Wednesday, September 27, 2023

Brighton Women 0 Arsenal 3 Analysis: Arsenal pull Brighton’s press all out of shape

Last week I wrote about Lia Wälti’s role in the 4-2 victory over Birmingham City. On that occasion, she played a little higher up than we have been used to seeing her. Against Brighton, Wally’s role was slightly adapted again to the opposition, where she bore over to the left hand side in an attempt to drag Brighton’s press away from the centre of the pitch.

I asked Jonas Eidevall about this post-match. “It’s a little bit about how teams press us, I don’t know if I really want to reveal too much! Certain pressing behaviours triggers certain positioning in the way we build up. The idea is that we have a formation that should be able to handle most of the things the opponent does in terms of pressing. Sometimes that involves the six being a little bit higher, sometimes a little bit wider, sometimes central.”

Brighton usually play in a 451 shape against the top WSL sides but they also often press in a 442 or 4411, as I discussed in the analysis of Arsenal’s FA Cup semi-final victory over the Seagulls in October. Let’s look at how this worked.

Here we see Wälti collect the ball from Wubben-Moy and Wälti is in the left eight position but at the very extremity of it. Her position enables Steph Catley to push higher up the pitch. We can also see that Brighton’s press is very central and focused on Kim Little.

This means that Wälti has time on the ball and given her ability with both feet, she has the angle to either move the ball up the line towards Catley, find Blackstenius who has drifted away from the centre-forward position between the lines, or else she is capable of switching the play to the right.

She opts for Catley who can’t find an angle to play forward, so Catley comes back to Wälti and look at where the Swiss is now, basically at left-back well away from the Brighton press.

Arsenal continue to probe for space through Brighton’s compact lines and look again a few seconds later. Wubben-Moy, the left centre-half, pushes the ball to Wälti who is basically at left-back with Catley and Foord able to create a two v two on the left flank.

Because Arsenal are able to have two players on the left flank and because Wälti can pass with both feet, Brighton’s press is sucked over to the left hand side and that creates a space. Wälti makes a trademark shift of bodyweight and is able to find Blackstenius in a central position because Brighton’s number 10, Lee, has been manipulated over to the left because Foord and Catley are both there. Wälti’s position over to the left was all about manipulating that Brighton press and opening up angles to get between Brighton’s compact defensive and midfield units.

Wälti moving right over to the left did not happen every single time Arsenal built from the back, of course. You have to show more flexibility than that otherwise you become predictable. Here Catley comes back to Wubben-Moy and we can see Wälti in the left eight position again. Look at Kim Little too, the right eight. She is pushed right over to the right hand side.

Wälti drifts into a more central position and look at the pressure she is under from Aileen Whelan. Brighton will have trained for this and seen Wälti receiving the ball in this more natural number six position as a trigger. If Whelan can win this back, Carter is essentially through on goal.

But Wälti deals with the pressure with a trademark turn and then whips an excellent cross-field pass to Maritz with her left foot. To labour the point, when you are this two-footed, opponents find it so difficult to read you. Lia can turn in both directions and that gives her so much control over her opponent in these scenarios. This move ends in a shot on target for Miedema.

As Brighton scramble a clearance towards Arsenal’s left side, Wälti is onto it, she shapes as if she is going to pass back to Wubben-Moy but…

There is the trademark feint with the hips and she instead finds Kim Little in a much better position than Wubben-Moy and Arsenal keep the pressure on Brighton.

Arsenal wanted to attract the Brighton press to the left before switching play over to the right very quickly. Wälti can do this herself because she has a fine cross field pass. But so too does Miedema and Arsenal tried to use her skill in that area. Again, Wälti picks the ball up here in the left-back slot and Catley pushes on, meaning Lee is sucked over to the left and Ellie Brazil has to stay with Catley.

Wälti eventually finds Miedema who has dropped into space, as soon as she dispenses the ball, Wälti continues to wander to the left, which keeps Lee out of the picture again. Lee is supposed to be one of the central triggers for the press but she has increasingly been pushed to Arsenal’s left.

With Brighton now moved to Arsenal’s left, Miedema unleashes a cross-field pass to Maritz which, unfortunately on this occasion is slightly overcooked.

But you can see what a good situation it would have created had the pass had a little less heft on it.

Watch as Williamson moves the ball from right to left here, as soon as she makes the pass to Wubben-Moy, we see Wälti in her left eight position. Look at what she does as soon as she sees the direction of the ball.

She sprints over to the left touchline again, allowing Catley to hold the width higher up and for Foord to play slightly inside. Once again, it’s about creating a superiority on that flank.

Wubben-Moy ends up coming back to Williamson but Wälti stays left. It means that both of the full-backs are nice and pushed up and Arsenal can build in a back three. Usually, we are used to seeing the centre-halves split and Wälti dropping back between them to create that three. Arsenal used Wälti both as a means of manipulating the Brighton press. But also, with Rafaelle absent, Wälti’s left foot is better than Wubben-Moy’s, a natural right footer, so it makes sense for her to take the left extremity in build-up. Coaches have a saying, “width and depth.” The principle is that, no matter the phase of play and where individuals might wander to to find space, the team shape should always have these elements. Wälti usually gives Arsenal depth but against Brighton she gave them width.

In the end, Williamson finds Miedema who spins and plays another sensational reverse pass to Beth Mead.

Once again here, Wälti veers to the left to collect the ball from Catley and we can see that she is already scanning over her shoulder to survey the scene.

Brighton have got Little and Miedema well marked here, Carter is pressing the centre-halves but Lee is not close enough to Wälti. Lee has had a tough time predicting Wälti’s starting positions in build-up.

It means that Wälti has the time and space to spray the ball wide to Beth Mead, though Mead had just strayed offside.

It wasn’t always about Wälti drifting to the left, that tended to happen from goal kicks, for example. Here Arsenal are just forced backwards, so Wälti is in her more natural position. They work the ball back to Zinsberger and it’s Wubben-Moy who has pulled over to the left this time.

Wubben-Moy carries the ball forward and Wälti stops running, she realises now that her role is to be the central pin in that back three build-up, with Lotte the left pin. It still means that Catley and Foord can stay on the left flank without needing to come too deep.

Wubben-Moy is able to find the pass to Catley on the left and again, we can see that enables Foord to move inside a little. Miedema is also interested in that space. Arsenal have three players over on the left axis. The positioning of Wälti and Wubben-Moy enables this.

When Wubben-Moy finds Catley, Lee is attracted over to help her right-back Emma Koivisto but look at the space that leaves for Caitlin Foord.

Catley finds Foord in space and Lee and Koivisto are out of the game. Kullberg has to come across and leave her central post but can only deflect Foord’s cross onto the head of Kullberg’s international teammate Blackstenius, who heads Arsenal into a three goal lead.

Arsenal used big switches of play to pull Brighton out of shape several times on Sunday. Everyone knows how strong Leah Williamson is in this area but Miedema and Wälti were a big component of this tactic. Here again we see Miedema in the right-back spot as Arsenal win the ball back from a Brighton throw. She turns and fires the ball into Blackstenius. There are five Brighton players crowded over on that side of the field, that’s half the team.

Blackstenius controls with her back to goal and finds Foord and Catley on the overlap and Brighton are outnumbered.

As Foord collects the ball she drives in-field, using Catley’s run as a decoy. Blackstenius now moves into the left channel. Brighton scramble to get back and cover Arsenal’s left flank.

Foord’s decision to drive in-field pulls Brighton out of shape again. Foord finds Mead, who switches the ball to Miedema. From starting the move at right-back, Arsenal have gone from right to left and right again in the space of 13 seconds. Miedema’s shot is well saved by Walsh in the end.

Once again, as Arsenal build, Wubben-Moy pushes the ball to Wälti in the left-back position. Once again that means Catley and Foord can both be pushed nice and high.

Wälti moves in-field and the Brighton players follow her but you probably know what’s coming…

Yeah it’s another disguised pass. Look at the body shapes of Brazil and Koivisto, whose bodyweight is shifted in the other direction by Wälti’s snake charming.

It buys Catley half a yard and half a second and she is able to deliver the ball down the line to Foord in a dangerous area. Wälti’s positioning gave Brighton problems all evening, her ability to deceive players with her passing is the cherry on the cake.

One last example here, as Blackstenius is crowded out by Brighton defenders and she absolutely fires a pass into Wälti.

As Whelan closes her down, Wälti fakes to pass to Maritz on the right but instead feints inside.

Having wriggled away she spots Mead’s run and hits a wonderful cross-field pass to Mead in space.

From there, Mead is able to cross to Miedema, who should score but doesn’t quite connect with the pass to score when you would back her to.

All evening, Arsenal were able to pull Brighton’s press into ineffective areas and either punish them with quick switches of play, or else open up more central zones to play into. Wälti dropping into a quasi left-back role wasn’t the only way they achieved this, they found other ways through Brighton as well but it was probably the most regular move on the day.

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A really enthralling dissection of the game. I bet you pulled wings off flies as a kid just to see how they worked. The tactics and execution by the girls certainly pulled the wings off Brighton.


Brilliant analysis, as usual.
Miedema is the complete striker. So happy we have her.
I can imagine Mikel would dream of that kind of striker

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