Friday, June 21, 2024

Leaner, Meaner, Stina: Blackstenius stretches Brighton open

When Arsenal signed Stina Blackstenius in January, plenty wondered why Jonas Eidevall was recruiting a top-class international striker when Vivianne Miedema was already at the club. The truth is, Jonas Eidevall wanted a different type of striker.

Viv played very much like a 9.5, dropping deep to link play and allow players like van de Donk, Little and Nobbs to run in behind her. Eidevall favours greater structure, with midfielders coiled for the press, while the striker runs the channels, pins the defence and attacks the area, making room for the wide forwards in the process.

Blackstenius became Arsenal’s de facto number 9 and Miedema has not played a single second as the team’s centre-forward since the first half of the draw with Manchester United in early February. Blackstenius got off the mark with the second goal in the 4-0 win over Brighton. Some of us had the opportunity to speak to her after the match. Let’s have a closer look at her performance and why Eidevall values his compatriot in this role so much.

From Arsenal’s first proper attack, this lofted pass from Foord doesn’t quite have enough heft on it and is cut out by Kullberg.

Wälti and Mead quickly swarm on her and Wälti wins the ball back. You can see that Brighton’s defensive line is high and Blackstenius is itching to test it.

Victoria Williams is in trouble here and she knows it, she grabs at Blackstenius as the Swede threatens to go through on goal.

Blackstenius wants a foul as Williams has a handful of her shirt but to no avail. The referee probably realises that, if she gives a foul, she has to send Williams off and doesn’t want to make that sort of call so early in the game. A few minutes later, she will be left with no choice.

As Leah Williamson works a free-kick over to Rafaelle on the left, look at how high Brighton’s defensive line is and look at where Blackstenius is. She is very interested in that space in behind.

Rafa works the ball to McCabe and both McCabe and Blackstenius are interested in the ball into space. Stina had three goals disallowed by VAR during the Euros for marginal offsides, she plays on the borderline on the shoulder of the last defender and, in fairness, here she is probably offside.

McCabe’s pass is well-flighted and Stina is through on goal.

Like all good strikers, she takes a touch to her right here. This is with a dual intention, it opens up a better angle to slot the ball with her strong foot but it also means she goes across the back of the defender, daring her to make the trip and get the red card. Kullberg doesn’t outright trip Blackstenius but there is a tangle of legs and Kullberg is sent off. Arsenal’s two threatening moments in the opening six minutes are a result of Blackstenius’ movement and she draws the red card that makes Arsenal’s task on the night easier.

With the sending off, we saw a relatively route one pass from Katie McCabe put Blackstenius through on goal and Williamson is minded to try something similar here as Blackstenius again offers the run in behind.

Victoria Williams stretches every sinew to just cut the pass out but you can see the situation she would be in were it not for Williams’ go-go gadget legs. Consistently having this sort of option in behind gives the team variety but it also gives defenders doubt and anxiety to be tested in this way so consistently.

As the ball is worked to Wienroither on the right here, Blackstenius’ eyes light up and she is once again looking to make that run in behind. Wienroither doesn’t play the ball here but, again, you can see the intent.

You can see it’s troubling Victoria Williams too, as the play develops here, look at how she turns her body 180 degrees to check where Stina is. That movement is causing her anxiety.

You can see why too. Just seconds later as Rafaelle drives the ball forward from centre-half, we see the familiar sight of Blackstenius running into the channel and indicating that she wants the pass. On this occasion, it is, once again, just cut out. This movement will look very familiar when we look at Stina’s second half goal.

The other reason that Eidevall wanted to bring Stina to the club was to bring some of those more traditional striker qualities in the penalty area. As Katie McCabe receives the ball on the left and shapes to cross, Stina peels off the shoulder of Kayleigh Green and has found space. Williams immediately recognises the danger and moves across in a panic. Alas, on this occasion, the cross is a smidgen too high but that piece of movement would have given Blackstenius a free header inside the area. Inside the first 15 minutes, we have been able to identify several pieces of movement from the Swede, most of them haven’t resulted in anything tangible. Such is the life of a striker, you have to make a hundred unfruitful runs before you get your reward.

Blackstenius can also act as a release valve. In this situation, Leah Williamson is penned in next to her corner flag. Brighton are in a good situation here.

Blackstenius recognises this and offers herself for a long, clipped pass up the line. Not only is she able to hold the ball up here, she attracts two Brighton players to her and, if you look close to the centre circle that means that Miedema has space. You can also see that Beth Mead is alive to the situation, she knows the next two passes already. Poppy Pattinson, the Brighton left-back next to Mead, is not nearly as alert.

Stina finds Miedema and Mead is well and truly on her bike. Miedema plays the first time pass but it happens just as Mead speeds into the Brighton half and she is flagged offside. This situation comes from Blackstenius’ unselfish hold up play.

Here is another really nice example of Blackstenius’ movement and situational awareness. As Brighton take a throw-in, you can just see her jog into space. Victoria Williams has moved towards the touchline to offer herself as an option for the throw, which Pattison doesn’t take. It means there is a big gap between Williams and Green and Stina decides to move into it just in case.

Sure enough, Wälti wins the ball back immediately from the throw and her tackle finds Miedema. Now Blackstenius is stood in space rather than next to Kayleigh Green.

When Stina spoke to some of us after the game, she identified her touch as an area for improvement and that’s correct. “I need to be better with my first touch, to get the ball in tight spaces and to get the quick passes between me and Viv because I don’t have so much time with the ball and that is something I am really working on.” From this situation, as Miedema stabs the ball into her path, she doesn’t take it smoothly enough.

As a result, the ball is stuck under her feet a little and Williams is able to force her to turn away from goal. The chance is not totally lost and she does not lose the ball but a tidier turn from Miedema’s pass (which arrived quite slowly, in fairness, due to the difficulty of the pass) would have seen a far better opportunity.

We see a clearer example here as Arsenal break on Brighton with Miedema leading the charge. Viv delivers the pass to Blackstenius in the perfect situation…

But her touch is sloppy, allowing Green to get back and a gilt-edged chance is gone.

With her confidence still slightly shaken from that miscontrol, here she shows for the ball with her back to goal and takes another heavy touch. Brighton win the ball back and from the subsequent breakaway, nearly take the lead against the run of play.

On this occasion, Arsenal create another transition as Wälti again wins the ball in midfield and finds Miedema and you know what that means? Blackstenius again looking to run in behind.

Miedema delivers the pass and, again, Stina probably doesn’t gather the ball as smoothly as she could have, meaning she needs an extra touch to take the ball inside and away from Pattison.

However, she gets the ball onto her right foot and is unlucky to hit the cross bar.

Once again in this scenario, we see the quality of Blackstenius’ movement. As soon as McCabe receives the ball on the left, she creeps away from Williams and plants herself between Williams and Green.

McCabe’s delivery is good but Stina heads over on this occasion. In having to turn her body slightly and jump simultaneously, she just jumps a little early, meets the ball at its highest point and heads over. Again, though, the quality of the movement to get the chance is exceptional.

She didn’t let up in the second half either. Just ten seconds in, Arsenal win the ball in transition from Brighton’s centre and Stina is looking to run that channel again which allows Foord to make a more central run from the back post. Miedema doesn’t quite get the pass right on this occasion but, again, that run will look familiar in a minute…

And here we see Blackstenius’ value as a release valve again. Brighton have a rare moment of pressure around Arsenal’s area with players in advanced positions. Kim Little decides not to take any risks and clears long.

Blackstenius has dropped to offer herself, holds up Little’s clearance, turns Williams and wins a foul and Brighton’s period of pressure is over.

Blackstenius’ goal arrives via a move we have seen Arsenal execute time and again since the spring. Williamson has the ball in the right half-space and Mead quickly moves in-field beneath enemy radar.

As soon as Mead receives the pass, Williams is attracted out towards her and Blackstenius is already aware of what is coming next.

Blackstenius makes no mistake with the blasted finish but what I really like is this moment here. Just as she did with the red card earlier in the game, Blackstenius takes the ball across her body to keep Pattison away from it. Now if Pattison makes a tackle, she has to make a foul by going through the back of Stina, or else risk a tangle of legs. Kullberg took that risk and was sent off, Pattison decided not to and Blackstenius finished the chance. Damned if you do, damned if you don’t.

Incidentally, you can see this Williamson to Mead pass in the right half-space has been incredibly fruitful for Arsenal during their last three home games.

There’s a fair chance that Blackstenius was asked to keep attacking that right channel during the half-time teamtalk. Again, as Williamson brings the ball forwards, the Swede is looking to make a run into that avenue.

Williamson duly plays the pass and Blackstenius has the ball in a dangerous situation. On this occasion, she pulls back to Miedema whose shot is blocked.

The third goal comes from a transition and it’s Stina who starts the press. Walsh rolls the ball out to Williams and Blackstenius is straight over to harangue her on the ball.

It leads to a scrappy passage of play from Brighton and eventually Little is able to take the ball cleanly as Arsenal force a high turnover. The captain prods the ball to Blackstenius who has taken a position in that right channel again. Look at Beth Mead on the right, she can see that Stina’s position gives her license to move inside and, ultimately, she is in the centre-forward position to score the goal.

That was Blackstenius’ final touch of the game before being replaced by her compatriot Lina Hurtig but Stina can be very pleased with her night’s work and, possibly, her strongest performance for the club so far. Much of Blackstenius’ work happens off the ball and it’s not always immediately detectable but it really makes a difference to the way Arsenal play.



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Our team against 10 players for most of the match means we win!

Peter Story Teller

Superb analysis, Tim. The team is looking very strong at the moment and I don’t think the result would have been much different if Brighton had kept all 11 on the pitch.
If Stina can get some velcro on her boots and time those runs through the backline a millisecond better so she is not offside 20 times a match she will be unplayable and that is why Jonas signed her up.
Many thanks to Chelsea and City also for both throwing points away! What a great weekend of WSL football!


Was very happy with both City’ and Chelsea’s results. It does show the League will be a lot more competitive this year.

With City’s current state, would it be possible for Arsenal to sneakily snap up Lauren Hemp? Would be a cracking addition to this team.

Peter Story Teller

Hemp would be a brilliant signing if she can be tempted away from City. I fear it would take a record fee in excess of the Walsh transfer to accomplish that at the moment though. City cannot afford to lose any more quality players!

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