Saturday, February 24, 2024

Analysis: West Ham’s failure to put left foot forward means Mead and Maanum have a field day

When Arsenal drew 0-0 with West Ham in February, I wrote a piece on how a big part of the Gunners game plan on that day was to pressure West Ham’s left centre-half, Hawa Cissoko, and their left wing-back, Kirsty Smith, both of whom are right footed. Two players playing on their unnatural side makes a back five ripe to be pressed. I asked Jonas Eidevall about whether Arsenal repeated that game plan in this game.

“If it looked obvious to you it was probably part of the plan.” I also asked him about whether there was a plan to expose West Ham in the space between their wing-backs and wide centre-halves. “Any team playing with a back three gets into that decision about how comfortable the central defender feels to come out and defend in that (wide) area.” Incidentally, I interviewed former Gunner Lisa Evans, playing at right wing-back for the Hammers today, about something very similar during her time at the club.

“I really like playing against a back five because I think there are pockets of space in front of them and I think there’s often space between the centre-back and the wing-back and there is uncertainty about who is picking up.” Eidevall selected Frida Maanum, who veered very much to the right in this game and Beth Mead and they scored all three goals. Let’s look at some examples of how Arsenal exploited this specific weakness in West Ham.

West Ham clear the first Arsenal corner of the game and it falls to Cooney-Cross, I can’t honestly tell you I think this pass is a direct result of the gameplan to expose West Ham on that side, it’s more likely that this is just the best pass available and Cooney-Cross’ body shape is well positioned to play this ball to Maanum. What you can see is a little disorganisation on that side of West Ham’s backline.

Maanum collects the pass and equally open to debate is how intentional the Norwegian’s chip is that ends up in the top corner. How designed this specific play is is only a question Eidevall and his analysts can answer but Arsenal definitely had a plan to expose West Ham in these exact areas, as we will see. West Ham have conceded five headed goals to crosses this season so getting the ball into the area must have figured in the pre-match conversation at least.


Whether or not the first goal was a direct result of the game plan or a bit of a coincidence is open to conjecture but one thing Arsenal clearly wanted was to use Cooney-Cross’ ability to use big switches of play to that right wing. Here she collects the ball from Wubben-Moy.

This is what she does with it. Cooney-Cross plays two passes in the first five minutes and they are both aimed at the right flank. This one doesn’t reach Mead but the idea is clear.

Look at the pressure Arsenal exert on West Ham’s left side here as the Irons win the ball back on the edge of their area.

 

Kirsty Smith is right footed playing on the left, so she doesn’t want to clear the ball with her left. Instead, she tucks it back to Cissoko and given she is right footed, it is not a comfortable pass and she swings at the clearance. Arsenal wanted to press Smith and Cissoko onto their weaker side.

Cissoko slices the ball as far as Smith and she heads it away but can’t get any direction on the ball because it’s not a pass she is receiving but a miscued clearance.

McCabe simply hooks Smith’s header back into the same area and Cissoko meets it.

McCabe once again meets Cissoko’s clearance and just helps it back into the same area. Arsenal had a plan to keep the ball in the areas between West Ham’s wing-backs and wide centre-halves. Mead controls McCabe’s header on this occasion.

Mead finds Maanum and it’s not a mistake that Frida is positioned quite wide. A big part of her selection was about pressing in this right half space next to Mead. She plays a dangerous cross into the area.

And Russo only just fails to connect with the cross.

Arsenal’s next shot comes from pressing West Ham’s left side. Smith takes a throw and receives the ball straight back. Because she is right-footed, her instinct is to turn inwards onto her right and back towards her own goal. Maanum is straight on the case.

She muscles Smith off the ball and strides forwards. This was a big part of Maanum’s job on the day, to press the left side of West Ham’s defence.

Maanum finds Foord on the left-hand side and her shot is palmed away by Walsh. All of Arsenal’s early chance creation is a result of focusing on West Ham’s left side.

Once again, Wubben-Moy finds Cooney-Cross here and the Australian’s first thought is to spin and survey the options to her right.

Cooney-Cross spins away from the pressure and immediately sends the ball to the right to Beth Mead. This was a big part of why she kept her place ahead of Walti and Little, because her ability to spray passes from left to right suited Arsenal’s game plan.

Now Mead is one-on-one with Cissoko with Smith out of the picture and, well, we know how this ends.


From this throw-in, we see Maanum again drifting over to the right.

 

McCabe plays a lovely reverse ball into that corridor of uncertainty between wing-back and wide centre-back again.

Maanum floats another cross to the back post- West Ham have conceded five headers from crosses so far this season- but Megan Walsh just gets a fingertip on it before it can reach Caitlin Foord.

West Ham had eleven right footers in their team and sometimes it made them easier for Arsenal to press and not just on the left of West Ham’s defence. Shimizu receives a pass from Walsh here from a goal kick.

She finds Stringer but Cooney-Cross and Maanum are in close attendance and because Stringer is right footed, she turns back towards her own goal.

She does eventually shimmy away and find Harries.

If Harries were more confident on her left foot, she would swing the ball out to Smith at left-back, instead she uses the outside of her right foot to play a central pass. Smith’s body position is also pointed inwards which maybe puts Harries off playing that ball.

Hayashi collects the pass. Again, Smith and Asseyi are in good positions on the left.

Hayashi does not naturally swing the pass to the left and instead, she dawdles on the ball and Pelova wins the tackle and Arsenal are away. Maanum plays a through ball to Russo here and it takes a last-ditch tackle from Tysiak to prevent her getting an unobstructed shot on goal.

Hayashi picks up the loose ball and this time has enough time and space to feel comfortable switching the ball to Smith on the left.

Smith receives the pass and, instead of playing on with her left foot, she takes a second to shift the ball back onto her right and that gives McCabe time to close her down.

The time it takes Smith to shift the ball back onto her right and the pressure from McCabe means Smith rushes the clearance and it just falls straight to Ilestedt.

Ilestedt plays the ball straight to Pelova and Arsenal are away again. Look at where Frida Maanum is again, tucked away on that right hand side.

Catley wins this loose ball in midfield and it falls for Pelova.

Pelova’s first thought is to drop the ball into that right side again.

But on this occasion, Walsh is out to meet the pass intended for Maanum. But you can see the gap between Cissoko and Smith here.

Cissoko receives a pass from Megan Walsh here and, again, we see the slightly awkward way she accepts the pass as a right footer, her body turned inwards and back towards her own goal.

Cissoko hesitates because the passing lane she has is not ideal for her right foot. If she were left footed, she would have received the ball from Walsh with an open body and been able to shovel it to the left far more quickly.

Cissoko isn’t satisfied with the pass available to her so she goes around Maanum but Mead is very swift onto the scene.

She fouls Mead in the subsequent challenge and gets booked, though the referee really ought to have played an advantage because Maanum is in a great position to attack here.

Thought a lot of Arsenal’s plan was focused on their right side, it wasn’t exclusively so. Catley throws the ball to Foord here and Shimizu and Evans are on the scene.

Evans gets a toe on it and Russo is immediately pressing the loose ball and Shimizu has to slide the ball back to Walsh.

Walsh clears and Harries works the ball back to Evans under pressure. Catley is pressing well here and Evans has no choice but to go back and look at Russo, she is already interested in pressing Shimizu.

Evans’ pass is loose and Russo had smelt blood before that happened, she gives chase with the scent in her nostrils and she latches onto the ball and tees up Mead for the third.

Arsenal played a bit more within themselves in the second half and West Ham became braver in their own pressing. The game fell into a slightly different pattern. But West Ham fielding 11 right footers against a good pressing team like Arsenal played into their game plan to press Rehanne Skinner’s side and force them into uncomfortable situations. They used Cooney-Cross in the left of the midfield pivot so she could whip passes over to that right wing, where Mead and Maanum proved to be the match winners.

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MartynJ

Is it me, or do Arsenal have a higher number of players comfortable with both feet than other teams in the WSL? Also felt we were still giving the ball away too much in our own half. For instance, for all the talk of Lotte’s improvement this season, too many of her longer passes, particularly those from deep in our own half, are still going straight to opponents (although tbf her strike rate for long passes is still well ahead of Maya Le Tissier, who managed a strike rate below 50% against Bristol City on Sunday).

Peter Story Teller

I noticed that particularly in the Hammers game. Some players are still definitely one-footed but Meado especially appeared equally happy to have a crack with either foot; I’m not sure she has been that confident even before her ACL. As for LWM she is still developing but where her ceiling is I have no idea! Looks like we have found a cracker in KCC too! You would have thought it was Kim playing if you didn’t take a second look. Came deep to offer an alternative play out, held on to the ball when necessary, played it safe when necessary… Read more »

Fun Gunner

I’ve certainly noticed that we have a lot of two-footed players. I think it’s more common in the women’s game in general (along with positional versatility), not sure if it’s other teams as well.

Ted

Kerr, Kerr that’s all I hear on certain sites ,the best in the world.
sorry but I would not swap her for Russo , her determination to hunt down the ball for Beth’s second was something special

Peter Story Teller

Kerr gets the plaudits because she scores goals but I don’t rate her that highly in other aspects of the game. Mary Earps even beat her in BBC player of the year!
I’d rather have Lessi too. She does a lot more than an out and out centre forward.

Gunner 1975

Kerr is good and there’s no doubt about that. But I think she’s definitely overhyped. I have always been a Russo fan even when she was at United. She does put in the hard work and I believe more end products will come eventually.😊.

Gunner H

Absolutely agree – I too noticed her supreme assist for Beths 2nd strike. Her work rate off the ball up front is really first class. Lets not forget Stina though, who is also great off the ball & tends to score more than Alessia, especially with our enhanced / improved squad in particular through ball providers.

Gunner H

I forgot to mention the defensive tackle in the penalty box made by Alessia, versus Southampton, which was worthy of Queen Kim herself.

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