Sunday, January 23, 2022

The (R)evolution of Beth Mead

Last week I wrote about the improvement of Arsenal goalkeeper Manu Zinsberger. Another player who has notably taken a leap in their development this season is Beth Mead. Mead has shown year on year improvement during her time at Arsenal though her form has fluctuated in isolated periods. When I spoke to Beth last November, she admitted to being a confidence player.

“I think I am a confidence player. Against Chelsea (in November 2020) I kicked the ball out of play late on because I misplaced a pass and I thought about that more than I thought about my goal. I frustrate myself and I overthink things sometimes.” Last summer, Mead endured what could have been a very big knock to her confidence when she was omitted from the Team GB squad for the Tokyo Olympics, not even making the reserve list alongside teammate Jordan Nobbs.

Arsenal also splashed out on Nikita Parris and Tobin Heath during the summer, which put pressure on her place in the Arsenal team. Jonas Eidevall has made it clear that his plan is to rotate regularly, especially in the wide positions where the physical demands are so intense in Eidevall’s high pressing style. Yet here we are at the halfway point of the season and only Kim Little (1647) and Katie McCabe (1625) have played more minutes than Mead (1535).

When new coach Jonas Eidevall arrived in the summer espousing a more intense counter-pressing style, Mead was always likely be a beneficiary, her pressing and regain data has always been very high during her time at Arsenal. Let’s look at her data so far this season and examine where the main improvements have arisen. Let’s start with the core attacking data in terms of direct goal contributions. The ranking in brackets denotes where she rates in the squad in each metric.

SeasonGoals per 90XG per 90Assists per 90XA assists per 90Goals and assists per 90XG+XA per 90
2021-220.53 (4th)0.37 (3rd)0.53 (3rd)0.43 (1st)1.06 (3rd)0.82 (2nd)
2020-210.22 (7th)0.17 (6th)0.43 (2nd)0.43 (1st)0.55 (5th)0.60 (5th)
2019-200.28 (5th)0.25 (6th)0.28 (3rd)0.22 (4th)0.55 (5th)0.47 (5th)

The first data point that jumps out is that her goals and expected goals have more than doubled compared to last season. Beth’s assists per 90 have moved up a notch but her expected assists per 90 are the same as they were in 2020-21. While her creative data has moved a little it’s the goal scoring contribution that has really risen.

As a result, her G+A per 90 is more than one goal and that is almost double what it has been in the two preceding campaigns. Her accuracy is improving too, she has always outperformed her XG but is outperforming it to an even higher level this season and she is also outperforming her expected assists to a higher level this season. Added together she is outperforming expected direct goal contributions by 0.24 goals per game.

We’ll leave a pin on the more underlying creative data and look at Mead’s shot data and what could be driving her increased goal contribution and expected goal contribution. From the table below we can see she is taking marginally more shots on this season and her goals per shot has also crept up. I haven’t ranked goals per shot because that data tends to be skewed by defenders who take few shots but end up scoring at a good rate from them, usually because the efforts are close range headers from set pieces.

SeasonShots per 90Goals per shot per 90
2021-222.89 (3rd)0.18
2020-212.12 (5th)0.10
2019-202.78 (3rd)0.10

However, we can extrapolate goals per shots against other attackers and she is dead level with Vivianne Miedema in that respect in this campaign, with Mana Iwabuchi and Katie McCabe the only attackers with a better rate. Whereas last season, her 0.10 was below van de Donk, Roord, Foord, Nobbs, Miedema and Evans. In short, she is shooting slightly more often and shooting with slightly greater accuracy. Now let’s lift the bonnet on her creative data.

SeasonShot creating actions per 90Goal creating actions per 90Dribbles per 90Dribble success per 90Crosses per 90
2021-226.75 (1st)1.19 (1st)2.89 (2nd)54.5%2.63 (2nd)
2020-213.86 (5th)0.65 (5th)3.70 (3rd)52.9%3.15 (3rd)
2019-203.97 (1st)0.55 (6th)3.89 (1st)42.9%3.80 (1st)

In ‘shot creating actions’ we observe a massive jump compared to the previous two seasons and her goal creating actions per 90 have almost doubled. Interestingly, her dribbling and crossing numbers are down, even though she still produces these actions more than the majority of her teammates. I was slightly surprised that her dribble data is down (even though her dribble success rate is up) given some of Eidevall’s comments back in November.

“I remember one of the first training sessions that we had. There was a transitional opportunity and she went on a one-on-one situation in the penalty area and she passed it back. I told her that I never wanted to see that again. She is so good in a one versus one and has a good finish, so when she gets into those situations she needs to try and try over and over again.”

I guess the improved dribble success data shows she has become better at picking her moment, even if her manager is emphasising the importance of volume. It also stands to reason that if she is shooting more often, then maybe that means she is crossing less often. One of the main factors in Eidevall’s consistent selection of Mead is her ability to counter-press- it also made her a key tenet of Montemurro’s team despite the lighter emphasis on pressuring opponents high up the pitch.

SeasonTackles per 90Tackles that win possession per 90Pressures per 90
2021-223.16 (1st)2.11 (1st)20.0 (joint 2nd with Caitlin Foord)
2020-212.34 (4th)1.52 (3rd)18.3 (3rd)
2019-202.50 (5th)1.94 (3rd)21.4 (3rd)

Her pressures per 90 have stayed broadly the same over the last three seasons but the number of tackles has risen under Eidevall and she now attempts and wins more tackles than any other player in the team, which is quite remarkable for an attacker. This is a really crucial aspect of the way that Jonas wants his team to play and that, as much as anything, shows why he rotates Mead so infrequently despite the number of options he has in that area (in fairness, Tobin Heath’s injury has limited his options in any case).

Arsenal lost Danielle van de Donk and Jill Roord during the summer and have added Iwabuchi and Heath to the attack. Both of the former have had injury issues (though Heath more than Iwabuchi), as has Jordan Nobbs. Mead’s increased output has picked up some of that slack and some. In closing, I think Jonas Eidevall’s words from November are telling in Mead’s case.

“Maybe Beth Mead is in very good form but, more essentially, she is a great player. Sometimes when we talk about someone being in form, does that mean that she will drop out of form suddenly and not be able to do the things she is doing at the moment? For me, this is just Beth Mead using her qualities as a player and believing in them.” With the best players, we don’t talk about “form”, it is assumed and I think we have reached that stage with Beth Mead now, she is a player you expect to perform because she does so regularly.

All data from FBRef

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Marieke

I agreed the first time I heard it. She’s not in form, she’s just being her. I think it was Alex who said it, we don’t talk about Viv or Kim being in form, they’re just them. Leah has gotten there too and Beth is next. She is a top quality player.

Lamzo

All the players you mentioned are the ones I believe can compete at the top level. The rest are squad players.
We need four or five solid signings if we want to compete with the likes of Barcelona, Lyon and PSG.

Collibosher

I agree with a lot of this article. I think that Beth Mead is potentially our best attacker, but she sometimes needs to be convinced of this herself. Her first opening day goal against Chelsea was outrageously good, and sometimes on the counter attack, running in from the left, she looks a bit like a female ESR. The only thing that holds her back seems to be a lack of confidence, but in full flow, she’s a joy to watch. She’s also far more two-footed than she thinks she is.

Matt

Ooo yes, that goal against Chelsea was superb! The pass from Miedema was sublime, then the pace and the finish from Mead was world-class. I genuinely never get tired of watching it!
I really admire the way Mead just knuckled down and worked her socks off after the disappointment of not being selected for the Olympics. She’s some player.

PeteyB

You mention Mead out performing XG. May I ask if XG data differs much between male and female game, and if XG is calculated differently /based on gender specific data sets? Without wanting to sound harsh/unduly critical, I sometimes feel quality of goalkeeping is one of the biggest differentials between men’s and womens game… or maybe for me it’s an element that stands out… Anyway my ultimate question is do more women outperform their xg due to poor keeping?

Tim Stillman

It’s calculated based on WSL data, so it’s contemporaneous to the women’s game. However, I think there’s a fair point that it’s perhaps not as reliable a figure because the pool of Women’s footballers is smaller with greater variance in quality between players. Whereas in the PL, the gap between the best and worst players is very small, in real terms.

Gunner H

Jonas nailed it in saying that’s it’s missing the point to talk about Beth’s form, as she is simply a sensational player, always was and always will be. I commented a few times at the end of last season that Meado would bounce back “to form” after the Olympics, and so it has proved. Agree with the points made made by Marieke, Lamzo and Collibosher mostly, in that Kim, Viv, Leah & Beth are our top players – but Katie is also a big player as is Lia, whilst Freda is still growing but looks like she’ll become great. Full… Read more »

Peter Story Teller

I have said many times before Meado has always been a striker. She admits herself that she is a confidence player but when she arrived at Arsenal with a huge goalscoring record behind her she found someone called Viv something or other hogging the goalscoring limelight and to be accommodated Beth got pushed out wide. I know she accepted this under Joe and the national team managers but she is only now beginning to realise that with her skillset she can get goals as well as assists from a wide starting position. Barcelona knew it and kicked her out of… Read more »

IndianGunner

Nice read ⚡

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