Thursday, April 25, 2024

Where’s Wally? Manchester City Women v Arsenal Breakdown

Sometimes when we ask Jonas Eidevall a tactical question about the game, he can be (understandably) circumspect, not keen to give too much away about the game plan. On Saturday, on a day where Arsenal gave one of their worst performances since his arrival in 2021, Eidevall was not at all circumspect about giving a full tactical run down of why Arsenal struggled so badly in Manchester.

The reason we ask tactical questions is three-fold. Firstly, they serve these articles. We don’t really see the point in producing match reports when the games are available for everyone to see all over the world, so we prefer to break down a tactical element. Secondly, because of where Arseblog News fits into the wider ecosystem of a press conference.

We serve a different audience to the daily newspapers, for instance. Really, we are serving Arsenal Women aficionados so we want to pick up points of detail for that audience. Thirdly, and perhaps most importantly, we like to ask the coach about things that he is accountable for- like team selection, tactics and the overall game plan. In that respect, Jonas gave a very detailed account of the shortcomings of the team’s performance.

“What they did today to deal with our wide players was to flatten out their midfield, they changed during the game on Wednesday to do this too. Instead of just playing Hasegawa as a lone 6, they drop one of their 8s. They do a little like Liverpool men when they won the league and flatten their midfield.

“That is why they used Angeldahl and Coombs today because they can run. But when we play the ball out to our wide players the difference from Wednesday was that no player was coming onto the ball because their full-back is occupied with another one of our other players. We couldn’t take our first touch forward and build our attacks from that.

“Today one player from their central midfield leaves that area and we have a midfielder and a full-back on our wide player so now we need additional passes from the spaces they are leaving. We need to play the ball to our six and play diagonally to the 10. We didn’t get our 6s into that position so the only option our wide player has is to play the ball to our 10 and into a one v one situation.

“We lose that situation a lot of times today. For us structurally, we needed to have more players inside centrally to move and open up City’s organisation.” Jonas has essentially written this article for me with this diagnosis- so let’s look at some examples of what he is talking about.

This is the first time that Arsenal have the opportunity to play out from the back and they’re already a goal down. We can see Kim Little is sprinting to try to get into the deep midfield position but she can’t receive a pass here because she is facing her own goal and it would be too easy to press her.

Williamson goes to Maritz and Laura Coombs has vacated midfield to press Maritz and cut off the pass to Little. Hemp is able to stay forward and cut off the pass back to Williamson and Zinsberger. It gives Maritz only one place to go. But much like Little in the previous clip, Pelova is late to arrive into her position for the forward pass, it means she is running backwards, towards her own goal and in a suboptimal position to receive and retain the ball.

To her credit, Pelova does wriggle her way out of that press and finds Maritz again. But because Maanum and Little have dropped too late at the beginning of the move, they are now too deep to exploit the space City are leaving in the centre circle. Essentially, if they arrive a second or two earlier when Williamson has the ball at the beginning of the move, they would have been a viable passing option, or else, by now, they would be a few yards further forward and available for Maritz to pass to here. As it stands, look at the gap between the midfield and the forward line. It’s too big.

Maritz has little choice but to try a hopeful ball down the line for Blackstenius, which Greenwood easily cleans up.

City’s forwards are very good at pressing defenders onto their weaker side. As Wubben-Moy has the ball here, we can see Shaw is screening the right-footed pass to Little. Maanum is also being screened by Angeldahl.

It leaves Wubben-Moy no option but to go wide to Rafaelle and, again, we can see that Chloe Kelly is preventing her from going towards goal on her favoured left-side. The obvious drawback of playing three centre-halves is that you lose a midfielder. Had Lia Wälti been fit I don’t think we would have seen the back three formation in either game this week. This image shows the issue nicely, Arsenal’s middle four are in more or less a straight line. With a midfield three, you can have Little and Maanum exactly where they are in this image but with Lia Wälti providing Rafaelle with a passing option just behind them so there is less a straight line and more a triangle.

It means Rafaelle has to come all the way back to Williamson and again, Little has to sprint backwards. Having one less midfielder gave Little two jobs to do simultaneously, essentially.

Williamson comes back to Wubben-Moy who plays a good cross-field ball to Maritz but by the time the ball arrives for Maritz, again, Little and Maanum can’t shuffle across to provide a passing option. The midfield pair have too many jobs to do. It means that Maritz has to try a hopeful first time pass to Pelova which is easily cut out and City have the ball again. Basically, Arsenal’s midfield is too flat, with not enough exit points for defenders when they have the ball and Little and Maanum are consistently being asked to shuffle backwards and forwards in a matter of milliseconds.

Here we see Coombs pressing Little on Arsenal’s right hand side again, vacating her position in midfield as she does so. Maanum should really be dropping towards the halfway line here to provide Williamson with a passing option when she gets the ball.

Again, we see Coombs leaving her central midfield post to press but Arsenal only have two central midfielders themselves, so they cannot exploit the space she leaves. That said, here Williamson should play safe and go backwards but tries a ball down the line to Pelova which is blocked. From there, Hemp crosses to Kelly who hits the post (though is subsequently flagged offside).

As Arsenal play out from this free-kick, Zinsberger passes to Wubben-Moy inside the area. Wubben-Moy really needs one of the central midfielders to drop into that space on the edge of the penalty area to give her an exit option. Instead, there is a gaping space.

Without that instant passing option, Wubben-Moy has to wait for the ball to travel across her body while she surveys her options and that allows Hemp to press her into big trouble. On second look, Wubben-Moy’s last ditch tackle should really have been given as a penalty to City.

Arsenal get away with it and Williamson picks up the loose ball and drives forwards with it. Again, we can see Coombs has drifted over to her left to press the right flank. Because Maanum has been forced backwards, she now isn’t in a position to take up the space Coombs has left. Once again, the centre circle is unoccupied. So Williamson has to go down the line to Maritz.

Maritz finds Pelova down the line but there isn’t much Pelova can do in this position and Greenwood once again easily swallows the ball up. The midfield has once again been stretched and is totally disconnected from the front line. Arsenal’s issue is a lack of connecting lines between the sections of the team. Maanum and Little are being asked to be between the lines of attack and midfield and midfield and defence at the same time.

As Wubben-Moy has the ball here, we can see that Little is surrounded but also isn’t dropping to take Hasegawa away from the centre of the pitch to open up space. Williamson isn’t really sure whether to go wide of Wubben-Moy or ahead of her and the disorganisation is clear.

Wubben-Moy goes opts to go long without many superior options, City gather the ball, attack and force Zinsberger into a low save from this move.

As Zinsberger rolls the ball out, Williamson passes to Maritz on the right. Again, Coombs is across to press which means that Hemp can stay forward and cut out a backwards pass.

Williamson runs down the line and Maritz finds her and, in fairness, Arsenal are unlucky here. Williamson attempts a first-time pass to Pelova which Greenwood slides in and just about intercepts. If she doesn’t, you can see the sort of space Pelova and Maanum are in for the counter.

As Zinsberger receives the ball here and passes to Wubben-Moy, we can see again that none of Arsenal’s midfield is in shot. Arsenal have just had an attack and Maanum and Little were advanced and now they have to run a long way back to support Wubben-Moy.

Once again, Coombs’ position wide left means that Kelly can stay in an aggressive pressing position and keep Wubben-Moy foiled.

Wubben-Moy decides to drive out to try to create space because she doesn’t have a passing option.

Hemp keeps her under pressure and Wubben-Moy’s only option is to try to pass to her left. Shaw intercepts the pass and is through one-on-one. Zinsberger makes a fine save in the end. But it’s another example of the lack of central passing options forcing the defenders to turn the ball over in dangerous positions.

City’s second goal comes as a result of Arsenal spurning possession in their own territory. As this long ball is floated from Houghton towards Wubben-Moy, we can again see that the Arsenal midfield is totally flat. Neither Maanum nor Little has time to drop and present Wubben-Moy with a pass.

It means that when she brings the ball down, Wubben-Moy needs to take an extra touch to try to find the pass inside to Rafaelle. Shaw doesn’t give her time to do that and nicks the ball back and, from here, Chloe Kelly is presented with a tap-in. Straight after this goal, Leah Williamson moved into midfield and Arsenal ditched the three at the back. Lia Wälti came on at half-time to restore the usual 4231 shape.

Of City’s 17 shots, only six came in the second half. This was partly due to game state, of course. City also didn’t have the same need to try to press and harry Arsenal in the second half, especially given that both teams played 120 minutes on Wednesday. But there were also far fewer turnovers with three midfielders making it easier for the team to play out from the back. It wasn’t perfect, of course and Wälti herself was robbed on the edge of her own area for a strong chance for City. But we see that Arsenal found it easier to play around City’s press.

Here we see an example of the change. As Pelova receives the ball under pressure, Wälti has dropped to give her a passing option out of trouble. It means Maanum can concentrate on staying forward. In the first half, Maanum would have likely been parallel to Little, giving Pelova nowhere to go. Wälti is much more naturally inclined to recognise these moments and provide exits.

Pelova duly finds Wälti. It doesn’t produce anything spectacular or dangerous but it does reduce the risk of Arsenal players under duress passing to their opponents in dangerous areas.

This move progresses with the ball going back to Zinsberger, who passes to Rafaelle. Wälti isn’t having to sprint back from the halfway line to provide an option, she is already there and Arsenal have that natural gradient in midfield again.

As it turns out, Rafaelle dribbles out very nicely here but she has the confidence to do so due to Wälti’s presence. Having an extra player in this area reduced the impact of City’s press and Arsenal play out comfortably.

As Arsenal get a throw-in deep in their own half, the ball works its way to McCabe and we can see the simplicity and ease of having a third, deeper midfielder here in Wälti. It just gives McCabe the kind of simple pass that a lot of Arsenal players didn’t have in the first half.

McCabe finds Wälti who in turn can spread the play to Kuhl on the left and exploit the space City players have left to press Arsenal’s right flank.

Wälti’s presence wasn’t a magic bullet and she wasn’t fit enough to play the full game anyway. Arsenal only produced one shot after Rafaelle’s 59th minute goal. They couldn’t sustain attacks but, at least, with that extra midfielder in the second half, they were not helping City to sustain their attacks.

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Prateek Sharma

Thank you for an excellent breakdown of a performance which was painful to watch.
The analysis bridge presented between the challenge and its consequences (backline – midfield) truly shows how much we suffered. On live FA player viewing it also seemed like heavy legs which held us back.

However, this at least provides slight comfort in understanding (better) ‘how’ it all unravelled.

Peter Story Teller

I don’t want to be anti-Manu because she made some decent saves to keep the score down to 2 especially the one where Bunny Shaw was through on goal but she has to do better with that crossed ball for City’s second! She just watched it roll across in front of her for the tap in at the far post. I am certain that Sabrina would have dived on top of that to end the threat. Then we come home from Manchester with a 1-1 draw which would have been an acceptable result. We do have to be careful with… Read more »


Wasn’t that ManCity’s first goal that rolled through the box, not 2nd? I agree that Zinsberger should have dived and got it; the ball was close to her. It’s one of those snap decisions that a keeper has to make, complicated by the fact that you may think that one of your defenders in the box is going to deal with it–but she could have and should have gone and got that ball.


Great Analysis as usual. I just wonder why we were nott brave enough to use the system that has worked fairly well for us with Leah playing as a 6 because playing with numerical inferiority in the midfield against a high pressing team never sounds like a great idea. I assume its got something to do with the attack misfiring but it meant that we couldn’t press as well as we normally do (example Chelsea at home). I guess Jonas was just really wary of Cities front three in transition and more bodies at the back worked on Wednesday.

Tim Stillman

Yeah, we actually did that after City’s second goal but it was too late. I can only imagine Jonas was trying to get through till half-time but it should’ve been changed earlier.

Salvador Berzunza

Maybe we have to try a doble defensive line and try to score in counterattack or set pieces, just like Germany defeat Spain in Euros. require a lot of discipline and training but is effective against more aggressive teams, like Barcelona, has worked against us.


Blackstenius is more of a counterattacking player so it might be the best way to maybe get more goals from her if we can create that situation rather than slower buildup. I imagine opposing teams know this too however and would anticipate it defensively. Also doesn’t help when teams use low block all game in WSL

Salvador Berzunza

Sadly Leah is not a good #6 she tried but it is what it is, Thats the reason Sarina put her back at his natural position in national team, as I said before those 500K should be to get a Ladd in summer, not Russo. And we didn’t play good last Wednesday, we won because the Swedes made a great effort and got a goal. Obviously In this last game Taylor brough a different strategy and we don’t have Waelti ready.


An interesting and helpful analysis but there are still questions as to why so many usually reliable players were a long way below their best. I think the travelling and scheduling played their part. Two hours play and a late finish to the match on Wednesday. A long coach journey up to Manchester on Friday. A night in an unfamiliar hotel bed before an early start for a lunchtime kickoff on Saturday. Couldn’t this match have been played on Sunday?


You can’t use travel as an excuse or are you now going to expect them to lose after playing champions league games? It’s football, every team has to deal with busy schedules and travel disruption. It’s not the reason for below par player performances. Something else is going on with the team. I’m sure City would have like the extra rest time too but they got on with it and looked better than we did all game.


It again shows the need to find someone who can deputise for Wälti. I don’t think any of the internal solutions is good enough to cope with her absence.


Fact is that Eidevall got the new coach bounce last season and every single player was out to impress him and run all game putting in a high press that payed off game after game, and then injuries hit the team and he was more concerned with maintaining his starting 11 and players started looking nervous and out of place in his ‘system’ and we dropped points and eventually lost out to Chelsea. This season we benefit when other teams have injuries, Eidevall got a lot of back from the club and a bumper new contract himself and the players… Read more »


No mention of Maanum huh? I know her performance as a Jonas signing doesn’t fit your narrative, but at least you leaving her out of it just shows your critique for what it is.


This hasn’t aged too well. LOL


Maybe we should try to get Ruby Mace back!

Fun Gunner

I reckon you’re on to something there! Trouble is, playing time would be limited now that Lia is fit again and we have four specialist CBs.


Jonas is big at after game talk but very poor making the team actual work on the pitch. His players have been the downfall of the team this season. Hurtig and Blackstenius are doing nothing for the team. Jordan Nobbs now has more goals than anyone in our team, Hell Miedema is still our leading goalscorer how does that make sense??? It doesn’t. Jonas Eidevall needs to go and he should hand back the extra money Arsenal gave him in the summer.

Peter Story Teller

It is very easy just to chant “Jonas out” but who would you replace him with? Is there any guarantee they would do any better? If you remember Joe was being accused of having taken the team to the limit of his ability and look at what has happened since! Juve have come on leaps and bounds and we are still seemingly as incosistent as ever but this season without our two main goalscorers! You have to question if there is something else in the background causing these problems and whoever is coaching the side will struggle. Let’s face it,… Read more »


Jonas did well in Sweden and I do think he got very lucky last season. It’s been long enough for the team to play his way. Is he getting to stay if we finish 4th? You can’t seriously think that would be okay. The club has given him so much more money than Joe ever had and he still can’t show consistency with their performances, you would think everyone would have been high to the nines with the free scoring game against Leeds but a draw with Chelsea, draw with West Ham of all teams, who had never got anything… Read more »


Agreed Peter. For me there’s no doubt that Jonas is a good coach. Let’s not forget what a season Mead just had under him. Whatever, if anything, is going on at the club that needs addressing has more to it than just him in my opinion. It’s like saying Chelsea’s excellence is all down to Emma Hayes. Yes, she’s a great coach but their whole operation on the women’s side just seems to run like a well-oiled machine.


The most telling thing to me that there are crossed wires inside the club was the failure to land Debhina. There is no way that KC should be beating out Arsenal on economics and yet they did. I see no evidence that ha anything to do with Jonas. The beancounters won out over the football people during a season where we lost almost a 2/3 of our goal production to injury. There is something rotten at the top and I don’t know if it’s Jonas.


How many times can you be wrong in one comment section? You take the biscuit buddy.


Lack of two footed players, even at international level.
Caitlin foord had an opportunity in the mid week game, should have been control right then shoot left, instead she tried to change her body shape (like junior players do) to strike right but the time taken meant interception and loss of a very good scoring chance.

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