Last season, Arsenal lost all four of their encounters against Manchester City and Chelsea. This season so far, they have beaten Chelsea and Manchester City at home and have drawn away at City (they play away at Chelsea on 11th February). Jonas Eidevall puts this down to improved structure when Arsenal play out from the back.
In previous seasons, City and Chelsea found it too easy to disrupt Arsenal’s build-up play by pressing them high. See the analysis of last season’s 2-1 defeat at City for more on that. After Sunday’s draw, Jonas Eidevall said, “What Arsenal had problems with last season was that they didn’t have the structure to play out against high pressing teams so they didn’t see enough of the ball in those games.
“Today we had good spells on the ball, City did too, but we weren’t just defending, we created with the ball and forced them to be deep in their half and that we have that perspective when we see the performances.” So let’s have a look at some examples of what Eidevall is talking about. You can see the analysis of the 3-2 victory over Chelsea in September to see how Arsenal dealt with Chelsea’s high press on that day.
As Manu Zinsberger rolls the ball out to Wubben-Moy in the Arsenal area, we can see City’s pressing shape. Wingers Jess Park and Lauren Hemp move in field in a pincer movement to look after the centre halves, while Bunny Shaw marks Kim Little. Lauren Hemp, especially, was clearly detailed to move in-field and press Williamson, whose ball-playing abilities from centre-half are so crucial to Arsenal.
Arsenal are prepared for this, however. With Hemp in-field, Wubben-Moy immediately looks for the lofted pass to Noelle Maritz, a move Arsenal repeated a lot in the first half. Lotte’s body position and the speed with which she spreads the ball out to Maritz means she knows exactly what she is going to do before the ball is even rolled to her.
But the sequence doesn’t end there, Maritz collects the ball over on the right touchline and rolls the ball back to Leah Williamson, so Arsenal haven’t escaped the press yet.
However, what Arsenal have done is disrupted City’s pressing shape. Hemp has had to run to Maritz, meaning that Shaw now has to press Williamson. End result?
Kim Little is now free from her marker and Williamson can roll a simple pass to the captain and she is under no duress. Arsenal have manipulated City’s press.
Little spreads the ball to McCabe but the ball is a little behind the left-back, causing McCabe to go back to Wubben-Moy under pressure from Park. So how do Arsenal respond?
Well. Wubben-moy goes back to Zinsberger. Which means Hemp and Shaw are back in their pressing positions and Manu Zinsberger once again lofts the ball out to Maritz.
Maritz helps it on first time to Parris this time. Arsenal lose the ball shortly afterwards but they lose it in City’s half rather than their own. Lofting the ball out to Maritz to manipulate the City press was a rehearsed tactic they used a few times.
Just ten seconds later, Wubben-Moy rolls the ball to Williamson and look at Hemp on the left wing, it’s her trigger to press. Look at Williamson scanning over her shoulder. She is expecting Hemp to the point that she might as well be stroking a cat, smoking a cigar and saying, “I have been expecting you, Ms. Hemp.”
Arsenal work the ball back to Zinsberger and look at where she is looking. She is already looking over to the right flank and her body is already positioned to take a touch and float to the right touchline again.
And sure enough…
That’s where the ball goes. Shaw has been attracted into pressing Zinsberger, which means…
Kim Little no longer has a marker. She collects the pass from Maritz and Arsenal have created the space to play out.
Obviously you need variety in how you escape the press, otherwise your scheme will be sussed soon enough. And Arsenal did have another plan. Here, Zinsberger rolls the ball out to Williamson and, sure enough, Hemp is straight over to her.
Little pulls over to the right, taking Bunny Shaw with her and that creates a catwalk for Williamson to saunter through. And saunter she does. Look at the top of the screen, Losada, wearing 17 for City initially comes to press Jordan Nobbs.
But as Williamson advances, Losada abandons her post to engage Williamson who, at this stage, is galloping like a horse that has shaken off its jockey. At this stage, Nobbs is a spare player in a good position and Williamson looks for her.
Unfortunately, there is a slight misunderstanding as Leah releases the ball and Parris moves into its path, believing the pass is for her rather than Jordan Nobbs and the move breaks down. But creating space for the centre-halves to drive out of pressure was another key theme.
Arsenal win the ball back from a City attack and Kim Little rolls the ball back to Manu Zinsberger. Anyone want to guess where the ball is going next?
The red rag is waved at Lauren Hemp who obligingly moves to close down Williamson. Zinsberger knows it’s coming, so she waits until Hemp has fully committed to the sprint and then….
Ta very much!
Once more for luck?
Once again, Hemp has to do a doggy run to Maritz and, once again, Shaw has to leave her Little station and, once again, Maritz has a free pass to Little so that Arsenal can breathe.
Leah Williamson was replaced by Rafaelle at half-time. Post-match, Jonas Eidevall said that Arsenal never intended to play Williamson for the full game. So, from that, we can deduce that the plan was for Williamson and Rafaelle to share the game. This meant that Wubben-Moy shifted from left centre-half to right centre-half, with the left footed Rafaelle now on the left side. Let’s see how Arsenal played out in the second half.
Having a left footer on the left side doesn’t lend itself to the cross-field pass to Maritz and, in any case, having used it on so many occasions in the first half, it made sense to change things up anyway. Here, Zinsberger takes a short goal-kick to Rafaelle and she immediately bears left.
Rafaelle gives the ball to McCabe who goes up the line where Jordan Nobbs is standing right over by the left touchline. Arsenal used a similar maneuver a few times. Nobbs drifted right over to the left half space, which meant that Rafaelle and McCabe weren’t forced inside to play the ball into areas where Maanum or Little could be pressed. This tactic was about keeping the ball out of dangerous areas for the press. Even if Nobbs turns the ball over here or McCabe’s pass doesn’t quite make it, it’s a far less dangerous area to lose the ball than in a more central space closer to Arsenal’s goal.
Wubben-Moy rolls the ball back to Zinsberger here and she immediately looks for that left half-space again.
She clips the ball to Miedema who flicks the ball to the left and you can see that Nobbs and Mead are right next to her, they are all expecting the ball to go where it does. You simply wouldn’t see three players this close together for any other reason. Though they are not using the lofted pass to Maritz any longer, the theme is that Arsenal aren’t immediately passing the ball into central zones. Last season, the ball often travelled from centre-half or goalkeeper straight to the deepest midfielder where they could be penned in. On Sunday, Arsenal went into wider positions away from concentrated pressure.
On this occasion Arsenal go back to Zinsberger and, once more, Shaw closes her down. The Austrian nudges the ball wide to Wubben-Moy.
Wubben-Moy goes to Maritz as City are tempted in to close down.
But one of the attractions of playing out via Maritz is that she is very two footed. So even here, when we see she is penned in by Hemp and Weir, she is comfortable moving inside on her left foot to pass.
Maritz finds Little, who is closed down by Stanway but, eventually, Arsenal’s superior numbers tell and Little can just roll the ball to Rafaelle in space and Arsenal are clear of pressure.
From this goal kick, Zinsberger finds Wubben-Moy, who rolls the ball across the area to Rafaelle.
Rafaelle immediately dribbles the ball towards the flank. Again, this is a strategy designed to take the ball away from a dangerous area so that, if it is turned over, Arsenal can retrieve the situation. It also shows you that Arsenal are looking to distribute the ball into wide areas away from the intensity of the City press. Shaw gives chase.
Shaw closes down Rafaelle’s clearance on this occasion but it just means that Arsenal have a throw-in. It’s an example of Arsenal not quite getting playing out from the back right. But in the second half, Wubben-Moy and Rafaelle constantly looked to take the ball into wide areas before releasing so that, even when it didn’t quite go to plan, Arsenal didn’t lose the ball in dangerous central areas close to their goal.
“She is expecting Hemp to the point that she might as well be stroking a cat, smoking a cigar and saying, “I have been expecting you, Ms. Hemp.” And this is why we all so much enjoy reading these. 😉 No for real, I love these insights, Tim. It’s cool to break things down like this. Let’s not forget that Hemp is an exceptional player. There are not a lot of defenders who can handle her and we did. And we can all just be so greatful that Leah is staying because again, we can see what a crucial player… Read more »
Arsenal defended well but Hemp still had her moments and created problems, for sure, and she assisted on the ManCity goal. She is very quick with and without the ball, which indeed makes her difficult to defend.
Honestly if I could take one player from competing WSL club to Arsenal, it would be Hemp. Best winger in WSL and quite soon probably one of the best in the world.
She’s a menace!
Does make you wonder how we conspired to lose to Birmingham when we held a very good team that are now in form at bay apart from one attack where we were playing against 12! That’s football I guess!
We didn’t have those defenders to play out and also I think panic from defense influenced the whole team that day. It is hard to play football then you know that every though ball is potential goal for opposition. I hope that we don’t need to use Jen and Simone in coming tough games, so they can actually get some fitness back and some confidence in their play back. Leah and now Rafaelle brought back calmness. Since that Chelsea game I felt that our backline was in constant state of panic.
Yes, he told me that Lotte would have played against United had she been fit. I think we can deduce that Jen, Viki and Simone (whose contracts are all up this summer) are all vying to be fourth choice now. In reality, next season the decision will be do we get another CB or do we think Anna P can come back and into that rotation.
Unlike City, Birmingham mostly sat back. They pressed occasionally but were quick to fall back into their defensive block. Getting the ball forward wasn’t the issue in the Birmingham game; Arsenal simply could do anything to create chances when they had 8 or more players behind the ball. That is always a challenge, and the more so when you’ve given up an early goal and are behind.
I think we had quite a lot of ball progression problems in Birmingham game. Jonas even said that he exchanged Kim and Frida for that reason. (Frida wasn’t supposed to start, Lia got injured in warm up and Frida came in for her). Last games Frida has been quite peripheral and also has had quite a lot problems with passing accuracy. With Jen/Simone CB partnership a lot of progression should be done by DM and that can’t be low touch low accuracy player.
Great as always, thank you. As for Birmingham some things can’t be explained, I have a terrible feeling it’s going to cost us dearly.
It might sound a bit odd, but I’m actually feeling fairly relaxed about the title race. There’s probably four genuine contenders at the moment and every team in the league is competitive and capable of taking points off any one of the others. It’s unpredictable and there’s bound to be more twists and turns, so I’m just trying to enjoy the ride and keeping everything crossed that Arsenal come out on top. Hopefully Jonas’ passion and energy will help the team get over the line.
Also, thank you Tim for another excellent article, I really enjoyed reading it.
Arsenal did a better job, to be sure, and keeping the ball wide is wise, but you simply don’t want to spend too much time passing the ball around in the back, making five, six or more passes, as it gets risky. I would contend that the best way to beat a high press is to have players who can beat a mark, break a line, and take the ball forward with a dribble–as we see Williamson do in this analysis, and as we see Bronze and other good back-four players do. Thus you immediately put the opponent under pressure,… Read more »
Yeah, Leah and Lucy Bronze are like cheat codes for the high press. When City play out, they put Lucy very central because she is so good at driving out under pressure. I think the next big piece we will see in this team in the summer is another DM, both in terms of numbers (he has dropped Kim back recently so he knows Frida is not a six) but also in terms of style.
Which DM options would you go for Tim?
Oberdoff or Jackie Groenen would be my preferred picks.
Oberdoff or Sarah Zadrazil