Sunday, May 19, 2024

Back to Blackstenius. Stina Blackstenius’ performance against Brighton in focus

Only an errant offside flag robbed Stina Blackstenius of an 11-minute hat-trick at Brighton on Wednesday evening, which would have been a WSL record. Nevertheless the Swede’s early brace made this a far easier fixture than many Arsenal fans- and probably Arsenal staff- anticipated. On a bumpy, dry pitch, the ability to hit Stina in the channels was an incredibly useful weapon for Arsenal on the night.

As Jonas Eidevall told Arseblog News post-match, “Her off the ball positioning has really improved. She works hard on the time of her runs. Today she constantly is this outlet when they are trying to step up and put pressure on us and we can find her in behind. It makes it tricky for their defending line to make that choice. She is very valuable.” Let’s look at some examples.

In the very first minute of the game, we see that Wubben-Moy, who has a very good long delivery on her, opts to take the Blackstenius option in the channel.

On this occasion, Poppy Pattinson stretches every sinew and cuts the pass out but you can see the space she is looking to run into. Even as Pattinson clears here, Jodie Taylor and Katherine Kuhl are on hand to counter press. This is the big shift in style at Arsenal under Eidevall, under Montemurro, the focus was on patient build-up on a consistent basis. Under Eidevall, Arsenal are happy to be more direct and counter press opponents and that is why he brought Blackstenius into the club, to create that option.

As Arsenal break here with Katie McCabe, look at how hard Blackstenius is working to provide an outlet in the left channel, she sprints over from the right so she can stretch Brighton on the side McCabe is carrying the ball towards.

In the end, McCabe turns backwards and Blackstenius’ run is not used. This is the life of a striker, making lots of fruitless runs hoping for that one run that will be fruitful. You have to be prepared to run a lot to no avail.

Eidevall also said that he spoke with his team about making the right decisions when playing out from the back, about “when to go forwards and when to step on the ball.” The three centre-backs and the goalkeeper spend about 20 seconds playing the ball between them before Beattie finds McCabe on the left touchline and you can see that Blackstenius has come alive with another run between full-back and centre-half. Choosing the right time to go forwards wasn’t just about the defenders, Blackstenius played her part in that with her movement.

McCabe duly releases the ball into the channel and Blackstenius has the beating of Zoe Morse in the foot race. You may recall that when the teams met in September, Kullberg was sent off for a professional foul on Blackstenius in the opening five minutes.

From here it’s all about confidence. I don’t think that in January or February, Stina has the confidence to leave Morse sprawling on the floor nor do I think she would have taken a confident shot into the corner from this position. It’s a fantastic goal and she is rewarded for her third high intensity sprint into the channel after only five minutes.

As soon as McCabe has the ball, we see exactly where Blackstenius wants to run. Brighton have been weakened in their full-back areas this season after the sales of Maya Le Tissier and Koivisto and their usual right-back Jorja Fox was out injured for this game. Blackstenius exploited Brighton in these areas, as she did in September.

Just two minutes later, Brighton get caught playing out from the back. Pattinson takes a heavy touch and Taylor is onto it. Blackstenius has the presence of mind to hold her position and not get sucked into the same movement Taylor is making towards the ball. She stands off.

Pressing patterns are not just about throwing as many bodies as possible at the ball, coaches teach players to form traps and stand at pre-judged distances so they can make the next pressing action if necessary. Pattinson rushes her pass to Olme and it runs straight to Stina.

To repeat myself, a couple of months ago I am not sure she has the confidence to take the shot on here and do so with such aplomb. She is not overthinking in these positions and that is the sign of a confident player.

It’s a smart finish too. She has the presence of mind to wait for Morse to get back in front of the goalkeeper and she uses Morse as a screen before passing the ball into the corner. Again, it’s the action of a confident player.

Only an incorrect offside flag denied her an 11-minute hat-trick. As Maanum collects the ball in midfield, look at Blackstenius motioning for the pass in behind again, bending her run as she does.

She has the pace to reach the pass and, at this point, she doesn’t know she has been flagged offside. Again, she has the confidence to round Megan Walsh, something I am not convinced she would have tried earlier in the year.

Blackstenius comes agonisingly close to the hat-trick later in the half. As McCabe dribbles to the by-line, Stina holds her run until the last second. The value of holding the run here is that the defenders are naturally drawn towards their own goal so a) you are less likely to be marked and b) it means you can get a run up on the cross and really attack the ball.

Brighton’s defence continues to get sucked towards the ball and Stina can peel away to the back post.

Unfortunately, her header hits the connection between bar and post. If the chance looks familiar, well…

After that goal against Bayern Munich, Jonas Eidevall said, “She (Blackstenius) works in the back of Kumagai and she doesn’t get dragged too much to the ball. That creates that finish. It’s that work that is very pleasing to be rewarded for.” And following this game, he told Arseblog News, “The header she has that hits the crossbar is very similar to her goal against Bayern Munich. That is what you can see with Stina, the situations start to repeat.”

And here is another situation that repeats. Jodie Taylor holds the ball up and rolls it back to Wubben-Moy and she elects to go long because she can see Blackstenius offering herself in the channel.

Not for the first time in the half, Blackstenius leaves Morse in a crumpled heap and powers towards goal but on this occasion, she shoots into the side netting.

But Blackstenius didn’t just hit the channels every time. Here, as McCabe has the ball on the left, she is immediately interested in running in behind again. But so are Kuhl and Taylor.

She can see that Kuhl and Taylor are already offering runs in behind so she doesn’t need to. So she hits the breaks.

That pause gives her space while Kuhl and Taylor continue to stretch the Brighton back line.

McCabe’s pass to Blackstenius hits a big bobble in the turf just before it reaches her but the ball still squirms to Taylor and now it’s Stina’s turn to make a run in behind. Taylor can’t quite find the angle for a pass to the Swede here and the attack eventually breaks down but it’s another good example of Blackstenius’ appreciation of her movement and the movement of the players around her. Playing with Katherine Kuhl and Jodie Taylor either side of her has never happened before this game.

In the build-up to the third goal, the ball is worked wide to McCabe and Blackstenius can see Taylor is making a run from deep.

As soon as Stina sees that run from Taylor, she deliberately physically engages with Bergsvand because she wants to leave the space empty for Taylor to run into unopposed.

 

Blackstenius is forming a human barrier to keep space clear for Taylor. In the end, the ball doesn’t find Taylor in the move and Maanum scores from the second cross. But it’s another sign of her awareness and the sort of unsung work strikers often do.

We see another good example of Blackstenius adapting to unfamiliar teammates. Taylor picks the ball up in a good position and Stina’s first instinct is to run in behind again.

However, she can see Gio absolutely motoring down the right flank, so she holds her run and Taylor plays the ball into her feet.

Blackstenius holds the ball up excellently then makes a slide-rule pass into Gio to put her through on goal. Alas, Gio is flagged offside. But it’s another good example of her awareness and knowing when to run into the channels and when to hold her position and create for others.

Arsenal are patiently knocking the ball around the back again when Wubben-Moy winds up the right peg and hits the Stina button.

From this position, Blackstenius wins Arsenal a corner.

Blackstenius finished the game with seven shots (four on target and that doesn’t include the effort wrongly ruled out for offside)- the next most prolific shooter on the field was Katherine Kuhl with three. Her XG was 1.8 so two goals was pretty much the right outcome in terms of accuracy. Overall she had nine touches in Brighton’s penalty area.

What she did off the ball was just as important, however. Both her willingness to run the channels and give her teammates an outlet to be direct, she also showed excellent understanding in her runs, both of when to run in behind and when to hold her run based on the movement of her fellow attackers. It was an excellent display from a player who has hit form in the last strides of the season.

 

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Goonersince55

She’s always been a great athlete with the speed to outpace most defenders (by the way, noticeably faster than Russo). Her confidence has grown and she’s timing those runs much better (frustrating to see flags incorrectly raised). She’s really delivering now.

Santi’s Thigh Grab

Great analysis Tim. The exciting thing about this season is the development of players who have stepped up to maintain team performance. Can’t wait to see how the team plays next season, the competition for places will be fierce in training and gives Jonas many options tactically. Women’s season has been amazing in how collectively they have all stepped up to meet the challenge.

Fun Gunner

The silver lining to this injury cloud is that it has dissipated fans’ anxiety around the team balance and squad size. For me, most of the issues I had have turned into non-issues because of the squad’s flexibility and versatility which JE referenced in his post-match interview.

Michael

Really happy that Stina has more output now , will admit I got a bit frustrated with her earlier in the season but she’s really come into her own. Now that we play with 3 a the back her ability to run the channels has become so valuable for relieving pressure and retaining the ball higher up the pitch.I still hope we get a more technically capable striker so we can have a more creative option against low blocks next season though.

Fun Gunner

Yes, I think we need one more player, basically – a killer striker. But you never know, Miedema might decide she wants to play up front a bit more!

Michael

I agree she has all the necessary qualities, the role just needs to be different for her to play there cause she likes to see a lot of the ball.

Peter Story Teller

Agreed Stina was frustrating when she first arrived being constantly caught offside when she has the pace to give defenders a yard and still reach the ball first. During the latter half of the season she has come good and her confidence has rocketed which can only be a good thing. Denying her the fastest hattrick in WSL is a travesty. That non-offside goal wasn’t even close and it does make you wonder what assistant refs are looking at sometimes. She was cheated out of a potential team goal of the season just after the restart in the WOB game… Read more »

Fun Gunner

Thanks again, Tim. I used to skip over these a couple of seasons ago, but now they are my favourite post-match articles. Focusing on one player’s contribution is really good. Stina is on top of her game right now. I’d add that because she is less anxious about scoring, she is caught offside less.I was trying to think of who she reminded me of and I think it’s Ellen White (the more efficient, Ellen White 2.0) – same intelligent, tireless and selfless work off the ball. (I think she’s faster than EW though.) And also hitting her prime around the… Read more »

Peter Story Teller

Not sure Ellen White was ever fast but she had a sixth sense for where the ball would end up and got herself on the end of it which is why she was so successful in front of goal. Pity she chose to leave the Gunners but these things happen.

Little Cubby

Money talks 😐

Karen

I love it when u do these types of analysis … I always learn something. Thanks

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