Sunday, April 2, 2023

Chelsea Women 0 Arsenal 0 Analysis: Gunners defend from the front

Arseblog News spoke to Jonas Eidevall in the build-up to Friday night’s draw with Chelsea and asked whether he would be tempted to play Miedema as a 10 and Blackstenius as a number 9 for the trip to Kingsmeadow. The Gunners boss was understandably cagey about whether he would but he did seem to hint that he was giving it serious consideration.

“It’s almost like you’re trying to get me to tell you how we will line up against Chelsea, right?” Eidevall laughed. “Like I said when we brought Stina in, we have the potential to play Viv and Stina together and that can be a strong connection. I also think they can play as two 9s, that gives me good decisions and tools for Friday.”

He did opt for both with Miedema playing in the deeper number 10 role. After the game, Arseblog News asked Eidevall about it again and he was quick to talk up the off-the-ball impact playing the pair had, “We still wanted to create space in behind their midfield and it’s good to have a forward like Stina who will be working against their central defenders and constantly asks the question in behind.

“We combined that with a player like Viv who shows feet in behind their midfield line and that’s a tough combination for them to take care of…and then you look at Viv’s defensive contribution today and it is very, very high.” You can see from this clip how Miedema is suited to the 10 role (as she is the 9 role). All of the things that make her a good 9, appreciation of space, speed of execution, make her a good 10. Just look at this touch and pass into space.

It looked on paper like a daring attacking move to play Miedema and Blackstenius and it was, but it was also about keeping Chelsea’s defence honest and preventing them from playing as high as they really wanted to. Allied with Caitlin Foord shuffling in from the left flank, it gave Arsenal a solid pressing structure and cut off avenues into the channels, where Chelsea really like to play. Let’s look at some examples.

First I want to highlight how Arsenal were able to defend from the front with the players Eidevall selected last night. This was fairly typical of Arsenal’s pressing structure on the night. Miedema pressing in the right half-space, Foord in the left, Blackstenus stayed close to Millie Bright who can be devastating with her long diagonals from the back. Lia Walti moved forward onto Erin Cuthbert to create a box shape. Kim Little stayed behind Lia Walti in case the ball dropped into that very congested midfield zone because she is so, so good in those tight spaces. Beth Mead is a free player in this structure because she is so good at anticipating and running after loose passes and touches, she is part of the chaos factor.

Cutting off supply into the channels was a big part of Arsenal’s strategy. Harder, Kerr and Kirby all like to drift into these areas and play very fluidly. Hayes likes for her forwards to drift wide in search of space. As Chelsea try to maneuver the ball, we see how far in-field Caitlin Foord is. This is partially to cut off a quick pass to the flank and partially because Chelsea right-back Jess Carter does not join the attack very often, Arsenal know they need to worry less about Carter from an attacking perspective. What Foord really wants to do is to stop the ball from reaching Kerr.

As the ball works its way to Carter, look at where Foord is looking. Sam Kerr has drifted towards that channel, as she is wont to do and that is what Foord is concerned with.

She cuts off the angle and Carter is forced back in-field to Bright.

Andersson comes back to Bright as Chelsea look to probe on their right again and, again, look at where Foord is looking as the ball moves over. Again, Walti is part of this box shaped press with Kim sitting a little deeper behind her.

Foord shuffles across and cuts off that angle again and, now, you can just see Kerr’s head bobbing at the bottom of the screen. Chelsea like to release the ball early into those channels but Kerr is having to come into her own half in search of the ball.


Eventually Chelsea are able to work the ball to Cuthbert who tries an early diagonal over towards Kerr.

But it’s a much more difficult pass than when you fade the ball up the line and it goes out of play. There are a lot of examples of this kind of effective shuffling and pressing from Caitlin Foord in this game but I felt it was worth highlighting how well she cut off the supply line into one of Kerr’s favoured avenues. Think back, if you can bear it, to where Kerr scores her second goal in the FA Cup Final from…

It’s not just Kerr either, when Harder picks up the ball in those channels she is so devastating at running at defenders. Cutting off the supply into these areas was a big part of Arsenal’s game plan. Look at Harder’s goal against Manchester United earlier this season for a strong example.

Chelsea begin to become more direct in their approach to deal with Arsenal’s press. Just look here a few minutes later when Cuthbert collects a stray ball on the edge of her area. Pernille Harder is now lurking in that right channel and Cuthbert‘s first thought is to play the ball into that channel ASAP.

Rafaelle is across to cover but you can see what Chelsea want to do. They want to hit those channels as early as possible to play Kirby, Kerr or Harder into space. That’s why Arsenal worked so hard to cut that avenue off whenever they could.

On this occasion the ball is worked back to Ann-Katrin Berger in the Chelsea goal, the Arsenal box shape is in position. Berger goes long this time though.

Rafaelle comes to meet the ball and you can see that Harder is on her bike in case Chelsea win the header. They don’t though, Rafaelle wins the header and smuggles the ball away.

Less than a minute later, Berger has the ball again and again elects to go long towards that channel.

Rafaelle again comes to deal with the aerial challenge but Steph Catley gets sucked into the challenge too, leaving Fran Kirby who has now tip toed into that channel.

Kerr wins the header this time and Kirby is away and in space. Thankfully Kirby’s attempted chip to the far post sails over the bar. But Chelsea were constantly trying to hit that space.

Here’s the next time that Berger has the ball, where do you think it’s headed?

That’s right, Sam Kerr’s head. Chelsea respect the fact that Arsenal’s press is preventing them from hitting the channels via their defenders, so they are looking to go long to Kerr and have her flick it into the channel. You can just see the shadow of Kirby lurking here in that right half space. But Rafaelle again wins the header and it comes to nothing.

Miedema slightly overruns the ball in this situation and it drops to Reiten. Look at what her immediate response is.

To hit the ball straight to Kerr on the right. Catley, Rafaelle and Leah Williamson are all standing where they should be and Arsenal repel this attack. This is what Eidevall was talking about post-match when I asked him about the off-ball structure of his team, “A lot of times in defence a general philosophy is to try to make the play predictable, so it comes from a certain player or a certain area. That means everyone can read the play and you can have good set positions. Defence is very hard when you are moving a lot. When you are moving around a lot it is really hard to make good reads. If you are moving backwards it’s difficult to turn around and go forwards. If you are set in your position, you’re almost half way there to win the ball. That’s what we did really well today, we were compact, the structure was right and it becomes predictable for us to be set in our positions and we can act on reading the game and the players did that very, very well tonight.” This is a good example of that. Arsenal don’t stop the ball from getting to Kerr here but because they know Chelsea want to funnel the ball to that channel all the time, the defence knows which positions to take up. Here, Kerr is in her own half and that’s where Steph Catley, playing at left-back, wants her to be.

When the next goal kick is floated into this area, look at how hard Miedema and Foord fight to keep Chelsea from counterpressing.

Arsenal come out with the ball here and are able to start an attack but, also, take the pressure off the defence who don’t have another Chelsea attack to deal with thanks to the hustling of Foord, Miedema and Catley.

Chelsea do make a big chance at the end of the half, this time from their left when Reiten floats a cross towards Harder in the area. It’s a great cross.

The ball drops to Kerr and Catley makes a crucial block. But this is what Jonas was talking about with defensive positioning. Rafaelle, Williamson and Catley are all exactly where they should be and Kerr has absolutely nothing to aim at. Arsenal’s defenders haven’t been pulled out of position. Chelsea have four players in the box and Arsenal have six (not including Zinsberger). There’s good coverage to deal with the situation.

Chelsea stepped up the intensity in the second half even if the pattern of the game didn’t alter dramatically. When the home side create their first opening, it is again from a very quick pass into the channel from Jonna Andersson. Mead sprints to close the pass down but doesn’t quite get there.

You can see why they like this pass so much, it’s one of the only times in the game where the defence looks panicked and has to run backwards. Maritz is pushed up so Williamson has to run to the right to try to deal with Harder, Rafaelle is sprinting full pelt back towards her goal.

Rafaelle just stretches to divert Harder’s cross away from Kerr on the six yard line. Kirby’s effort is then blocked by Rafaelle. It’s good defending but one of the first times where Arsenal were panicked. It also shows the value in adding a defender like Rafaelle, who is so physically dominant and quick to turn and defend. It was the right solution in the January transfer window.

It wasn’t just a defensive display from Arsenal though, they carried plenty of threat themselves and selecting Foord and Blackstenius with Miedema deeper was as much about the threat Foord and Blackstenius carried in behind. Immediately after that chance, Miedema fights to win the ball back from Ingle and Chelsea are on the back foot.

Miedema moves the ball to Foord who plays a first time ball in behind for Blackstenius. Bright cuts it out. In truth, Bright dealt well with the threat of Blackstenius in behind but, unusually for the Chelsea skipper, she had almost no influence on the game on the ball. This was partly because of how Blackstenius marked her but also because Bright could not push forward and help Chelsea really step onto Arsenal, she had to make sure not to leave too much space in behind and we know that Miedema in particular is capable of playing a good pass if there is space to do so.

Blackstenius constantly looked to run into the right channel and in behind the Chelsea centre halves. Here, Maritz tries to find her with a slide rule pass. Andersson clears the situation up in the end and wins a goal kick but it’s just a reminder that Andersson cannot push forward without leaving that space.

A minute later, Miedema finds the ball in a pocket of space and tries to put Blackstenius through. This time Bright just blocks the pass but, again, Chelsea have to carry that threat in behind in the back of their minds.

In the 35th minute, Miedema picks up that space again and Blackstenius tries to run in from the right but Miedema’s pass is slightly over hit on this occasion. Miedema was also able to find Foord on the left several times and isolate her against Jess Carter. Chelsea’s right sided attacker, whether it be Kerr, Kirby or Harder, doesn’t really track back.

Miedema again collects the ball in space between the lines and tries to play in Foord but her cross is eventually blocked.

Williamson finds Miedema in the pocket again here and she is ahead of Ingle and Cuthbert.

She spins the ball wide to Foord who now has Carter isolated.

Once again we see Miedema drift into the pocket again.

She sprays a great pass to Mead on the right. We see Miedema drop into these areas a lot, even as a 9. But here, with Blackstenius upfront, Arsenal have a centre-forward committed to the attack even though Miedema will play no further part in it. In the end, Mead pulls back to Foord and her shot is blocked. This is another example of the front four keeping Chelsea honest, not just with their pressing and shape off the ball but with the threat they offer in behind on the counter. It stops Chelsea from 100% committing to pressing Arsenal back in the second half in the way we have seen so many times before. Last season, this game was 0-0 at half-time before Chelsea stepped up a gear and won 3-0. They couldn’t find that extra gear this time and the front four were a big part of that.

When Foord’s shot is blocked, look where Bright is. She is pinned back right towards her own goal by Blackstenius. The Swede didn’t get an awful lot of change from Bright in an attacking sense but she did reduce her influence on the game in an attacking sense for Chelsea.

The right to left diagonal from Bright is another of Chelsea’s favoured weapons but Bright didn’t get to attempt it against Arsenal because Blackstenius marked Bright as well as Bright marked Blackstenius.

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ok but can you imagine what will happen if this team understands each other more and gel together? if the team knows how to play and see all those run in behind of stina with viv dropping deep and playing a false 9? So much potential and something massive is building here. Feel like the MF has still not yet utilised the front fully which burdened viv with lots of work. Maybe sth needs to be done to upgrade the midfield in the summer but this team is so promising if we can get those key players stayed.


Very cool analysis – the moment they sprung Harder was nightmare fuel, but we can see why it was a pretty isolated moment. Rafaelle seems an excellent upgrade when Arsenal face the better teams. I thought Foord had a good game, especially in light of what you show here – I was hoping to see if Tobin could do anything against this Chelsea side with Miedema in that 10 role… one for the future – seems like this could all be important in the Champions League!

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