Monday, July 4, 2022

Arsenal 7 Aston Villa Women 0 Analysis: Attack from the back

After last week’s 3-0 win over Everton, I decided to look at the way that Arsenal defended from the front to stop Everton from relieving pressure or building counter attacks. I asked Jonas Eidevall about that pressing, which was very much on display in Sunday’s 7-0 win over Aston Villa.

“I am pleased you notice what the players do off the ball because the players work really hard at that. I think we’re finding that balance and I don’t know how many clean sheets we have kept this season but not conceding is a massive part of taking the points we want to take.” I could have looked at that aspect again for the comfortable victory over Aston Villa.

Instead, I want to look at how Arsenal’s centre-backs were among the most threatening attackers on the day. Villa decided not to pressure Lotte Wubben-Moy and Leah Williamson in possession and were made to regret it. Williamson’s line breaking passes led to several chances and a few goals too. Wubben-Moy finished the game with a goal and three shots, Williamson also had three shots.

Williamson’s passing in particular was outstanding and she finished the game with a 92% pass completion rate despite attempting plenty of difficult and varied passes from the back.

Arsenal’s first shot on target comes from a beautifully worked move that sees Williamson break lines with this wonderfully flighted cross-field pass.

It falls to Katie McCabe’s instep inch perfectly, meaning McCabe does not need to take a touch and sends a first time cross into Caitlin Foord.

Foord controls the cross and sets the ball for Miedema, whose shot is saved by Sian Rogers.

Arsenal’s setup from the back saw Williamson pulling over into that right channel that she likes, Wubben-Moy pulling over to the left and Walti dropping between them. Occasionally, that would change and Walti would drift to the far left with Wubben-Moy in the middle. Walti is very useful dropping into those spaces, especially in the absence of Rafaelle, because she is so strong on her left foot. It also allows the full-backs to push up and for the wide forwards to stand in-field slightly.

This aggressive, in-field positioning of the wide forwards pays off for the opening goal too. Williamson again breaks the lines with a disguised pass into Mead, who is tucked right in-field.

Williamson finds Mead who, again, sets the ball for Miedema and the rest is history.

Arsenal were able to stretch the pitch and make Villa run a lot due to Williamson’s ability to switch play from one flank to another in the blink of an eye.

Have a guess how the move begins for Miedema’s second goal?

Williamson’s pass takes a slight ricochet as she passes along the floor but it still finds its target of Foord, who again sets the ball for Miedema. This is a move Arsenal used several times, either Foord, McCabe or Mead popping into the half spaces and setting the ball for Miedema to run onto. Notice here that none of the Villa defenders have followed Foord out of the defensive line. Also notice the run Kim Little is beginning to make in the centre circle.

Little runs into the position Foord has vacated and that is crucial, her run takes two Villa defenders away from Miedema, giving her room to shoot.

While Villa largely opted not to pressure Williamson in possession, even when they did it was futile.

Ciao.

And it’s another inch perfect cross field pass to Catley.

Another, you say?

Once again, we see Foord moving away from the front line to play with her back to goal and this time she sets the ball for Mead.

Here, Williamson collects the ball from Lydia Williams and drives away from the area.

Again, it’s a disguised line-breaking pass into Miedema in space and Arsenal are away. Inside a few seconds, Arsenal go from Lydia Williams having the ball in her six-yard box, to Vivianne Miedema having it in a three-on-three situation.

It’s not just accuracy that makes Williamson such a great passer. It’s her understanding of her teammates’ movement. Look here as Mead starts to bend her run away around the back of Boye Hlorkah, who is trying to screen a pass. Williamson fakes to pass to Maritz, to shift Boye-Hlorkah’s weight to her left side.

But at the last second, she shifts and passes the ball to Boye-Hlorkah’s right side, finding Mead, whose subsequent shot hits the crossbar.

There was no letting up in the second half either.

Another inch perfect cross field pass to McCabe and Arsenal again find themselves in a favourable situation on the edge of the Villa area.

If Williamson demonstrated number 10 like creative qualities, her central defensive partner Lotte Wubben-Moy looked like an old fashioned number 9 at times. She had two headers on target from corners, helped herself to a poacher’s goal inside the area and look at how aggressive her positioning is here in the build-up to the third. She plays with her back to goal and smuggles the ball to Miedema, whose shot cannons off the bar, hits Rachel Corsie and goes in.

Been a few minutes since we’ve seen an inch perfect cross field ball from Williamson, hasn’t it?

There we go.

Stina Blackstenius came on for Katie McCabe on 60 minutes. The Swede is very strong at running the channels and it meant that Arsenal changed up their delivery a little. Foord liked to come away from the front line and bump the ball off to onrushing colleagues, Blackstenius stretches defences by running them into the channels.

The ball puts Blackstenius into a dangerous position and isolates the Villa back line once more. Williamson finds an even better pass to Blackstenius in the channel a few minutes later.

However, Blackstenius was also able to offer that back to goal service that Foord had done so well in the preceding sixty minutes. Here Williamson is again able to feed the ball through the lines.

Blackstenius comes away from the front line and bumps the ball off to Miedema. Arsenal worked on this move a lot, feeding the ball into the striker before the striker nudges the ball backwards to Miedema. It meant that Miedema was able to receive the ball facing goal.

On this occasion, Wubben-Moy gets in on the act with a wicked long pass to the left channel.

Again, it’s a pass that gets Villa running backwards and allows Foord to isolate Mayling at right-back.

For the sixth goal, Williamson finally gets the assist that she deserves. You can just see Blackstenius at the top of the screen ready to bend a run into that right channel again. You can also see that Williamson has seen it.

The pass sets Blackstenius away and, from here, the Swede finishes really cleverly to extend Arsenal’s advantage to six.

It’s Williamson’s second assist in two games after last week’s lofted pass to Caitlin Foord to open the scoring at Everton.

In truth, the period of the season when Williamson was injured during the winter might well cost the Gunners the title. Her absence coincided with Arsenal’s sticky spell and the profoundly irritating defeat to Birmingham City. Having a centre-half that can slice open deep block defences in this way is a cheat code for Arsenal and one they were only too happy to use against Aston Villa.

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Doonhamer

Another great article Tim, thanks. It’s also encouraging to note that Arsenal’s goal difference is now just better than Chelsea. As recently highlighted, do you think this is becoming a focus for the team as JE won’t want to miss a title again on the basis of goal difference.

Tim Stillman

Asked Jonas about this after the game and he said it was about two reasons- one about building goal difference but he also said it just builds a lasting winning mentality. He said he felt that was a big part of Barca building themselves into such a formidable team, he felt maintaining that appetite for goals meant that they always knew how to find a way when they need to.

Peter Story Teller

Interesting that Wolfsburg beat Barca the other night even with their win everything mentality so it can be done!

Gunner H

Very interesting indeed!

Djgooner

Another 7 on Wednesday night please!

Qwaliteee

And STILL Chelsea won’t slip up.

Bastards.

Fun Gunner

Fascinating. Kudos to JE and the girls.

But regarding Leah’s absence, so frustrating that we didn’t find a way to compensate. Points and confidence and the title lost.
And a propos of nothing, if Caitlin Foord had more pace and was a little more deadly in front of goal we’d have another world class player.

Matt

Retain at least a little hope, the title’s not lost yet! 🙂

Tim Stillman

Even if Leah’s injury would have happened a couple of months later when we had Rafaelle, we could have compensated better. Also think Lotte has improved a lot since that spell, it came at the wrong time! The only home game Arsenal didn’t win in the WSL was v Manchester United and Leah, Rafa and Lotte weren’t available for that game, which tells its own story.

MartynJ

Thanks again for this Tim. Puzzled by Villa’s failure to pressure Arsenal’s CBs (ditto Everton last week). Although Jonathon Pearce’s utter obliviousness to much of this on the FA Player commentary was amusing, ditto the BBC commentary (in contrast to Kelly Smith on the BBC highlights programme, who singled out Leah’s passing for special attention).

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