The night before Arsenal’s Champions League group stage opener away at Lyon, I asked Jonas Eidevall about the stability he has opted for in midfield since February. Since February 11th, he has only deviated from a midfield trio of Walti, Little and Miedema once. That was away at Wolfsburg in the Champions League when, bizarrely, UEFA protocol prevented Lia Walti flying out to the game a day later than her teammates.
Eidevall talked up the importance of continuity, especially in such a key area. So it was a big surprise to see Frida Maanum given the nod in midfield for the Lyon game with Miedema on the bench. Maanum is a very energetic runner and has excellent ball-carrying abilities. I asked Jonas post-match whether that was what informed his selection.
“Frida is one of our strongest runners and she carries the ball very well. We gave her a role that requires an extreme amount of running because she basically had to defend two players. She was absolutely brilliant tonight, on and off the ball. It was an excellent performance from her and she should be really proud.”
On a night of stellar performances, the Norwegian was probably Arsenal’s standout. Lyon could not deal with her ability to power into space with and without the ball. She was also absolutely key to Arsenal’s pressing game. Here’s how Jonas Eidevall slightly changed tack and used Frida to disrupt the holders.
Eidevall spoke about how Maanum was essentially detailed to press two players and you can see that in the opening seconds.
As Lyon kickoff, Maanum is looking after Amandine Henry, the deepest player in the Lyon midfield. Here she is more connected to her midfield, playing as the slightly advanced player in the usual 4231.
As Renard passes the ball to Sombath, Maanum abandons Henry and sprints towards Sombath to put her under pressure. Sombath opts to go back to her goalkeeper Tiane Endler.
As Endler collects the ball, Maanum jogs back to mark Henry again.
Satisfied that Maanum has settled on marking Henry again, Endler passes to Sombath and Maanum again sprints away to close Sombath down.
Maanum’s pressure forces Sombath to go long and Steph Catley comfortably collects. Maanum executed these shuttle runs between Sombath and Henry all night. The Norwegian was the elastic in the Arsenal formation that allowed them to switch between their usual 4231 and a 4411/442. In fact, Maanum’s positioning was so aggressive in the opening exchanges that I initially mistook it for an orthodox 442.
Arsenal looking very 442 with Maanum as a second striker atm
— Tim Stillman (@Stillberto) October 19, 2022
As Catley clears the ball towards Foord, look at Maanum’s position here, she is alongside Blackstenius and looking to attack the channel.
That attack breaks down but Arsenal again press Lyon into a long clearance and, again, Catley looks for the channel and finds Foord. Again, look at how positive Maanum’s run is here, sprinting to get up alongside Blackstenius. In turn, look at how far back Amandine Henry is, trailing in her wake.
Foord finds Maanum’s run into the channel and Endler has to turn away Maanum’s low shot. The match is barely sixty seconds old and Maanum is already establishing herself as the key player.
As Bacha collects the ball here, Henry immediately comes alive and wants the ball. We can also see the shape of the Lyon midfield here. While Arsenal have a double pivot in Wälti and Little with Maanum ahead, Lyon have Henry on her own in the deeper role with Horan and van de Donk ahead of her. It meant that Arsenal were rarely outnumbered in central areas.
Bacha rolls the ball down the line to Malard and she attempts to nudge the ball in-field to Henry but look who is across to intercept and win possession back for Arsenal.
Structurally, Lyon were incredibly loose in their own half. Under pressure, Katie McCabe opts for an ‘up and under’ away from pressure.
It finds Maanum in an absurd amount of space to take the ball down and play a dangerous pass in behind. The Lyon right-back, Jaurena’s positioning here is really poor, she is standing parallel to Sombath rather than wide of her.
Maanum spins away and plays a dangerous pass in behind for McCabe who is flagged offside.
For the sake of brevity, I will show only one more example of the pressing structure that Maanum helped Arsenal to create. Once again, as Endler rolls the ball to Renard, we see Maanum sprint away from Henry and towards Sombath.
The pressure again forces Sombath back to Endler and you can once again see the midfield behind Maanum squeeze up the pitch to cover Henry and Arsenal are in more of a 442 structure.
Endler takes her time in possession since Arsenal have blocked off the good options and Maanum once again makes another shuttle run back to mark Henry.
Endler goes to Sombath again and again, that is the trigger for Maanum to teleport towards Sombath The sequence continues for another 25 seconds or so with Lyon trying to play out but unable to do so until Endler eventually misplaces a long pass and Arsenal have a throw-in well inside Lyon’s half.
And to again emphasise the brief Frida was given to run up in support of Blackstenius, look at her here motioning to Wubben-Moy for a ball in behind as she looks to run into space. The ball doesn’t arrive but the intent is obvious.
Maanum helped Arsenal to counter-attack all evening. Lia Wälti collects the ball in her own area after a Lyon attack and feeds a pass into the Norwegian with her back to goal.
A clever dummy takes her away from Horan and Henry in the blink of an eye and Lyon’s defensive spacing is so poor that, even half-way inside her own half, Maanum is in a strong situation.
She carries the ball forwards but, unfortunately, delays her pass to Blackstenius just a little too long and the Swede is centimetres offside.
A few minutes later, Maanum is on the score sheet with a powerful, third player run into the penalty area as Endler saves Blackstenius’ shot.
🚨 SHOCK ALERT 🚨
— DAZN Football (@DAZNFootball) October 19, 2022
Here we see a good example of why Eidevall wanted Maanum’s powerful ball-carrying ability as Kim Little plays a first time pass out of the air into the right channel.
Maanum bullies her way to it, bulldozes her way into the area and gets her shot away, though it is wide. A few minutes later, Lyon’s right-back Jaurena is hooked and Amandine Henry moves to centre-half as Lyon seek to reverse the pattern of the game. Both of those changes are about fixing Arsenal’s left half-space, where Maanum’s movement is causing problems. It’s also an acknowledgment that Henry is struggling to keep up with Frida in midfield.
However, all Lyon have done is shift the deckchairs around. It wasn’t a personnel issue it was a spacing issue. Just after the switch is made, McCabe lofts a ball to Maanum in that space again and, once again, she is allowed to bring the ball down unchallenged.
She turns and lofts a delightful ball to Foord on the left and Arsenal are in Lyon’s penalty area again with little resistance.
I was expecting a more serious adjustment from Lyon at half-time but it never arrived. Just 20 seconds into the half, Blackstenius receives the ball with her back to goal and Maanum is again charging up in support of her with Lyon’s midfield trailing in her wake.
Lyon do appear to have learned a bit of a lesson here, as she carries the ball forwards, they actually have that left half-space covered off well now.
Maanum goes wide to McCabe and Lyon immediately switch off again, allowing McCabe to slide a pass into that channel again for Maanum to run onto. Fortunately for them, McCabe’s pass is over hit.
Look again a minute later, McCabe carries the ball down the touchline again and look at how easy Maanum finds it to drift into a pocket of space.
She is given time and space to get turned and drive into the Lyon box again. She eventually shifts the ball wide to McCabe whose back post cross is just cleared.
As the game went on, Arsenal found even more spaces. Here Maanum touches Walti’s pass to Blackstenius and the Scandinavian duo play a sharp one-two that leaves Maanum with a lot of space to work with.
She drives towards the box again and her shot goes just wide.
Not content with allowing Arsenal to find her in space, Lyon decide to pass to her from kickoff immediately after the fourth goal as Cayman hits a wild backwards pass that finds Maanum in her favourite left half-space. At the bottom of the second caption, Beth Mead has recognised the opportunity.
In truth, this is a simple assist for Maanum. She has simply been given the ball and Salma Bacha is wildly overcommitted. Bear in mind we are less than six seconds from Lyon kicking off, what is she doing so high up the pitch? Where have the Lyon midfield gone?
IT'S FIVE! 🔥
Arsenal score their FIFTH goal over the defending champs Lyon on their home turf with Beth Mead netting in her brace 💫#UWCL LIVE NOW ⬇️
🇬🇧 🎙 👉 https://t.co/fZCJCq1pLe
🇫🇷 🎙 👉 https://t.co/0VIUGFNcvS pic.twitter.com/NDgi64mRlx
— DAZN Football (@DAZNFootball) October 19, 2022
The assist puts the seal on a world class performance from Maanum. Her work to close down both Renard and Henry, two of the finest players women’s football has ever seen, out of possession and her ability to run into space and carry the ball through the half-spaces marked her performance out.
She enabled Arsenal to be fluid and have defined on-ball and off-ball structures with her energy, as a staple of the press when Lyon tried to build from the back and as a free player supporting the frontline in Arsenal’s attacks. Arsenal wanted to attack the half spaces and the channels and they didn’t just want to do it by playing the ball into space, Frida is a good ball-carrier, as well as a solid off-the-ball runner. The decision to select her for this game was inspired from Jonas Eidevall.
With thanks to @miedemastuff for the graphics.