After Arsenal’s 1-1 draw with Chelsea on Sunday at Emirates Stadium, Arseblog News asked Jonas Eidevall about Arsenal’s tactic for evading the Chelsea press. Eidevall did not want to go into specifics but he was pleased with how his players activated the plan.
“I think we executed the game plan very well today; both in build-up and in the way that we pressed. The players did that very well but I also did it well with the way I set it up.” While Jonas wasn’t inclined to go into specifics, I am! Chelsea started with Jessie Fleming ahead of Sophie Ingle and Erin Cuthbert in midfield and that was about Emma Hayes trying to disrupt Arsenal’s build-up through their diamond of Zinsberger, Williamson, Rafaelle and Wälti.
The first time Arsenal play the ball out from the back, we can see Fleming and Kerr alongside one another with Chelsea pressing in a 4-4-2 shape. This is about preventing Arsenal from accessing central areas easily through the centre-halves and Lia Wälti.
Williamson receives the ball from Zinsberger and waits for a few seconds. She wants Jessie Fleming to come over and press her. Meanwhile, Lia Wälti is moving towards Williamson on the right, taking Sam Kerr with her.
Having moved Kerr and Fleming towards Arsenal’s right, space is created for Rafaelle on the left. Williamson finds her. Chelsea still have a strong central block so Rafaelle swings the ball out to the left wing.
Here she finds Catley and you can see that Foord has moved into the half-space between Chelsea’s lines. There is a dotted line between Catley, Foord and Blackstenius for Arsenal to progress forwards. The move comes to nothing but this is consistent with the way Arsenal built play and manipulated the Chelsea press, pulling Kerr and Fleming in one direction before moving the ball in the other and trying to quickly access the wide areas, away from Chelsea pressure.
Once again, Zinsberger has the ball and she goes to Williamson. Again, we see Kerr and Fleming in a parallel line.
Again, Williamson stops and waits. She wants Fleming to be attracted over to her side a little before she releases the ball.
Fleming takes a few steps over to Arsenal’s right towards Williamson so the Arsenal number 6 takes that as the trigger to release the ball to Rafaelle, with space cleared for her to receive the ball.
Once again, Rafaelle goes wide to Catley. Her touch takes her backwards so Arsenal go back and start again.
Rafa goes back to Zinsberger and that’s a trigger for Arsenal to repeat their build-up pattern.
So, once more, it’s Zinsberger to Williamson.
Williamson pauses and waits for Fleming to shift across.
And Williamson again finds Rafaelle in space on the left.
And Rafaelle finds Catley and now it’s Maanum who wants the ball in the half-space.
She opts to pass to Foord instead and Foord isolates Charles and beats her. Arsenal’s build-up was about manipulating Chelsea’s initial press then accessing the wide areas. Either by getting the ball in the half spaces, or else isolating Foord against Charles. Arsenal know that Lauren James is not the most fastidious defender so Foord can isolate Charles on that flank.
Zinsberger finds Rafaelle here, with Williamson well blocked off on this occasion.
Even with Little free in the middle, Rafaelle’s first thought is to get the ball to the wide left to Foord. That has, clearly, been a big part of the game plan. For Rafaelle to get the ball and immediately look to access the left wing.
Rafa finds Foord, who holds the ball up and she instead finds the umarked Kim Little. From here, Kim plays a lofted pass to Blackstenius and Arsenal work a shot on target for Hurtig. Both of Arsenal’s shots in the opening 12 minutes have emanated from this pattern of playing the ball from Rafaelle into the wide left space.
This time Zinsberger goes straight to Rafaelle as Arsenal build, instead of getting there via Williamson. We can see this causes a slight issue. When the ball goes to Williamson first, it takes Fleming away from Rafaelle but this time, the Canadian is in much closer proximity.
It means that Rafa has to slightly rush her pass out to the left flank.
We can see the intention in the shape. Catley is pushed out to the flank, Foord has moved into the half space and Maanum is close by too. Arsenal want to create a superiority on that side and isolate Charles again. But because Rafaelle has to slightly rush her pass, she gets it wrong and James intercepts. From here, Chelsea attack and are able to get a cross into the box that Arsenal deal with. But by missing just one step in their build-up routine, Chelsea were able to press them effectively.
Moving Chelsea’s central block around was such a crucial part of Arsenal’s game plan that they were consistently willing to go back to Zinsberger to start moves from point A. Look here as Catley picks the ball up in space inside Chelsea’s half. She surveys the scene but can see that Chelsea are well positioned.
Catley and then Rafaelle have no hesitation in going backwards to try to go forwards more effectively by going back to source.
And it’s straight back into the routine. Zinsberger to Williamson.
Back to Rafaelle.
Who looks for Catley out wide with Foord tucked inside into that half-space again. It doesn’t come to anything but, by now, Arsenal’s build-up routine is very clear.
By now, you know what to expect here. Fleming and Kerr are like players connected on a fussball table such is their consistent proximity. Zinsberger to Williamson…
Space is created for Rafaelle…
Who looks for Foord (alas, she is offside on this occasion).
As play builds here, Arsenal take the more direct route. The build-up routine they have devised is not just designed to take Chelsea’s press out of the equation for the sake of it. They want to isolate Foord on Niamh Charles.
Again, Foord is offside here but the intention is clear. The reason Arsenal are building the way they are is to get the Australian into these positions.
As Little takes the ball in central midfield here, we can see again that Chelsea has a strong central block. Her first thought?
To spray the ball wide left and we can see that’s where the space is, with Foord once again inverted into the half space.
We see from Statsbomb’s pass network how stark the tactic of attacking Chelsea’s right really was. Look at Williamson, there are no passes to her right and it’s much the same for Kim Little. The focus was on getting the ball over to the left.
It’s little surprise that Arsenal’s goal emanates from a move down the left. They get a throw-in on their left hand side and Lauren James has switched off.
Catley takes a quick throw to Foord who has Charles isolated. James is still walking back at this point. This is exactly why Arsenal attacked this side so much, because they want to expose the flank that Charles (a winger by trade) and James are on, rather than the side Reiten and Eriksson are on.
Foord spins Charles from the throw-in and this is where the penalty comes from after an untidy challenge from Charles. This is the pay dirt Arsenal wanted, Foord isolated against Charles.
There is a reason Emma Hayes changed personnel and formation. Charles did not survive too much longer after the penalty, replaced by Eve Perisset. But, more to the point, they went to a 352 formation to give themselves more cover and stop the ball from getting to Foord. In her post-match press conference, Hayes said she felt she made a mistake by not doing this earlier.
Hayes also referred to her “finishers”, by which she meant her substitutes. Arsenal made only one substitution, McCabe for Hurtig on 80 minutes. After the game, Jonas Eidevall explained that he didn’t feel the newer players had had enough time to train with the team to come into this game at a delicate juncture.