Wednesday, October 5, 2022

Where’s Wally? Birmingham have no answer to snake hips Wälti

Earlier this week, I asked Jonas Eidevall about Lia Wälti’s recent performances. Wälti, so often the hub of the Arsenal midfield since her signing in 2018, has taken on a much more aggressive, front footed role so far this season.

Eidevall praised her recent performances in the new role, “I think her performances since the end of January and in February have been brilliant and she has been a key part in the team’s overall development, both in build-up and in defence.” In Sunday’s 4-2 victory over Birmingham, she was once again outstanding. Let’s take a closer look at her performance.

Lia’s two-footedness gives her such an advantage because it makes her so difficult to read and it also means she has a really nice way of disguising passes which helps her to break lines and gives her variety in distribution. Here she tries a cross field pass with her left foot. It is cut out by Rebecca Holloway but the clearance comes straight back to Arsenal and they build again.

When she gets the ball in a similar position a few seconds later, she shapes up to try to hit that Arsenal right flank again and Birmingham’s players shift their bodyweight accordingly.

When she gets the ball in a similar position a few seconds later, she shapes up to try to hit that Arsenal right flank again and Birmingham’s players shift their bodyweight accordingly.

She repeats the trick again seconds later, shaping her body as if she is going to farm the ball out to Wienroither on the right and, again, the bodyweight of the Birmingham players shifts accordingly.

But once again, it’s a deception and she creates space for another punchier pass between the lines, finding Mead who has moved in-field slightly. Wälti’s teammates don’t call her ‘snake hips’ for nothing.

As I highlighted in the Reading analysis, Wälti is taking up much more aggressive attacking positions this season, swapping the number six role with Kim Little. Look at where she is stood when Kim Little comes forward here, right on the edge of the Birmingham area.

Another disguised pass, anyone?

Why not?

Once again, as play builds here, it’s Kim Little who picks the ball up from Rafaelle at the base of the midfield and Wälti moves forward and plays between the lines.

She collects the pass from Little with her back to goal, wriggles away from pressure and plays a ball into Miedema. Historically, we have seen Wälti doing this work nearer the halfway line (and she still does).

When she collects the ball from Catley, we see her scanning the picture ahead of her and you can see where a little corridor of space has opened up in the left half-space.

Blackstenius spots the space and runs into it and Wälti’s first thought is to try to find her. It’s a difficult pass and Birmingham do cut it out but the intention is there. It’s a probing pass designed to ask questions of the Birmingham centre-halves.

Here we see her high up the pitch again, receiving a pass from McCabe. Sarri is out to close Wälti down.

But Wälti leaves her for dead with a trademark shuffle of the hips. Again, when you are comfortable on both feet, your opponents have such a hard time reading you and it also makes you far better balanced. The Ajax academy teaches bipedality for exactly this reason, because it improves balance. That is why Wälti can shift her weight and her opponents’ weight so deftly. Wälti now has a far easier pass to Beth Mead, who feeds the ball to Wienroither and her shot goes over. It comes about though, because Wälti is able to move Sarri out of the way with such little fuss.

This angle illustrates it nicely. Upon collecting the ball there doesn’t look to be much space and she has a player charging Lia down.

One shimmy later and it opens up a dangerous passing lane to Beth Mead. We’re used to seeing this sort of manoeuvre on the halfway line and in her own half, and she still does, but now we’re seeing it more often higher up the pitch.

 

 

 

We see this again here as Birmingham try and fail to play out from a throw-in deep in their own half. Wälti wins the ball back high up the pitch with counterpressure.

 

 

She comes away with the ball and moves towards the edge of the Birmingham area and, once more, we see the move of the hips to disguise her final ball to Blackstenius.

It just has a little too much on it but we can see again, Wälti using her ability in tight spaces and her passing higher up the pitch.

This angle shows the benefit of disguising those passes again. Louise Quinn is closest to Blackstenius and you can see where her weight is shifted by Wälti’s body positioning but, at the last second, Wälti passes the ball in the opposite direction to where her body is pointing, taking opponents off balance in the process and buying the recipient a precious second of time. It also stops Quinn from intercepting the pass.

On the brink of half-time, check this for a pass.

Eye of the needle stuff.

Here is an example of her more aggressive role in the press. Miedema mishits a pass and Birmingham briefly threaten to have the ball but Wälti is straight on the scene to close down and win the ball back high up the pitch.

Eventually she has the ball under control and one of the reasons her persistent disguised passes work is because sometimes when she shapes her body to deliver a cross field pass, she actually does it. This is on her left foot. She keeps opponents guessing with her variety and her ability to play a pass with either foot. It gives her so many options.

Here she is immediately closing down again as an Arsenal move breaks down and Birmingham try to find a rare pass in their own half.

She wins the ball back and is able to play McCabe into space inside the area.

Wälti saves her best for last, however and leaves the game with the assist that her play merited. At a time when Arsenal had a slender lead in stoppage time, she still tried the probing pass to put the game beyond Birmingham. As she picks up the ball from Heath here there shouldn’t be too much danger for the visitors.

But she sees Caitlin Foord making a run into the right channel and she sprays a nice left-footed pass into that space.

The pass puts Foord through one-on-one with the keeper and the Australian dispatches to confirm the three points.

These angles demonstrate the quality of the pass when there were plenty of more conservative choices available. It put the finishing touch on an impressive creative and destructive display from Lia Wälti.

 

 

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Elise

Love the article Tim! Lol, sometimes I’m worried though that all the next opposition has to do is read your articles to come up with a game plan for when they face us next 😅

Peter Story Teller

Don’t underestimate your abilities, Tim! You do a sterling job.

Peter Story Teller

One of the best games I have seen Wally ply for a long time. It also shakes up our build up play too since for quite a while until Leah was injured most forward balls were coming from her moving up from centre back but now with Wally and Kim in the mix, and Viv dropping back to almost a middle of the park role too there is more variability in our play to keep the opponents guessing a bit more. Some of the final third through balls played yesterday were sublime and I was a little surprised we seemed… Read more »

Peter Story Teller

*play*

Peter Story Teller

Forgot to mention, I’m sure I’m not the only one to have noticed the broad smile on Viv’s face during recent games. It is not a forgone conclusion by any means but the fact she appears to be enjoying herself again might assist us in retaining her services for another couple of seasons. What do you think, Tim?

Marieke

Barcelona is heavily linked. But I can’t help but wonder if Viv is going to be happy at Barcelona. Maybe I’m wrong, but would it still be fun if you go out every single game, score a bunch of goals. No defender in this league is good enough to stop you and plenty of games end 5-0 or 7-0 is no exception. Yes, the Champions League is exciting, but those are maybe 5 games that might get a bit tricky. Realistically only the semi and final will be exciting for them. I just really hope Viv isn’t willing to give… Read more »

Peter Story Teller

Also I know Viv is the most humble person you could meet but at Barcelona she would be a super star amongst super stars whereas in the WSL she is a mega star without peer. I doubt if that bothers her in the slightest but just a thought. You have a point about the other leagues though. In Spain, France and Germany you have one or two great teams who are head and shoulders above everyone else and if you play for one of those teams where is the challenge? In England we have four or five very good sides… Read more »

HRupini

Those one or two great teams are beating us in almost every head to head games.

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