Saturday, June 22, 2024

In focus: Arsenal wilt under Chelsea press during first half of Kingsmeadow defeat

Arsenal boss Jonas Eidevall rued the fact that his side started slowly against Chelsea in their 2-0 defeat at Kingsmeadow on Sunday. Arseblog News asked Eidevall about the Gunners struggling with the Chelsea press in the first half and his answer was candid, “We started slow, we didn’t take decisions quick enough, we don’t execute passes well enough to escape their pressure and that builds a lot of momentum for them.

“That part was the most dissatisfying part of the game, it isn’t a surprise they will press and we know we can execute better, we showed that in the second half. That was disappointing.” Arsenal played a midweek away game at Everton and lost a crucial player in their build-up play in Lia Wälti, so it, at least a little, stands to reason that they started slowly here. Let’s look at how and where they struggled in the first half.

Arsenal go back to Zinsberger straight from kick-off and we can see Harder and Kerr will press as a front two.

Zinsberger finds Pelova which is absolutely the right pass. In her post-match press conference, Emma Hayes said she had been disappointed with Chelsea’s slow starts recently and drummed into her players the need to start this game on the front foot. The second Zinsberger passes to Pelova here, Kerr is on the move and so is Ingle.

The pass from Zinsberger doesn’t have enough zing on it and Pelova cannot turn and move forwards, she has to go back and Harder and Kerr are very engaged but Arsenal still have plenty of space to play out here on their right hand side.

But now it is Pelova’s turn to play a pass lacking crispness, she passes slightly off centre to Zinsberger’s left foot, which takes away the option to play to the right side where the space is. Zinsberger also has to hurry her clearance towards the left.

Zinsberger is off balance on her weaker side which means she doesn’t get much distance on the kick and McCabe has to run back to meet it, which is an uncomfortable position to receive a pass in.

Perisset presses her straight away and wins the ball back.

Inside 20 seconds, Chelsea have taken the ball off Arsenal high up the pitch and are on the attack. It set the tone for the half.

Arsenal often use their full-backs as an exit point against Chelsea’s press and with Wälti and Little missing they emphasised that option. In the Conti Cup Final, they had Lia Wälti pull over towards the left-back area to help stretch Chelsea’s press out but didn’t have that option here. As Maanum sets the ball back to Zinsberger, she again looks for McCabe.

She finds McCabe well and McCabe has time to play a simple pass in-field to Caitlin Foord. At this point, Arsenal’s exit plan has worked well.

But Foord takes a breath as she collects the ball and look how quicky Chelsea have bodies around her.

Harder swoops in and wins the ball back, Perisset now has it and Chelsea have another turnover. Positionally Arsenal were not in a bad situation but it’s just a little bit of sluggishness on display against a determined Chelsea press. It was six and a half minutes before Arsenal completed a pass in the Chelsea half.

Clearly Arsenal had a tactic to drop one of their sixes, Pelova or Maanum, towards Zinsberger, Zinsberger passes the ball into one of them, drawing the Chelsea press before Zinsberger sweeps the ball out wide. It happens again here as, again, Pelova gives her goalkeeper an option and Pelova immediately touches the ball back to her.

Cuthbert tracks the ball all the way back to Zinsberger and that leaves a hole in the middle of the field as Zinsberger sweeps the ball towards the left again.

But the pass from Zinsberger, again off her weaker left foot, doesn’t find McCabe or Foord, Perisset hoovers it up and Chelsea have it again. Given Arsenal’s exit strategy revolved around slightly longer passes over to the left, they probably would have been better off selecting Sabrina D’Angelo in goal who is left-footed and a good long passer. In reality, I imagine Arsenal trained for those passes to go to Zinsberger’s right foot but they were just a little off in the game situation.

Here’s a better example of what Arsenal wanted to do. Zinsberger rolls the ball to Rafaelle here, again, this is designed to ‘bait’ the Chelsea press with the aim of drawing the Chelsea players on and then going over the top of them.

Rafaelle waits for Harder to come to her…

Before rolling the ball back to Zinsberger who then looks to sweep the ball wide to a wing-back, this time Noelle Maritz on the right.

Reiten presses Maritz in possession but the Swiss is not perturbed by this, she hooks the ball down the line to Kuhl.

Kuhl turns very smartly away from Charles and Arsenal are out and away.

Kuhl finds Maanum and because Arsenal have baited the Chelsea press, they have opened up some space to play in to.

But Maanum is uncharacteristically sluggish here and Cuthbert bites back with a sliding tackle. Arsenal’s exit strategy is fine and it works but a little bit of sluggishness undoes it and Chelsea are back on the front foot.

From that turnover, Chelsea play a dangerous cross which Zinsberger cuts out. She immediately bowls the ball out to McCabe on the left who is, again, well pressed.

McCabe stabs the ball up the line to Foord but it goes out of play and Chelsea have a throw. Again, it’s another example of the execution being slightly off.

Here we see Chelsea’s pressing pattern again. Harder, Kerr and James are in the first line, with Reiten dropping back into midfield to form a line with Ingle and Cuthbert. This was a key facet of Chelsea’s game plan that worked well, they dropped Reiten back into the second line of press so they had two banks of three as Arsenal tried to play out.

That wasn’t a surprise to Arsenal. We see here again the same exit strategy, Maanum comes back towards Zinsberger. Again, she plays the ball back first time in order to bait the Chelsea pressure.

As Maanum drops the ball back to Manu, you can see her pointing but she needn’t really. Zinsberger knows exactly where to go, she sweeps the ball towards a wide area again. She finds Foord, who evades Chelsea pressure at great effort and finds Blackstenius just inside Chelsea’s half but the Swede’s touch deserts her and Chelsea win it back. Again, this is an example of execution letting Arsenal down.

Arsenal look to play out after Chelsea have created danger through a James cross from their left. Foord finds McCabe.

McCabe fades the ball up the line towards Blackstenius.

Blackstenius does well to hold the ball up and keep it away from Mjelde but her pass inside to Pelova is slightly off and Chelsea win the ball back. This is another example of execution rather than strategy letting Arsenal down.

Arsenal brought on Steph Catley at half-time for Katherine Kuhl, with Catley at wing-back and McCabe moving over to the right ten position. Having Catley’s comfort in possession was one part of Arsenal’s improvement but having a left footer over on the right higher up the pitch in McCabe helped Arsenal to change the point of attack. Here, Zinsberger passes the ball out to Wubben-Moy.

Wubben-Moy comes to Martiz on the right.

Maritz finds McCabe and because her inclination is to come in-field and play on her left foot…

She’s able to switch the ball to Foord in space. On this occasion, Foord is offside but it shows Arsenal are better equipped to move Chelsea’s press around.

Once again, we see McCabe is a far better outlet as an inverted right-sided presence, she collects the ball under pressure again here on the right.

Because she naturally wants to come in-field, she is both better able to dribble away from pressure and she is able to switch the point of play. Chelsea’s pressure often forces you to play with your back to goal and playing McCabe on the right was a smart way around that because she is naturally inclined to come inside.

Her pass finds Foord and again, Arsenal are in a good position and create a good chance from this play.

Moving McCabe to the right was a big part of why Arsenal found it easier to play out in the second half (of course, acknowledging that game state meant Chelsea did not have to press as much). McCabe picks the ball up on the right here, moves in-field and plays a reverse pass to Pelova and Foord hits the bar from her cross.

We see it again here, Pelova wins the ball back and McCabe picks it up.

And she plays a threatening ball to the onrushing Catley.

When Arseblog News spoke to Jen Beattie after the game, she pointed to the combination of Catley and Foord as a key facet for an improved second half. “Steph Catley coming on was a big part of it, she has been a big miss over the last two weeks. Her quality and composure on the ball was key and her and Caitlin Foord on the left has always been pivotal all season.” We saw it a few times in the half. As Rafaelle collects here, she looks to Catley on the left.

Arsenal performed this move a few times in the second half. Catley would feed Foord down the left side and Foord would collect with Perisset behind her.

And on several occasions, Foord was able to roll Perisset and dribble the ball into good positions. On this occasion, she curls a shot which is saved by Berger.

The Catley / Foord combo on the left made Arsenal more dangerous and moving McCabe to the right gave them a favourable angle to play away from Chelsea’s pressure. However, game state played a part here too, Chelsea didn’t have to press as ferociously in the second half and Arsenal really needed to score their 60th minute penalty to introduce jeopardy into the game and give them a tangible reward for their second half improvement. But as they saw away at Manchester City, when you start games slowly against the big teams, the game is often a long way out of your grasp by the time you respond.


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Fun Gunner

Fascinating, thanks.

I was watching and thinking, why are we slow, so underpowered? Why do we keep giving the ball away?
It’s funny how sometimes a failing just seems to spread to every player. Clearly they weren’t actually tired, they played with a lot more zip in the second half.


A bit confused about where the lax in passing came from given that Frida and Pelova are tecnically good players. Maybe unfamiliarity with positions and players around them but the second half had encouraging signs ( even though Chelsea weren’t pressing as heavily at that point).


Story of the first half where we had moments, but were sluggish or indecisive, and gave them back the ball. Could have been a different game.

Peter Story Teller

Exactly, play the first half like the second and it could have been a 0-0 draw or we might have even nicked a win with Katie’s penalty! We always seem to afford Chelsea far too much respect and sit deep which they love. They get all the possession and it’s only a matter of time before they score. Contrast this match to the Conti Cup final where we took the game to them and they got rattled. We won!!! As we saw in the second half we had the players to do the job but the first half performance had… Read more »

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