Friday, September 22, 2023

Three questions for Arsenal Women ahead of next season

It’s some time before Arsenal Women kick off their 2023-24 season with UWCL qualifying set to start on 5 September. However, over the course of last season, especially towards the end, injuries dominated the discourse and it was difficult to properly analyse the team without doing so through the prism of a very depleted squad. So here are three questions I am going to be giving the most thought over the summer.

Replacing Rafa

There is no dressing it up, the news that Brazilian defender Rafaelle departs the club this summer is an enormous blow. Not only are Rafa’s qualities going to be incredibly difficult to find on the market; but the Gunners will be missing Leah Williamson for at least the first half of the next campaign as she recovers from an ACL injury.

Arsenal had to look to China to find Rafa in the first place, an exceedingly rare cheat code of a player, an aerially and physically dominant and technically excellent, left-footed centre-half capable of playing out under pressure or else just dribbling out (she had a 92% dribble success rate in the WSL last season). It is so difficult to think of a comparable top-level defender- especially a left-footer.

When asked by The Athletic’s Art de Roche last month about finding a left footer for the role specifically, Eidevall admitted, ‘it’s a big column in our recruitment spreadsheet.’ Most top European teams operate with two right-footers at centre-half. England won the Euros with Bright and Williamson, Chelsea bought Kadeisha Buchanan to partner Millie Bright last season and Emma Hayes had to swap them over to try to get the right blend. Buchanan still hasn’t made that spot entirely her own.

Leah Williamson’s last two regular centre-back partners have been Jen Beattie and Louise Quinn and prior to that it was Casey Stoney- right footers all of them. The back up to Rafa has been right footed Lotte Wubben-Moy. Arsenal might not be able to get a left-footer but they are going to have to get someone of comparable quality to Rafaelle, which is going to be very difficult.

Well-placed reports in Iceland suggest Bayern’s Icelandic centre-back Glódís Perla Viggósdóttir is on the radar, having worked with Eidevall at Rosengard.

Lotte Wubben-Moy is a fine member of the defensive cast but Arsenal need to boost their numbers, particularly with Anna Patten likely to move on permanently and Beattie really needing to play in a back three. This is going to be an absolutely key piece of the club’s summer recruitment and whoever that player is, they will need to hit the ground running much as Rafa herself did.

What happens when Miedema returns?

In Vivianne Miedema’s absence, Frida Maanum has made the number 10 spot her own. In fact, Maanum won her place in the team ahead of Miedema prior to the Dutch forward’s injury. Eidevall decided to field Maanum for the away match at Lyon because, in his words, “Frida is one of our strongest runners and she carries the ball very well. We gave her a role that requires an extreme amount of running because she basically had to defend two players.”

Which is also a way of saying that he didn’t necessarily think that Miedema would perform the same duties in the same way. Now, there is nothing wrong with squad depth of course and there is also nothing wrong with having two very different players for one position (more on that anon). However, there are just some players that are not rotation players. Miedema is not a rotation player and Maanum is fast becoming the same.

It seems unlikely to me that players of that calibre will willingly operate a job share for one position, which begs the question as to what happens when Miedema returns? Do her and Maanum fight it out? Miedema moving back upfront doesn’t seem likely since Eidevall wants a penalty box presence to run the channels and provide an option on the counter-attack- the club continue to target Alessia Russo so keenly for a reason.

This is a position I am keeping a close eye on for next season because I am really intrigued to see whether Maanum and Miedema can play in the same team- maybe that would necessitate a system change? Maanum can play as an 8 but, again, I am not sure how likely it is that she will muscle Kim Little out of the team just yet. I am very interested to see how this one plays out.

Squad rotation and tactical flexibility
During Eidevall’s first season in charge, we saw very little squad rotation. This is likely because a) the coach was trying to instil his principles and craved continuity to embed his style and b) because he had a lot of players that were not ‘his’ players. He didn’t really seem to want Nikita Parris, Jordan Nobbs or Mana Iwabuchi, for example.

This season, injuries have meant that Eidevall has not been able to rotate- not to mention that at the conclusion of both the summer and winter transfer windows, the coach admitted that he felt the group was at least one player short. Eidevall wants the squad to be bigger next season. In adapting to this season’s injury crisis, he has also shown tactical flexibility.

The move to a three box three formation in the spring was necessitated by injuries but Eidevall admitted that he tried the formation in training way back in January with a view to using it at some stage. “We weren’t going to use it in the game after but as a group of players we need to understand the principles and why we might want to play with another formation so we can change between games or in games.”

Arsenal did this to excellent effect in the victory over Manchester City in April. With the scores at 1-1 half way through the second half, Eidevall surprised City by moving to the three box three system and won the game 2-1. It’s clear that building greater tactical flexibility and being able to move between systems is important to the coach and the injury situation during 2022-23 expedited that process of experimentation.

I will be very intrigued to see how this looks during 2023-24 with (hopefully) a bigger, fitter squad. I will also be interested to see how Eidevall handles voluntary rotation of players which presumably he will feel more comfortable with doing with a squad made up entirely of players that he trusts. We started to see it in the right-back position with Wienroither and Maritz duelling for the role.

He even began to rotate in the goalkeeper position following the January signing of Sabrina D’Angelo, who is a very different option to Manu Zinsberger. A bigger squad and greater rotation will almost certainly help ease the injury crisis we saw during this campaign too. How Eidevall manages short turnarounds between games, potentially different setups and a larger pool of players will be very interesting indeed.

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Late to the inquest, but is there any insight on why we didn’t or couldn’t offer Rafa improved terms? Or was it simply that playing in America was just too good to a chance to pass up for Rafa? Such a technically-gifted player seamlessly blending old-school CB play with modern play-out-the-back nous.

Frida Fan Society

It wasn’t about terms, it was about Rafa wanting to play in the USA

Salvador Berzunza

Thank you, Tim, straight away I think in Rafaelle’s Brazil CB partner Kathellen Sousa, she’s tall and strong as Rafaelle with similar numbers but I don’t know if she is left footer. The same reflection about Miedema and Frida, is in a hypothetical case Russo is coming in summer, she and Stina, looks very similar situation 2 non rotational players. This new strong Arsenal was developed in rotation due injuries, so comeback to a rigid core team will be a step backwards.


Kathellen is right-footed and she only joined Real Madrid last year.

Salvador Berzunza

ok thanks.

Stan Rodrigues

Excellent analysis. Thank you.
If I have a slight criticism it is that you have not praised Rapha enough. She’s a wonderful footballer. Even as a Chelsea fan, I’m bitterly disappointed by her departure. She will be a massive loss for Arsenal, and the WSL.

Little Cubby

No disrespect but why are you commenting on an Arsenal blog ?

David Hillier's luggage

Do we know when Viv is potentially due back? As with most ACL returns, I expect she’s be eased back, almost feels like a good opportunity to rotate and experiment to help spread the load between players, with Frida spending more time switching to 8 to give Kim a rest when needed, or even trying out whole new tactical setups.

Almost feels like points 2 & 3 dovetail nicely into each other (for the first part of the season, that is!)

Andrew Gambrill

The Fran/Viv dilemma is a great problem to have. Would love to read a piece on a potential “two 10s” formation.

Andrew Gambrill

Damn autocorrect! Frida!!


Frida has been great for us but there’s a huge difference between her and Miedema. One quality that stands out the most for Frida is her defending. She works very well with Stina in pressing the opposition. On the other hand Miedema has a better relationship with Stina in attacking phases. We only scored 49 goals in the league this season, and this is the first time that we had less than 60 goals since the cancelled covid season.

Peter Story Teller

We have had trouble converting chances full stop! Even when Viv was available we were not exactly prolific, a point not entirely lost on Jonas with our desperate attempts to sign another striker!


Unless Jonas is a fortune teller, you cannot say he wants another forward because we were not prolific. If I remember correctly, he wanted another forward before the season even started. The problem for us this season was the relationship between the forward players in attacking phases. For instance, most of Stina’s goal came from defensive players (Williamson, McCabe, Lotte and Lia). Between Foord, Hurtig and Frida, they only provided Stina with one assist in a game against Zurich in the champions league.

Peter Story Teller

True, he probably knew before we started the season but because of reasons we don’t know, one by one our target players went elsewhere and we became increasingly desperate. Our biggest miss, I believe, was Meado. She not only scores but creates too. I’d still like to see her in front of goal where she can be deadly with someone else running the touchline. This playing out wide malarky really was brought about by trying to squeeze Viv into the centre where she doesn’t want to play anyway so now Beth has the reputation for being a wide forward instead… Read more »

Gunner H

Agree, Peter – since her omission from the Olympics in summer of 2021, she went on to be in sensational form for the last 2 seasons, the 2nd of which was of course curtailed early.


I’m not understanding this assertion that Miedema doesn’t want to play CF anymore. Is it true? Has she said that? I thought the issue was that even though Miedema was a prolific scorer and amazing finisher for a several years–for club and country–Eidevall foolishly decided that her style doesn’t fit his system. For me, scoring goals should fit ANY system. Has Arsenal been piling up goals with Stina at CF instead of Miedema? No, it hasn’t—not at all. Let’s also recall that for a couple of years, every time Arsenal played Chelsea and other top teams, Miedema rarely saw the… Read more »

Peter Story Teller

I cannot remember specifically which ones but I am certain Viv has stated in a couple of interviews that she prefers to be like a roaming 10 creator rather than a straight 9. Watching her play she does appear to relish that role despite what her scoring statistics suggest. Simply sticking Viv in the middle evidently did not work as the half decent teams, even those from the lower reaches of WSL, soon worked out how to nullify her and as you allude to for many matches she was a passenger through no fault of her own. You also have… Read more »


I think this is also a product of members of our current squad being overworked. They cant convert as well if they are tired for most of the game. I think if we rotate better people like Caitlin and Stina will score more goals because they’ll be more refreshed.

Fun Gunner

A simple point and a very good one!


I’ve compiled a list of the left-footed centre backs that I know of in the comment of this article. If I have to pick one, I’ll go for Gabby George. In one of last summer’s David Ornstein column, it’s mentioned that her contract includes a release clause that will become active this summer. She also offers versatility as she actually played more as a full back and wing back than as a CB this season. Viggósdóttir’s contract with Bayern Munich runs out next season. I can’t see Bayern selling her as it would be very difficult to replace her unless we… Read more »

Fun Gunner

Has your comment been in moderation? Agree with a lot of what you say. On the CB question, only the first three of the WSL CBs you list are good enough for Arsenal, I feel. But Eriksson has now gone to Bayern. Perhaps she is an early replacement for Viggosdottir? On the other hand, Kumigai has left Bayern, so maybe that makes it less likely that Bayern would sell Viggosdottir. Greenwood I suspect isn’t going anywhere and in any case is too similar to Leah W in my book. I did not know about George’s release clause. Does that mean… Read more »

Fun Gunner

Three very pertinent questions! Regarding Rafa’s replacement, I’ve always loved Gabby George – she is very versatile, very pacy and very good on the ball. She can play at wingback and is also good in a back three. Sadly, I feel she is very, very settled at Everton. But failing that possibility, I think the club are definitely working along the right lines in approaching Viggosdottir. There may not even be a left-footed CB of the required quality and experience available right now – we can’t sign a kid for this role – so fingers crossed. Frida and Viv. I… Read more »

Peter Story Teller

Don’t forget we still have Michelle on the fringes to mix things up a bit if Jonas can trust with some game time!

Fun Gunner

I’d love the coming season to be Michelle’s breakout season, but we both know she’ll be sent out on loan/dually registered, at least until January! 🙁

Salvador Berzunza

going on loan and get play time is the best for team and player


Given the timeframe for ACL recovery, it’s fairly certain that Laura W is out for next season, so we also need to get some depth at right back in my opinion.

Peter Story Teller

Indeed, I believe we need to add in every department except goalkeeper. What has cost us for the last couple of seasons has been injuries and although this season appeared especially bad the problem does not go away just because some of the long termers come back. We simply need more depth to the squad.

It seems Tim doesn’t think Anna Patten is returning but I have not heard any rumours regarding Mana’s future. I have never been a fan and neither has Jonas given the number of times she played once he arrived!

Salvador Berzunza

I don’t think Mana is getting a new contract with Arsenal, she’s in Italy now with Saki Kumagai who sign with Roma, maybe Mana is in talk with Roma or Joe in Juve.


Frankly, IMO, Miedema needs to leave Arsenal and return to playing CF for another club. She was one of the top goal scorers–and most clinical finishers—in women’s football for years until Eidevall arrived, and suddenly one of the game’s best forwards is playing midfield. Miedema is a good 10 but it’s not her best position–and now with Maanum’s emergence it’s not clear what her role will be. She needs to go back to CF–and if Eidevall doesn’t like her in that role she ought to seriously consider finding another team,

Peter Story Teller

You are entitled to your opinion but it is naiive to think that simply playing Viv as a centre forward in the conventional sense will grab you 15, 20 or 25 extra goals. It will not happen!
Go back and watch some of the games before Jonas arrived and you will probably notice she wasn’t playing straight down the middle then either!

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