Saturday, May 25, 2024

Pressing matters- Arsenal’s half-time rejig helps them to WSL victory over Manchester City

Manchester City have two incredibly effective weapons on the way they play. The most obvious is the interaction between the front three of Kelly, Hemp and Shaw. Kelly and Hemp do not invert often and stay high and wide on their favoured side. Kelly and Hemp provide the ammunition from wide for the WSL’s top scorer Bunny Shaw.

In that respect, the way they opened the scoring against Arsenal on Sunday afternoon was entirely foreseeable, yet difficult to stop. Kelly cross. Shaw header. Goal. It was the most textbook Manchester City goal imaginable.

However, the other main tenet of City’s style is that they invert their full-backs into midfield to create numerical superiority and this was the tactic that Arsenal really struggled with in the first half.

Here we see City’s left-back Laia Aleixandri in the centre circle. As City build play, forming a sort of double pivot alongside Yui Hasegawa, who was probably the best player on the pitch on Sunday.

As this play develops, you can also see the position of Laura Coombs. While Aleixandri inverts, Coombs will often drift into the wide left area to maintain the width of the team and stretch opponents out. I wrote about this tactic in the reverse fixture in February.

Coombs does a very strong job of making herself the ‘spare’ player in the City midfield. In the build-up to their goal, Aleixandri uses Bunny Shaw as a sounding board for this throw-in. Shaw is excellent and turning and running away from pressure and look at the position Coombs has taken up.

Shaw finds Coombs and she has time and space to find Hemp.

But Coombs doesn’t stand still, she is on the move to receive a return pass from Hemp and, again, nobody is picking her up.

This drags the Arsenal midfield towards Coombs, which leaves Hasegawa spare. Hasegawa knocks the ball to Shaw as Arsenal rush to close her down.

And as Arsenal are again attracted to the ball, Shaw finds Angeldahl, who is now the spare player. She finds Kelly and Shaw heads her cross home. But City were able to do this consistently during the first half, to overload midfield and create numerical superiority.

As City play out here, we once again see Aleixandri inverting into midfield with Greenwood pulling wide to the left.

Roebuck passes the ball to Greenwood and Williamson sprints over to press. You can just see Coombs at the bottom of the screen. Aleixandri is now free because Williamson has run to engage Greenwood and Pelova needs to keep an eye on Coombs.

Greenwood finds Coombs, taking Williamson out of the game. Pelova cannot run to engage Aleixandri because Coombs has pulled out into the left touchline.  City have created a numerical superiority. After the game, Jonas Eidevall told Arseblog News that closing these gaps was something they talked about at half-time, “The space they get into when they invert their full-backs is between our forward line and our midfield line. The bigger that space becomes the more they can create superiority. The way we managed that was with our positioning to make that space smaller.”

Aleixandri is then able to find Angeldahl. McCabe has had to leave left-back to engage with Angeldahl because she is free. This sequence ends with a dangerous Hemp cross into the area cleared by Rafaelle. Once again, this emanated from creating a numerical superiority in midfield.

City were consistently able to defeat Arsenal’s press in the first half. Here we see Aleixandri inverting again and Roebuck plays the ball to her with Pelova pressuring.

Aleixandri touches the ball back to Greenwood, Pelova pushes up and Aleixandri just runs into the space the Dutch winger had vacated.

Greenwood goes back to Roebuck and, by now, you can tell where the ball is going. Roebuck has the easy option of rolling the ball to Aleixandri here and City are away.

A secondary issue for Arsenal was that even when City weren’t able to create a 3 v 2 in midfield, they were able to use Bunny Shaw as a release valve. Arsenal are well positioned as City play out from the back here.

So Greenwood goes long to Shaw who is able to hold the ball up, turn and play Hemp into a dangerous position. The move ends with Shaw going desperately close to a second headed goal of the game.

City do it again here, Arsenal have City under pressure and Houghton is happy to go long.

Shaw rolls Rafaelle- which takes some doing- and she is away in the channel. From this move, D’Angelo saves well from Hemp.

When City played out in the second half, Arsenal’s positioning was more aggressive. Houghton has the ball here and there are four red shirts in shot.

This forces Houghton into a longer and more difficult pass. Again, in the shot, you can see Arsenal’s midfield three and their striker and look how high up the pitch right-back Laura Wienroither is.

It’s a less comfortable pass for Houghton and as she tries a cross field ball, McCabe is there to intercept. This is what Eidevall meant by closing the distances City had to operate in.

Arsenal pen City in here and when Aleixandri passes to Shaw, first of all look at how many more bodies Arsenal have in this area compared to the first half and look how much deeper Shaw is having to come to be that ‘release valve.’

City end up having to come backwards and when Greenwood has the ball here, again, observe how many more red shirts there are in this space compared to the first half. Blackstenius commits a foul in the end but City are under a lot more pressure in their own third.

Just after Maanum’s equaliser, City play out through Roebuck and, again, Arsenal’s positioning is a lot more aggressive.

Houghton tries a pass to Hasegawa but Maanum intercepts and Houghton has to hack the ball away for a throw-in. City are struggling to build in a way they were able to in the first half.

Hasegawa wins the ball back from the resulting throw-in but, again, look at how much more aggressive Arsenal’s positioning is, limiting her options. Chloe Kelly is next to the corner flag and Bunny Shaw is around 30 yards from the touchline with Rafaelle at her back.

Arsenal keep City penned in and Morgan again has to try a difficult long pass to get out of the corner.

It goes straight to Wälti and Arsenal keep City under pressure. It’s a marked difference from the first half.

As Hasegawa knocks the ball back to Greenwood here, look at Frida Maanum. Sometimes these still images just don’t do an action justice and you have to break out the gif.

When Aleixandri inverts into midfield here, look at how crowded the space is.



These screenshots are all from the same sequence of play. Nothing amazing is going on here but you can see that City are just not finding that ‘spare’ player as they did in the first half. Arsenal are mastering the space far better.

And just a final example as City play out here with Greenwood and she passes the ball to Coombs. Sub Jodie Taylor is fully committed to the press.

Greenwood passes to Hasegawa under pressure from Kuhl.

And Maanum roars back to take the ball off Hasegawa and not only are City prevented from building an attack, Arsenal have City on the back foot. Closing these distances in the second half also made the long pass to Bunny Shaw far less of an option. Shaw was having to drift far closer to her own goal for the ball.

In the end, Arsenal turned the screw in the second half, closed the distances they were leaving between the lines for City and closed the gap between the teams in the WSL to 0 points with a game in hand.

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Kampala Gooner

Men’s team lok over here. No space for them and we are good


Great analysis! I wish we played the pressing game more often that not but I guess it’s impossible to do it all the time, as it’s energy consuming. With the interlull I hope our girls recharge the batteries and go at again!

Fun Gunner

Thanks, Tim. Interesting that JE was able to rejig so effectively at half time but Taylor didn’t seem to react.


I watched City vs Chelsea last two Sundays and was mightily impressed with Hasegawa. She won player of the match that game.

Also, if City don’t get CL football, would it be possible to go for Shaw and Hemp? Think we need a striker like Shaw.

Fun Gunner

Off topic, but please get fit again soon, Caitlin Foord. So sad to see you limping off the pitch at the weekend. Fullbacks throughout Europe are breathing a sign of relief and we can’t have that, can we?
And KIm. Please be back before the end of the season. I’m begging you. We seem to be coping, but it’s not the same without you.

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