Following Arsenal’s 3-0 win over Linkoping on Wednesday, there were two themes I was keen to explore with Arsenal boss Jonas Eidevall. One was his use of substitutes. Steph Catley, Lina Hurtig and Stina Blackstenius entered the fray on 61 minutes. Followed by Victoria Pelova on 67 minutes, then by Jen Beattie on 82 minutes.
Beth Mead, Gio and Kathrine Kuhl were unused subs. This sort of depth was a luxury Arsenal did not have for the final two months of last season due to an injury crisis that enveloped the squad. In their next most recent competitive game in May, Kathrine Kuhl, a midfielder, replaced Stina Blackstenius at half-time after the Swede broke her wrist. Then Gio came on for Jodie Taylor for the final eight minutes.
‘We spoke about that a lot before the game to say we have a starting eleven but we also have a finishing eleven. We thought the game was going to open up in the second half so we were able to choose player types depending on that was a good feeling,’ Jonas Eidevall told Arseblog News in Sweden.
Something the Arsenal fans, and maybe even the Arsenal players, forgot last season was on Eidevall’s preference for substituting attackers in-game. He explained this to Arseblog News in-depth in October 2021, ‘The way we want to press from the front is very demanding…I think about it (substitutions) a lot before the game. From a strategic point of view, I think that is important…
‘Some players will fit better to start the game sometimes in the way that we want to do it and we think the game will go one way. It’s good for us to substitute in other players.’ Eidevall warmed to this tune again on Wednesday, describing his front three as more of a front five or six.
‘I am really happy with Cloe coming in because she is quite similar to Beth Mead. That provides us with good depths and quality on the right side. Then we have Caitlin (Foord) and Lina (Hurtig) on the left side who are similar players in the way they can protect the ball and come in on their right foot. I like our options.’ Add in Stina Blackstenius and Alessia Russo who are very similar centre-forwards and Eidevall is talking about six players for the front three.
And it’s clear that his intention is for most or all of them to be used in-game. There are two players who will be key to this this season, fitness permitting (!) Arsenal signed Lina Hurtig last summer but she was only able to play 471 minutes in all competitions last season due to injury. A cleaner bill of health for Lina will be very important for the squad’s attacking options this season, not least to take some of the strain from Caitlin Foord.
Foord pulled her hamstring in April and it was almost certainly a loading injury as she needed to play every minute of every game more or less, due to injuries elsewhere. Clearly a lot has been said and written about the addition of Alessia Russo (i wrote about it in-depth here) but Cloé Lacasse is also an incredibly important addition.
I put it to Jonas Eidevall that a lack of an analogue to Beth Mead was disruptive last season. When Beth Mead suffered her ACL injury, Katie McCabe and Victoria Pelova played as ‘wide 10s.’ Exceptional players, both, but neither have the same attributes as Mead. It required a shift in Arsenal’s attacking mechanics. Jodie Taylor also played there as a wide striker.
I asked Eidevall about the addition of Lacasse last night, ‘It’s very important for us to have that option to play with wide forwards who can play wider and press in one v one situations. I am really happy with Cloe coming in because she is quite similar to Beth Mead. That provides us with good depth and quality on the right side.’
Mead will need to be eased back into action slowly during the autumn but, in any case, lack of dedicated back-up / rotation / competition for Beth on the right of the attack felt like a pinch point in the squad. Lacasse gives Arsenal that option because she shares Mead’s directness and willingness to press.
Lacasse created Arsenal’s first opportunity against Linkoping on Wednesday by pinching the ball from Nellie Karlsson and driving to the by-line, it was the most Mead of moves. Lacasse’s presence simply means Eidevall shouldn’t have to change the intonation of his attack.
Hurtig and Foord are similar options for the left, Lacasse and Mead are similar for the right, Blackstenius and Russo are similar for the centre-forward position. There is still enough distinction there for variety and diversity- which are also important qualities from the bench.
Lina Hurtig climbing high to win a back post header- her undoubted superpower- was an example of that. Foord, a started, scored and so did Hurtig and Blackstenius, who both came on on 60 minutes. The ability to shuffle the pack in attack is going to be one of the most intriguing- and exciting- developments for Arsenal this coming season.