Beth Mead was voted as the Arsenal player of the season by the Arsenal Women’s Supporters Club and will almost certainly earn the same honour from the readers of Arsenal.com. She won the supporters club vote by a landslide. Mead’s improvement season-on-season has been there for all to see.
The raw data tells you everything that you need to know. In 2019-20 Mead had four goals and five assists. In 2020-21, Beth scored four goals and provided eight assists. In 2021-22, she managed 11 goals and nine assists. She appeared in all 22 WSL games, starting 20 of them. She played 2883 minutes across all competitions, only Kim Little (who has retired from international football) and Katie McCabe played more- demonstrating how integral she has become to Jonas Eidevall’s high pressing side.
Mead was a surprise (stupidity is often a surprise) omission from the Team GB squad last summer for the Tokyo Olympics. This gave Mead two distinct advantages going into this season- firstly, she was well rested and secondly, she had something to prove. The Gunners also added top class wide forwards in Nikita Parris and Tobin Heath during the off-season, providing her with extra competition.
Arseblog News spoke to Beth after the final game of the season at West Ham and asked how much her summer contributed to her performances this season. “The disappointment of not going to the Olympics made me step into a different gear. When Keets and Tobin came in I knew I would have to step up my game in every training session- not just every game. Apparently competitiveness really helps me!”
Mead’s final remark there refers to comments a couple of her managers have made in recent times. In the build-up to the 2019 World Cup, then England boss Phil Neville revealed that he wanted to bring out Mead’s angry side, “We had very harsh words with her, and she knew it. We had to really tell a few home truths to someone who was probably at a level she was happy with. But we knew she could go a different level.”
In January, when Mead inspired Arsenal to overturn a 1-0 deficit at home to Brighton at half-time with a second half assist and goal, Jonas Eidevall told Arseblog News, “I missed that Beth Mead a little bit in the latest games. When she is that assertive and aggressive she is world class. That helped us a lot in the second half.” Mead told Arseblog News following the West Ham match in May, “I’ve worked on getting that right level of aggressiveness in my game more consistently.”
That’s the narrative behind Mead’s best ever season in an Arsenal shirt. Let’s go a little deeper. First of all, what do the ‘underlying’ numbers tell us? Particularly when we look at her improved goal scoring numbers. Let’s look at the final product data, first and foremost. All the data presented is per 90 minutes and all courtesy of Fbref.
|Goals||Expected Goals (XG)||Assists||Expected Assists (XA)||G+A||XG+XA|
We can see a big jump in her goalscoring data, as well as her expected goals. Her assist numbers dropped a little per 90 but ultimately, she still ended up with more assists than she did last season and her expected assist numbers didn’t drop much on last season. (Nobody in the Arsenal squad ranked better on XA per 90).
Chances created 2021-22 FAWSL
That's an astonishing gap between first and second!
— Orbinho (@Orbinho) June 3, 2022
She has maintained the creative edge that saw her break the WSL assists record this season, while adding to her goal scoring threat. Her shot data, given below, elucidates this trend. She is taking more shots, more often, more accurately and from slightly closer to the goal. Only Miedema and Blackstenius registered better on the XG+XA stat from the current squad.
|Shots||Shots on target||SOT%||Average shot distance||G-XG|
Why is this happening? Well, for a start, Jonas Eidevall has worked on getting Mead into far more central positions than we have seen in previous seasons. Under Montemurro, Mead was played as a ‘true’ winger, holding the width on the right, while either Foord or van de Donk on the left came inside to play as a second striker.
This season, the left-winger has been asked to hold the width of the field more often, with Katie McCabe often playing on that flank. Tobin Heath was also played exclusively on the left in her outings there last season. Caitlin Foord was a regular on that side during the second half of the season but was often asked to isolate the opposition right-back and utilise her skills in one-on-one situations.
Arsenal have a slight left-sided bias in their attack, with the left-back (either Catley or McCabe) playing almost as an auxiliary winger in support of the left-sided forward. This means that Arsenal use quick switches of play to feed Mead on the right. Arsenal drags the opponent to the left-side of the field, which means the space is on the right.
The right side of the Arsenal defence have also been crucial in enabling Mead to take these more in-field positions. Noelle Maritz’s movement is very intelligent, she knows when to hug the touchline and allow Mead to move in-field. Just look at Mead’s touchmap this season compared to last season from Carlon Carpenter below. She is receiving the ball a good 10-15 yards further in-field this season.
Yup: Here's here carries on the ball compared from 20/21 to 21/22. About a 30% increase in touches in those middle areas/half-spaces total. pic.twitter.com/h0XEbyvtT2
— Carlon C. (@CarlonCarpenter) May 11, 2022
Mead has been lurking in the half-spaces more often and on the touchline less often. Another key enabler of this is Leah Williamson, whose passing from right centre-half often finds Mead in these pockets. Just look at the two examples I highlighted from the end of last season in the home victories over Aston Villa and Spurs, where the moves were very similar.
— Tim Stillman (@Stillberto) May 4, 2022
In this context, Mead’s increased number of goals is easy to explain. The ball has been worked to her in more central positions, closer to the opposition box. Let’s look at the touch data below to confirm this. The data shows us that Beth had a lot more touches in the attacking third and far more touches in the opposition box this season. That explains why her average shot distance was two yards closer to the goal this season.
|Touches in defensive third||Touches in middle third||Touches in attacking third||Touches in opposition penalty area|
The data behind Mead’s creative numbers, which have always been impressive, also tell us a lot. Just look at the spike in the ‘shot creating actions’ metric. A lot of her shot creating actions under Montemurro were driven by traditional wing-play like crosses. Under Eidevall, Mead has been more direct in the half-spaces and we can see this from her dribbling data. She is taking players on far more often and with greater success.
|Shot Creating Actions||Dribbles attempted||Dribble success rate|
Under Montemurro, Arsenal wanted far more control of the ball and that meant not engaging in risky actions like dribbling. Eidevall wants to encourage such actions, given his emphasis on counterpressing, where losing the ball is less of an issue because it offers the team a chance to press and win the ball back straight away.
Earlier this season, Jonas told one of his weekly press conferences an anecdote about one of his early training sessions with Mead. “I remember one of the first training sessions that we had. There was a transitional opportunity and she went on a one-on-one situation in the penalty area and she passed it back. I told her that I never wanted to see that again. She is so good in a one versus one and has a good finish, so when she gets into those situations she needs to try and try over and over again.” That is why we have seen a spike in her dribbling numbers.
Perhaps the foremost reason that Mead has thrived this season under Eidevall is his espousal of counterpressure. Counter pressing is basically a tool whereby, if you lose the ball during an attack, you harry like mad for a good six seconds to win it back. Winning the ball back in these scenarios is ideal because it catches defences off guard and out of shape.
If you are coming to a new club and you wish to turn your team into a more counterattacking outfit, as a coach you could scarcely ask for a better ally than Beth Mead. There probably isn’t a player in the WSL who can nick the ball off opponents like she can. Eidevall told Arseblog News in March, “I have never coached a player who is as fast at it (counterpressing) as Beth Mead, she can run 15 metres in seconds and close a player down.”
The data bears this out. Beth has always taken this role in the Arsenal team, while Montemurro was not as emphatic about pressing as Eidevall, pressing still happened and Mead did it better than most. Now there is a greater emphasis on it and Mead has been able to shine within that framework. More tackles, more pressures, more of both in the final and middle thirds and more of those actions are leading to goal attempts for the team.
She is also committing fewer fouls however, which shows that her decisions are more judicious when it comes to pressuring opponents. She chooses her moments. Her shot creating actions per 90 stat is by far and away the best in the Arsenal squad for last season, with Miedema in second at 4.58 SCA per 90. Nobody attempts dribbles more often either.
|Tackles attempted||Tackles attempted middle third||Tackles attempted attacking third||Pressures in the attacking third||Defensive action that leads to shot atttempt||Fouls|
Honestly don't think there is a better player in the WSL at doing this. Eight seconds after the Everton goalkeeper is hugging the ball, she is scrambling to make a save. Mead is so, so strong at closing down and winning the ball back high up the pitch. pic.twitter.com/LoBuOJ2eyS
— Tim Stillman (@Stillberto) April 25, 2022
Beth’s attempted tackles per 90 are, again, ahead of all her Arsenal contemporaries, which is quite amazing considering she is a winger. Lia Walti, the defensive midfielder, registers 2.95 tackles per 90. What your eyes and the data show is a player that is improving season-on-season. This season she has been encouraged to be more direct, on and off the ball, which suits her game.
Arsenal have also worked to get her into positions closer to the goal, which demonstrates the level of trust the coach has in her. Tobin Heath didn’t play a single game on the right wing and Nikita Parris, a Champions League winner, played over 1,000 minutes fewer than Mead. The recognition for Mead is well deserved.
All of the data from this article is from FBREF.