Monday, June 17, 2024

In focus: Pelova’s Witness- Victoria Pelova’s performance against Leicester City

Under Willie Kirk, Leicester have moved to an aggressive, player-to-player marking system. They have chosen to fight their way out of survival, not by sitting back and hoping for the best but by going toe-to-toe with teams. In his pre-match press conference, Kirk said he had stopped considering games against the top four as a ‘free swing’, an attitude he admits he had in the past.

Part of the reason he lost his job at Everton was continued comfortable defeats to the big sides. Leicester came to Meadow Park to take Arsenal on and the Gunners needed to be strong in tight spaces in order to create chances. Nobody did that better than Dutch midfielder Victoria Pelova. Playing as a right ten in a 3421, Pelova was continually able to twist and turn away from pressure to tee up attacks, a skill she used in a deeper position in the second half. Let’s look more closely at her performance.

Pelova was able to use a blend of physicality and technique to retain the ball in tight situations but she was also willing to use just plain physicality when required. Here we see a loose touch from Courtney Nevin on Leicester’s left and the ball trickles inside. We see from here that Pelova is still far from favourite to win the ball here.

Even though Pelova is not goal side of Tierney here as the ball breaks to her, Pelova engages to try to win the ball back.

Pelova battles to get herself between Tierney and the ball and shoulder charges the Leicester player off the ball. Maanum comes away with the ball and Arsenal eventually win a corner from this counter-attack and that corner leads to a penalty award.

Leicester pressed Arsenal into uncomfortable situations all evening and we see that again here, as Maritz is pinned to the touchline with two players around her. You can see from this image that every Arsenal player is shadowed by a blue shirt (Pelova also has an opponent at her back). This is a tight situation for Pelova to receive the ball.

As Ashleigh Plumptre commits to Pelova’s back, the Dutchwoman beautifully flicks the ball beyond her and Arsenal are out. Since Leicester have a focus on marking players, they were seldom standing in space and Pelova knew she could execute turns and flicks to get out of pressure without a Leicester player hoovering up the loose ball.

Here we see Pelova’s ability and willingness to protect the ball was key to Arsenal’s attacking game. Wubben-Moy lofts a ball into the channel and it’s a straight fight between Pelova and Nevin for the ball.

Pelova shields the ball brilliantly and is able to set Noelle Maritz away in space on the right hand-side and from this move, Arsenal get a dangerous cross into the box which is cleared.

Once again, Leicester are applying heavy pressure here, every Arsenal player is closely marked and the option to go back to the goalkeeper is cut off too. Wubben-Moy needs to go over the top of Leicester’s pressure.

As the ball comes to Pelova, Plumptre is again breathing down her neck.

But once more, Pelova appreciates that while there is a player on her back, there will be room behind her to touch the ball around the corner, which she does again here and again, she sets Arsenal away on the attack.

And seconds later, she is at the sharp end of the move with a fine reverse pass to Blackstenius in the channel but Leicester manage to scramble the ball clear.

Pelova was a consistent outlet throughout the game, again Leicester have every Arsenal player tightly marked as D’Angelo surveys her options. By now the Canadian knows that playing the ball to Pelova with her back to goal is a safe option.

Pelova is expecting Plumptre at her back as per usual and Pelova, as per usual, waits for her to arrive before flicking the ball around the corner and away from her pressure.

Plumptre yanks Pelova’s shirt out of desperation to prevent the counter. It is difficult to understand how she escapes a yellow card in doing so, especially as you can see the proximity of the referee to the incident.

Pelova was happy to subject Plumptre to a similar level of attention in possession. Leicester clear a Maanum cross here and the clearance falls to Plumptree. Pelova’s eyes light up.

She steams in to win the ball back and Arsenal can keep Leicester under pressure.

One of the main reasons Eidevall stuck with the 3421 formation was because he felt Arsenal could expose Leicester in wide areas. With Kuhl and Pelova playing as dual 10s, both could drift wide and create overloads with the wing-backs. We see that here as Maanum turns and plays a fine reverse pass to Pelova in the right half-space.

Pelova again touches the ball inside, spins and plays a fine slide rule pass to Maritz on the overlap

Because Plumptre is getting tight to Pelova, she is having to vacate the left-back position and Maritz has time and space to attack that flank. From this cross, Katherine Kuhl has a gilt-edged chance.

In the 56th minute, Arsenal revert to a back four, with Catley on at left-back, McCabe pushes into the forward line and Maanum becomes the number 10. Pelova shows her versatility by dropping into central midfield where Arsenal used her physicality and ability in tight spaces in deeper areas. Here, Wubben-Moy gives the ball away on the edge of the Arsenal area but look who roars back to win it back.

Pelova again muscles herself between player and ball, turns and plays Arsenal out of an incredibly dangerous situation.

In this example, she once again demonstrates her ability to turn away from pressure to set an Arsenal attack. A Leitzig kickout comes to Maritz, who nods the ball down to Pelova and we can already see Tierney about to engage.

Pelova knows exactly what is coming, she waits until she can feel Tierney at her back so that she can shield the ball.

As soon as she feels Tierney at her back, she backs into her opponent, making sure she has the physical upper hand and then allows the ball to do the work. She did this time and time and time again in the game, waited for the Leicester player to engage, protected the ball and then spun her opponent. From here, she finds Kuhl who puts in a dangerous cross.

As the game goes into stoppage time, Pelova collects this throw-in from Katie McCabe and you would have forgiven her for giving into fatigue as she once again grapples to protect the ball.

Not a bit of it. She fights off two players and just look at the frustration of Tierney as she throws her had back, annoyed that Pelova has been able to win another duel.

From there, Pelova is then able to show her more technical qualities, with a wonderful shimmy to fool Nevin followed by a reverse pass into Maanum in a dangerous area, who gets a shot on target.

Pelova made four tackles in the game, the joint most in the team with Lia Wälti. She also had six shot creating actions, the joint-most in the team with Katie McCabe. Of the starting eleven, Jen Beattie was the only outfield player with a better pass completion rate (77%), her seven progressive passes were the joint-most in the team with Frida Maanum. Only Noelle Maritz (6) managed more than her five passes into the final third and only Lotte Wubben-Moy (12) and Frida Maanum (11) bettered her 10 ball recoveries.

It was a stellar all-round display from Arsenal’s Dutch January signing.



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Grand stuff

Fun Gunner

This is great, Tim. I can’t thank you enough for breaking it down like this! Pelova’s basically performing Kim Little’s role isn’t she? She says she wants to be seen as a central midfielder and I think she is already there! She has all the necessary qualities. She doesn’t seem like a natural goalscorer, though, which Kim was. But we may yet see that. The only upside of all these injuries is that other players are stepping up. Pelova has just fitted in seamlessly and seems like such an intelligent player. It’s so funny that she was able to pull… Read more »


I very much agree. I thought Ke was more effective on the right after we reshuffled our shape and went to a back three. She then had to change position again when Caitlin went off. I think she has the skill to be very creative and provide defence-splitting passes. She will build up confidence; at the moment she tends to choose a safer pass to one of our senior players rather one that might have more attacking potential. But just think how few minutes she’s had to develop an instinctive rapport with the team.

Third Gooner

Our ladies have been magnificent this season so much so that they have started drawing crowds and attention like the male team. I watched their entire game against Wolfsburg and was genuinely disappointed they conceded late. Now they should push to better their position in the table. Up the Arse!

Bill Hall

Rachel Daly, two more goals today, 19 for the season. We have no idea if Viv will stay or go, I reckon we should make a real effort to tempt Daly to Arsenal in the summer!

Fun Gunner

I think Rachel Daly is a superb, clever player, versatile, hardworking team player and I would have taken her on loan for the second half of the season, but she is 31. So I would say no. Plus I think she is really happy at Villa. She has great onfield relationships and is adored. She’s better off staying. She’s only just moved there.

Bill Hall

OK she has scored a third now, 20 for the season!

Bill Hall

Man City lost, third place beckons, only three points behind with two games in hand

Fun Gunner

Maybe we are getting a bit of the good luck we are owed! As long as we can capitalise on Wednesday.

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