On Monday, we profiled the entire Arsenal Women squad and, at the risk of sounding like a Craig David song (a reference for the kids, there) on Tuesday we took a closer look at the new signings and what they will offer the squad for this campaign. However, there are wider issues that are likely to become threads to pull at for the Gunners during the 2023-24 season. Here are three themes to look for in 2023-24…
At the end of last season, Jonas Eidevall moved to a three box three formation as injuries decimated the spine of his team. Season ending injuries to Kim Little and Leah Williamson, with Vivianne Miedema and Beth Mead already out, necessitated a complete rejig of the formation and Arsenal played with three centre-halves.
This was partially about introducing greater security in the spine of the team without Williamson and Little. It was also partially because Eidevall wanted the leadership and poise of Jen Beattie with his captain and vice-captain missing and, nowadays, Beattie operates more comfortably in the centre of a back three where she can head missiles out of the Arsenal penalty area with ease. Wendie Renard might be the only player in the world you would back to beat Beattie in the air.
However, Eidevall told Arseblog News during the spring that he was always minded to use a three at the back formation at some point. Sure enough, he has used it to good effect in-game when required. He switched the team from a back four to a back three for the final third of April’s 2-1 win over Manchester City at Meadow Park, a change which altered the tenet of the game.
“When we changed formation we changed the pressing patterns and we changed the spaces for them,” Eidevall told Arseblog News after that game. “Usually it takes around ten minutes to settle and we wanted to thrive in a ten minute period to change our strategy. We knew if we scored, we could sit back a bit with a back three.”
Eidevall did something similar in the recent win over Linkoping, the Swedes were beginning to find their wing-backs and toss balls into the Arsenal area, so Eidevall played a back three for the final ten minutes. “We started to have to defend crosses so I am happy with how we could change to a back five for the last ten minutes to see out the game in a comfortable way.” I don’t anticipate Arsenal will start many games in a back three- maybe against Manchester City or Chelsea- but I expect Arsenal to finish close or difficult games in this manner, especially as they have Codina, Ilestedt, Wubben-Moy and Beattie to choose from.
It is well established that Arsenal bid for Mary Earps this summer. The pursuit perhaps didn’t demand as much of Arsenal’s energy as the media attention it garnered. But it’s surely a little awkward for the club that the bid became public given they have two international goalkeepers, one of whom only joined the club in January, the other had the one-year option triggered in her current deal in March.
Joe Montemurro used to have a goalkeeper rotation policy, which was partly about matching the attributes of the goalkeepers at his disposal to his game plan and partly a way of keeping everyone in the squad involved. He told Arseblog News during his second season he felt having a goalkeeper in the squad who doesn’t play can become a morale issue.
One of the first questions I asked Jonas Eidevall after his arrival was around his policy with his goalkeeping options, “You need to feel confident when you are playing in that position,” he told Arseblog News. “In general, I am more minded to have a clear first choice goalkeeper but obviously it is a competition.” Fast forward 18 months and the January 2023 signing of Canadian international Sabrina D’Angelo has seen a slight shift in policy, even if Zinsberger is usually preferred in goal.
“They are two different goalkeepers that are good at different aspects of the game. I hope they will benefit a lot from that. I hope it helps them to develop too to see the other keeper’s strengths,” he told Arseblog News earlier this year. Zinsberger and D’Angelo are almost the inverse of one another. Zinsberger is excellent at short passing and building from the back. D’Angelo has a good long kick and long throw when Arsenal feel they need to play a more counter-attacking game and attack quickly.
This is an area to keep an eye on this season, Zinsberger’s current contract expires at the end of the season, as does Mary Earps’ at Manchester United and it’s difficult not to see the move this summer as a precursor for summer 2024. It will be interesting to see whether Zinsberger’s grip on the number 1 spot loosens, whether the rotation policy remains or even increases. Arsenal’s involvement in the Conti Cup group stages lends itself to greater rotation, for sure.
The coaching staff
When Jonas Eidevall arrived at the club in the summer of 2021, he kept the backroom staff bequeathed to him by Joe Montemurro. Arseblog News asked Eidevall about his plans for his backroom staff in his very first press conference as Arsenal boss, “I will keep all of the current coaching staff.
“I think I can benefit and the team can benefit from keeping that knowhow from Leanne (Hall) and Aaron (D’Antino) and Jonathan (Dixon) and Ed the analysts and the goalkeeping coach Sebastien Barton. It will be much easier for me to get into work in that environment and then we can see if we need to add something in the future.”
Since the turn of the year, changes have been afoot. Leanne Hall, who was in charge of setpiece coaching, left the club in January and was replaced by Patrik Winqvist, who worked with Eidevall in Sweden. Former Leicester City Women manager Lydia Bedford also joined the backroom staff, albeit on a short-term deal. Her role was to focus on individual player development.
Bedford left the club this summer to coach Brentford men’s U18s team, her role is replaced by Dutch coach Renee Slegers, who succeeded Eidevall as Head Coach of Rosengard. Arsenal were always looking for someone with Head Coach experience for this role. Club legend Kelly Smith also joined on a short-term deal at the end of last season to work with the attacking players.
Smith has been re-appointed this season and her presence on the staff was a component in attracting Alessia Russo to the club this summer. Smith’s influence could be seen via the improvement in Stina Blackstenius’ performances at the end of last season. Aaron D’Antino, originally appointed by Joe Montemurro, remains on the staff as does Seb Barton.
Eidevall now has the coaching staff he wants. It was important to have female representation on the staff, firstly because a club like Arsenal has a duty to help develop and profile female coaches. Secondly, for more practical reasons, as male coaches are, clearly, not allowed in the changing rooms before and after games and training. Having female coaches on the staff retains that link between players and coaches.
With the likes of Ilestedt, Russo, Hurtig and co attacking corners delivered by the likes of McCabe, Catley and Cooney-Cross, Winqvist certainly has some sharp tools to work with on setpieces. It is difficult to imagine how Arsenal’s attackers could struggle to benefit from Kelly Smith’s experience in the final third, while Renee Slegers has experience of being in the top job at a big club. Arsenal has a strong coaching setup and that will need to bear fruit on the pitch this season.