Wednesday, February 28, 2024

Protect the queen: Arsenal setpiece routine bears fruit against Liverpool Women

When Arsenal travelled to Prenton Park to take on Liverpool on Sunday, they had a clear setpiece plan from corners. In Katie McCabe, Beth Mead and Steph Catley, Arsenal have three very strong setpiece takers. In this fixture, Catley and Mead took all of the corners and one thing stood out- all of them were outswingers.

That meant Catley and Mead took corners from their natural side and looked to arc their deliveries away from Rachael Laws. Arsenal opened the scoring from a setpiece when Lia Wälti picked up a half-cleared Catley outswinger and rifled it into the bottom corner. I asked Jonas Eidevall about this tactic post-game.

“I think that is too specific, we have to play them again this season remember! Maybe next time we will do all in-swingers.” Let’s have a look at Arsenal’s corner routines to see what they were trying to achieve and how they were trying to achieve it.

We see here that Blackstenius, Wubben-Moy, Wälti and McCabe are standing in a line on the back post. This will be a theme of Arsenal’s corners.

The other consistent theme is that it will be delivered as an outswinger. As Mead takes the corner, you can see that Arsenal have nobody positioned on the front post at all. They want to drag all of Liverpool’s markers- who are using a mix of zonal and man marking- to the front post to create space in the centre of the box.

Mead’s delivery is low and scrambled away at the front post. But what we see here is that Blackstenius makes a strong, aggressive move to the front post, taking markers with her. It’s partially about her attacking the front post but it’s also a bit of a chess move. Here, Wubben-Moy is the queen and the setup is about protecting her. You can see here that Stina’s movement successfully takes Wubben-Moy’s marker away though the ball doesn’t get to her on this occasion.

Arsenal’s next corner comes from the left so that means it’s Steph Catley’s turn to deliver an outswinger. Yet again, we see the McCabe, Wubben-Moy, Wälti, Blackstenius love train on the back post. No Arsenal player is positioned at the front post. Yet.

This time, McCabe peels away from the line of four towards the back post. This, I imagine, is two-fold- just in case the ball drops. If you are heading away an outswinger, the likelihood is that it will travel backwards and towards the corner of the area. Arsenal will benefit from that on their opening goal. It also takes a marker towards the back post, as we will see in the next screenshot.

McCabe has indeed taken a Liverpool defender to the back post even though McCabe knows the ball isn’t going there. For all of Katie’s qualities, towering headers in the penalty area are not one of her biggest strengths. She is creating a diversion. Once again, Stina Blackstenius attacks the front post aggressively, taking markers with her, while Wälti peels away from the action in the hope of dragging a marker away.

McCabe peeling away to the back post early, Blackstenius attacking the front post when the ball is delivered and Wälti pulling away when the delivery comes in are all diversion tactics to give Wubben-Moy space. She wins the header but just can’t quite direct it towards goal.

Here is Arsenal’s next corner. It’s from the left so Steph Catley will outswing it and there’s that already familiar foursome standing in a line.

So you can probably already guess the setup. McCabe as a decoy on the back post. Blackstenius buffeting towards the front post, Wälti will peel away in the hope that all of that activity gives Wubben-Moy space to win the header.

The corner is duly aimed at Wubben-Moy, Fahey gets a head to it on this occasion.

I’m not sure whether this was a secondary consideration for Arsenal or an unintended consequence but Fahey’s header simply lands at the feet of Lia Wälti, who has drifted away from the crowd scene as one of the two decoys. She is able to quickly take the ball down and lash it into the net. Wälti and McCabe’s main job was to act as a decoy but I am certain that drifting away from the crowd scene had a secondary benefit of picking up any stray Liverpool headed clearances too and I think this is why Arsenal opted for outswinger deliveries on each occasion because that trajectory of delivery made the angles more favourable for the decoy runners to pick up any bits and pieces.

As soon as Fahey wins the header look at Wälti’s body shape. She is anticipating where any clearance might land due to the trajectory of an outswinging corner. I asked Lia whether she expected to directly benefit from Arsenal’s setpiece routine after the game and she said, “I think I am never the target in those situations but maybe that’s the reason I had a little bit of space compared to the other girls. Their focus was probably more on Lotte so that gave me the space I needed.”

Here is the next corner. This time, Arsenal have a line of three with Blackstenius at the front post and Wälti as Wubben-Moy’s blocker. This time Katie McCabe hangs back. I imagine this is because Arsenal have a two-goal lead at this point and don’t feel the need to commit the same number of bodies forward to the corner. Usually the full-backs do stay back from corners but since one of the centre-halves, Catley, has been taking from this side, McCabe had gone forward previously to fill in.

Once again you see Blackstenius power to the front post and with McCabe not in the frame, Wälti doesn’t drift away but instead, engages a marker to try to keep her away from Wubben-Moy with a blocking motion.

It works, Wubben-Moy gets separation from her marker and wins the header but it drifts wide.

Arsenal change tack for the second half positioning wise but not delivery wise. This will be another outswinger from Mead. There are only so many times you can execute the same routine and teams have analysts who clip up the first half action for the half-time team talk. Arsenal will know that Liverpool will have spotted and likely talked about it at half-time. The intention from Arsenal remains the same, however. This time McCabe positions herself at the front post, Wälti is substituted just before the corner is taken so doesn’t feature here and Nobbs doesn’t have time to join the melee.

By the time Mead strikes the ball, McCabe has smashed her way through the crowd to the back post to drag markers with her. Blackstenius attacks the front post again, both in an attempt to free Wubben-Moy. However, on this occasion, Mead’s delivery is slightly too short and is headed away at the front post.

The next corner is from the left so it’s, of course, Steph Catley to take. We see our line of three again with Wubben-Moy and Blackstenius and Jordan Nobbs drifts behind them and takes some markers with her (Liverpool ought to know by now that Jordan Nobbs is not the one who is going to threaten to leap above them all). Once again, we see that front post area nice and clear for runners. Liverpool really ought to have considered just placing a defender in that space to disrupt Arsenal’s routine.

Once again, we see Blackstenius performing the NFL style blocker role for Wubben-Moy.

This time Blackstenius doesn’t make the front post run, again, probably in the interests of changing things up but it’s really only Wubben-Moy who goes to attack this and Liverpool just about get a head on it to stop Catley’s delivery from reaching her. Again, it is a very “protect the queen” approach to clear the forestry for Wubben-Moy to run and attack the delivery.

By the time this corner comes in, the personnel have changed but the outswinging delivery hasn’t. Miedema is on for Blackstenius but she takes up Stina’s role as the front post blocker. Nobbs is in the area but, again, she is a decoy. Now Jen Beattie is on the pitch and she poses a very genuine setpiece threat. Usually both your centre-halves are the key targets for corner delivery. Catley is one of Arsenal’s at the moment but attacking aerial deliveries is not her key strength, supplying the ammunition is. Beattie is very much an aerial specialist.

Miedema makes that front post run to take markers away but, this time, Beattie and Wubben-Moy want a piece of the ball. Fahey once again gets a nick on this and clears.

The final corner is one last outswinger from Catley. This time Arsenal have a line of four at the back post- maybe they feel secure enough with a two-goal cushion in stoppage time. Jordan Nobbs is in the line as a decoy, Beattie is at the back post this time with Miedema between her and Wubben-Moy. As with all the other corners, Arsenal have left the front-post area clear.

This time Wubben-Moy makes the “Blackstenius charge” to the front post and the ball is lofted to Beattie. Beats is one of the best aerial defenders the WSL has ever seen, for this final corner, she is the “queen” to be protected, even Wubben-Moy is acting as a blocker for her. Though this time the ball goes just over her head and Miedema makes the connection and it just goes wide.

Arsenal had a very clear and consistent plan from corners. None of Maanum, Wälti or Little are especially threatening in the air and Catley, one of the centre-halves, takes corners. It meant that Wubben-Moy was the most obvious aerial threat prior to Beattie’s arrival so it made sense to have a tactic designed to clear space for her to challenge for the ball. There is an inherent irony that Arsenal did score from a corner, but it came via one of their ‘decoys’ in Lia Wälti.

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Excellent analysis. Too much information for future opponents to learn from?

Tim Stillman

Every WSL team has at least two professional analysts and the assistant coaches tend to handle setpieces. Every team will have a professional team looking at these, they’d pick this stuff up in their sleep.


Excellent Tim…though I would have to disagree about Maanum not being threatening in the air.

Fun Gunner

Wubben-Moy is the queen”

That has to go on a t-shirt. Merch the hell out of it, Lotte!

Fun Gunner

Thanks, Tim.

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