Monday, June 17, 2024

Arsenal Women: Squad Assessment

Goalkeepers


We have seen some movement in this area over the last year or so. Lydia Williams left last summer despite being offered a contract to stay and be Manu Zinsberger’s back-up. Kaylan Marckese was brought in from Koge and I think we probably know now that was a stop-gap signing until Sabrina D’Angelo could be recruited from Vittsjö in Sweden in January (the Swedish season finishes in November).

We have seen Eidevall make similar moves before, like when he brought in Simone Boye in the summer of 2021 because Rafaelle was not available until the winter window. At the end of last season, Zinsberger and D’Angelo rotated in the way that Joe Montemurro used to rotate Manu and Pauline Peyraud-Magnin.

It will be interesting to see how both goalkeepers, who are experienced internationals, will be utilised next season. Zinsberger and D’Angelo are contrary to one another in many ways, Zinsberger has developed into a strong shot stopper who excels at short distribution. D’Angelo is far more proactive off her line and has very strong long distribution (with both her feet and her hands).

Arsenal did make an approach for Mary Earps during the summer though it didn’t quite take as much of their energy as it might seem given the number of stories around it. From what I am told, Arsenal made a bid, Manchester United said, ‘no chance!’ and that was about it. I suspect that bid was more a case of dangling the rod for next summer when Earps’ Manchester United contract is up and Manu Zinsberger’s expires at Arsenal. Succession planning has been a theme of this window.

The option to extend Zinsberger’s contract for a further year in March seemed to have a lack of tailored club content around the renewal, I would speculate that was more a club decision than a player decision. Usually, a club would want a player with an option to extend in the New Year. I’d suggest Arsenal triggering the option in mid-March might suggest the player was keen to keep her options open but that is just my read on it rather than sourced information.

If I am right about that, it will be interesting to see whether Zinsberger is phased out over the season with her contract ending next summer or whether this rotation system will persist with Arsenal continuing to try to extend Zinsberger’s deal. Meanwhile, Kaylan Marckese has gone on loan to Bristol City, Fran Stenson has left the club permanently and Naomi Williams will be promoted to third choice.

The defence


This is, clearly, the biggest area of scrutiny for Arsenal going into the season. The departure of Rafaelle to Orlando Pride was a big blow to the squad. Not just because of Rafa’s quality but because elite left-footed centre-halves are even rarer in women’s football than they are in men’s football.

Chelsea don’t have a left-footed centre-half, Manchester City converted Alex Greenwood from left-back so they could have one, Lyon don’t have one. Barca have something of a unicorn in Mapi Leon. It was always going to be incredibly difficult to recruit a top class left-footed centre-half.

However, Laia Codina plays on the left, even if she is right-footed. The departure of Rafa was not the only misfortune to befall the defence, with Leah Williamson and Laura Wienroither both set to miss most of the season with ACL injuries. Amanda Ilestedt is a right sided centre-half capable of playing at right-back too, she seems, to me, to be a Leah contingency.

In Leah and Rafa, Arsenal have lost their first choice central defensive pairing. However, the reality is that, due to injuries, Williamson and Rafaelle did not play together an awful lot. Lotte Wubben-Moy played over 1,000 more minutes than Williamson and 500 more than Rafa last season and she played nearly 2,000 minutes in 2021-22. Lotte can play on the right and the left and will be a crucial player and she has been a mainstay in Arsenal’s best periods of form over the last two seasons.

I also suspect we might see a bit of her at right-back given that Arsenal could not recruit in that position as they wanted this summer. Noelle Maritz being the only orthodox right-back in the squad feels like a pinch point and the most obvious area of potential vulnerability if Maritz gets injured.

At least, Arsenal’s left-back options (McCabe and Catley) are in tact. How the rotation between Ilestedt, Wubben-Moy, Codina and Beattie will look will be fascinating. I think we will see three centre-halves deployed at times next season too. While it’s true that system was deployed as a panic button during the spring, Eidevall admitted that he had prepared the team to use the system prior to injuries taking hold. How Arsenal shape up in defence will be the most fascinating facet of next season.

Midfield


Arsenal wanted a defensive midfielder all summer. I was told at the beginning of the window that Keira Walsh was a serious target but that was a complicated deal to do for obvious reasons. The Gunners waited until late in the day to recruit Australian midfielder Kyra Cooney-Cross. At 21, her, Pelova (24) and Kuhl (20) have quietly future proofed the Arsenal midfield. Lia Walti is 30 and Kim Little 33, both very far from the glue factory but it was clear contingency was needed in the engine room.

Arsenal play a midfield double pivot and Cooney-Cross offers rotation and competition for both Walti and Little, while being a slightly different player to both. It is an excellent signing and Arsenal put the money down rather than waiting until she would have been a free agent in January when there would have been a lot more competition for her signature.

Arsenal scouted KCC both before and during the World Cup and have invested in an area of the squad that has looked like a pinch point for a few seasons now. How Eidevall plays his cards between Maanum and Miedema, who both prefer the number 10 role, will also be absolutely fascinating once Viv is fit to return to the squad.

Victoria Pelova was among Arsenal’s best performers at the end of last season with Eidevall suggesting he is happy to wait and see where best she fits into the team. She played as a right ten very effectively last season and I do wonder whether Jonas will sometimes opt for a three box three formation, with two of Walti, Little and Cooney-Cross in a double pivot and Maanum and one of Pelova or Miedema ahead of them in the ten positions. Arsenal have a number of versatile operators in the midfield which gives Eidevall optionality. I think Arsenal look deep and flexible in midfield.

Forwards


The bulk of Arsenal’s summer outlay has gone into this area with Alessia Russo and Cloe Lacasse joining over the summer. The squad absolutely needed another number 9 with Stina competing in every single game last season. Blackstenius and Russo are similar types of striker which offers continuity as well as competition. In Eidevall’s system, a nine is a focal point and a facilitator.

Cloe Lacasse can play all across the front three but operates mainly as a wide forward. Injury to Lina Hurtig last season meant that Beth Mead and Caitlin Foord were overburdened. Mead will also need to ease back into action after recovering from an ACL injury. Lacasse offers a good analogue to both Mead and Foord’s direct styles. In Eidevall’s mind, he has Mead and Lacasse for the right and Foord and Hurtig for the left side.

When I spoke to analyst and scout Marc Lamberts over the summer, he described Lacasse as one of the best counter attacking wide forwards in the world. Lacasse also offers a strong option from the bench. Eidevall will hope for a better bill of health from Lina Hurtig next season too and she could be ‘like a new signing.’

With Mead, Lacasse, Foord, Hurtig and McCabe available for the wide positions, there was a willingness to let Gio go out on loan again and I understand a WSL option was explored, as well as a loan to Atletico Madrid but neither materialised. The Conti Cup group stage should see opportunities for her in the first half of the season, however.

Many supporters forgot last season due to the injury crisis but Eidevall is on record as saying he demands so much physically from his wide forwards that his preference is for them not to play the full 90 minutes, so expect to see the ‘starters and finishers’ concept maximised across the front three.

What is certain is that this is Eidevall’s third season in charge and the last season of his current deal. This is very much his squad now and with no Champions League football this season, there is extra pressure on domestic success- but this won’t daunt the players overly, there is always pressure at a club like Arsenal.

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Michael

Really interested to see how the different profiles of players we have brought in can affect the structure of the team or the way we approach more difficult opponents. Particularly when we play three at the back, we didn’t get to see Maanum try a spot in the box midfield and I think Russo may bring something different to our attack with her ability on the ball. Also curious about how much mutual exclusivity there is in positions, will we get to see Maanum and Miedema play together in their preferred positions or Russo and Stina playing as a two… Read more »

Tim Stillman

I think that’s what interests me most, how does Eidevall use that flexibility to tweak players, systems, intentions etc. I think we’ve seen he can do ‘crisis, kitchen sink’ football which I’m a big advocate for! But I’m also interested in how we can use these things for game control.

MartynJ

Yeah – the problem with 3 at the back (as England demonstrated in the WC) is you have to lose someone further up the pitch, unless one of the 3 CBs can step into midfield when needed (and she’s out till the New Year).

Tim Stillman

Yeah I definitely only see it being used in big games or to close out matches. Eidevall did it v Linkoping cos they were getting lots of crosses in, so he went 3 at the back to see it out.

MartynJ

‘Bring me the Head of Jennifer Beattie’.

Fun Gunner

🙂 🙂

Pete McNamara

Great write up. I’m looking forward to seeing this squad develop and mix and match parts through out the season. I hope they dominate the WSL so that next year Champions League is a lock. They have a lot of special players and we should expect improvement from the many youngsters and an added boost from the returning players from injury throughout the season.

Jason

Gio is the one that interests me, young talent, enough for Arsenal to sign her and play her. I confess I’m not close enough to assess her contribution as a person and footballer in training/around the club. The odd injury here and there hasn’t helped but the thought process of loaning her season after season (this year fell through) may mean her leaving eventually as her contract length cannot be too long 3 years? I liken it to Saliba, 5 year contract so could afford 2 years on loan and still have 3 years left to play and judge him… Read more »

verstellung

“Glue Factory” ??? LOL

Fun Gunner

Great article. Thanks for sticking up for LWM. People forget that a great player with a flaw is still a great player. You just be your wonderful self, Lotte! She is a natural defender, Faye White and Tony Adams Arsenal bloodline. I’m still a little nervous about RB. Amanda Ilestedt looks so comfortable at CB, I can’t imagine her on the flanks. Midfield is very exciting and this is where the Conti Cup games will be especially useful to rotate or even rest Walti/Little and build understanding between the younger players. They all seem to get along as individuals, which… Read more »

Alan Morris

Defence without LW is still a worry. W-M playing so many minutes last season goes a long way to illustrating why we faded. She is not good enough, nor Beattie.
Gio has done nothing to warrant a place.
Ilestedt Russo and Lacasse look excellent additions based on our ill fated CL prelims

Chrishgooner

Can’t agree that Lotte and Jen “are not good enough”. As part of a strong squad they are very much “good enough”.

kazoo

It’s by far the deepest and most talented team Arsenal has ever had, even with the questions at CB. I continue to be absolutely baffled by the Miedema situation and her supposed preference for playing the 10. For one thing, I’ve never heard say that publicly. It’s true that she started her career, long ago, playing the 10, and I can see the appeal, in some ways–but she’s also been one of the most prolific scorers in women’s soccer for several years, and I’ve /never/ heard of a CF who suddenly got tired of scoring goals. She would never play… Read more »

MartynJ

Kerr scored 12 in the WSL last season, so Russo was only a couple behind her. Also worth remembering that Man Utd comfortably outperformed their xG last season – goals were scored despite the quality of chances being created, rather than because… I think Tim explained clearly when Russo was signed exactly what she can offer to Arsenal. Also – Miedema has talked about preferring to play a 10 (or 9.5) plenty of times.

Chrishgooner

One brief mention of Kat Kuhl,Tim.
Do you see her as being part of regular rotation in midfield?

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