they converted one of those chances, this likely would have been a different result.
The increased focus on set plays paid off in the end as Miedema’s stoppage time header came from McCabe’s corner. Arsenal have already equaled their tally of setpiece goals from last season.
Need a last-minute equaliser? Up steps @VivianneMiedema 👊
— Barclays FA Women's Super League (@BarclaysFAWSL) November 14, 2021