Saturday, May 25, 2024

Territory: How Arsenal Women overcame Manchester City Women’s high press

After Arsenal’s 2-1 win over Manchester City on Sunday, Arseblog News spoke to Jonas Eidevall and Lotte Wubben-Moy. We asked Lotte, who took several Arsenal goal kicks during the match, about Arsenal’s strategy playing out from the back and whether it involved trying to keep the ball away from areas where Manchester City are especially strong.

“City press from out to in and not many teams do that with the two wingers and striker sitting a bit deeper. It can lull you into a false sense of security. Longer balls are a strength of mine…You have to play to your strengths.” Let’s look at some examples.

Wubben-Moy talked about how City press through their wide players and she got an early taste of it here. She collects a pass from Catley and Kelly is like a coiled spring.

Wubben-Moy hovers a little too long on the ball and Kelly closes her down. One of the reasons that City press out to in in this way and drop Shaw off a little is so she can pick up any bits and pieces or else attack the box when City regain the ball high up.

The ball squirts out to Hemp but thankfully she is well marshalled and dribbles the ball out of play from here. But Eidevall acknowledged this was a shaky start from Arsenal. “It didn’t surprise us the way they played but our decision-making was a little bit slow and they had some touches which could have ended really badly for us. So no, it didn’t go to plan! I’m happy the players could cope and we changed a few things to play much better out of their press.”

As Zinsberger passes to Ilestedt here, we see Hemp pressure the Swede in possession and Ilestedt takes a bit of time when she receives the pass. City’s wide players are excellent at ‘jumping out’, looking disinterested before quickly sprinting over to defenders to put them under pressure and that’s what Hemp does here and Ilestedt rushes her pass a touch as a result.

Pelova is able to turn but is met by Fowler and Shaw, who block her attempted pass forwards. Arsenal are playing in the areas where City are strongest. From this turnover, Shaw makes a threatening run but has her shot blocked.

Here again, Ilestedt goes back to Zinsberger and we can already see that Chloe Kelly is interested.

Zinsberger takes too long to get the ball onto her left foot because she wants to clip the ball wide to Catley but Kelly reads it and intercepts. Luckily for Arsenal, Kelly can’t get the ball under control and it goes out for a goal-kick, but Arsenal struggled badly with how Chloe Kelly in particular pressed them from wide spaces in the opening minutes.

From the subsequent goal-kick, Arsenal again get intro trouble. As soon as Zinsberger shuffles the ball to Ilestedt, Hemp is over like a flash, forcing Ilestedt to go back to Zinsberger again.

Hemp continues her sprint to Zinsberger, who has to rush a clearance on her weaker foot.

And City have it back in a dangerous area again. Arsenal played too often in areas where City are very strong.

Strangely, Arsenal manage to score against the run of play off the back of this period. As the team celebrates the goal, Eidevall’s reaction is to call Manu Zinsberger over to the bench. Clearly, there was a discussion about how Arsenal need to change how they are playing out from the back.

It’s also worth noting where the opening goal emanates from. Arsenal have a free-kick in their own half and decide not to give City another chance to force a high turnover. Ilestedt ‘gets it launched’, Lacasse wins the header and Arsenal play from there. This was a clear change in tack.

The next time Arsenal try to play out from the back, Ilestedt goes back to Zinsberger and we can already see Kelly has anticipated it.

This time Zinsberger doesn’t hesitate and connects with her clearance straight away, not giving Kelly the opportunity to glimpse the whites of her eyes.

City’s wide players press so aggressively but if you are quicker with the distribution, you can clip the ball over their heads into space. That’s what Zinsberger does here, she doesn’t just hoof the ball, she steers it wide to Catley with Kelly now out of the game.

Zinsberger looks for this ball again the next time she has it but, on this occasion, the execution is wrong and the ball goes out for a City throw.

Arsenal’s penalty comes from a more no-nonsense approach to playing out. Zinsberger collects this long clearance and waits, baiting Kelly into pressing her.

As soon as Kelly is close to her, Zinsberger picks the ball up and bowls it out to Wubben-Moy and, again, Kelly has left her station on the wing.

Wubben-Moy doesn’t want to pass the ball around in this situation either, she drives the ball out and uses the space Kelly has vacated.

Wubben-Moy finds Catley who looks for a first time pass into the channel. City collect this pass but Arsenal counterpress from the City clearance, Lacasse intercepts a back pass and Arsenal win a penalty (that is subsequently missed). But it stems from a far quicker and more direct approach to playing out. It also meant Arsenal could counterpress effectively in the final third where Arsenal’s attackers, overall, had a slight physical advantage over the City defenders.

It’s not so much that Arsenal changed the way they played out as the speed at which they did it so they could use the spaces City have vacated in service of the press. Zinsberger finds Ilestedt here.

Ilestedt collects it and sets quickly.

And as you can see from the timestamps, the pass out to Little is immediate. From here, Little tees up Lacasse and Arsenal get on the attack.

We see something similar here as Zinsberger rolls the ball out to Ilestedt again.

Again, Ilestedt wastes little time in whipping a pass out into the wide area that Lauren Hemp has vacated to pressure her. Arsenal are using City’s strength against them by baiting Kelly and Hemp before quickly releasing the ball into the wide area they have left.

Little releases a first time pass down the line and Lacasse and Russo are after it. This became a principle of Arsenal’s game plan. To quickly get the ball away from areas where City are strong and into areas where they are less comfortable. Arsenal only completed 70% of their passes on the day but pinpoint accuracy wasn’t really the point. It was about quickly playing into areas and territory as opposed to controlled possession.

Ilestedt finds Zinsberger here, the City press is drawn.

But the Austrian is very quick to control, set and steer the ball wide.

It’s not perfect, precise distribution. Lacasse, just about keeps this in and then stabs it forward more in hope than expectation but, again, it’s about playing away from the areas where City are dangerous.

During the second half, we saw Wubben-Moy take a lot of goal kicks and this is why. None of Arsenal’s goal kicks were taken short in the second half.

Wubben-Moy was the player with the best long kick on the pitch. Arsenal decided to be more direct from goal kicks and aim for City’s left-hand side and Wubben-Moy was a better choice for the model of distribution than Zinsberger.

From here, Russo gets Arsenal up the pitch and, just as importantly, away from the areas where City are most dangerous and cause a lot of turnovers. City have a very powerful forward line which makes them excellent pressers but their full-backs and their defensive midfielder, Yui Hasegawa, are not as imposing and Arsenal wanted to play more towards those areas.

All of Arsenal’s goal kicks went long in the second half and Wubben-Moy took the majority of them. Here we see Wubben-Moy going long from a free-kick and we will see why again.

Kennedy wins the header from the flighted free-kick on the stretch but the style was, again, not predicated on ruthless accuracy. It was about playing into areas and then counterpressing.

Russo is onto Kennedy’s clearance and Arsenal are in a good situation here.

It leads to this Foord cutback for Pelova which City just about scramble clear. But that was a big part of Arsenal’s game plan, to make sure they played in certain areas and pressured City from there.

Eidevall admitted that Arsenal were pushed back significantly in the second half. The winner comes at a time when Arsenal are under big pressure, City have equalised and are pushing for a winner. Eidevall said, ideally, he wanted to push his defence up but recognised they were tired. So instead, he opted to bring on Blackstenius to give the team something to aim for in the channels.

“Players were a little bit tired as well, they are coming back from international break, instead of trying to change that in the second half, I brought on Stina because I thought ‘if that is the way we are going to do it, instead of trying to be too hollow and playing inside, let’s stay compact and then when we do win the ball we have one of the best players at attacking the channels in the world’ and that proved to be a good choice.”

That is indeed where Arsenal’s winner comes from, against the run of play it has to be said.

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Playing 3 at the back allows us to carry a play maker in midfield like KCC or Kuhl
3-5- 2

Michael (1)

Great analysis as usual, I would add that us playing short periodically may have helped us with counterpressure higher up the pitch. We managed to win second balls more higher up the field often because the pressing unit was more disconnected from the backline and midfielders they left behind. I think this is a key difference between the united game and this one we managed to bait the press to create space higher up the field and win the ball more often. Also wanted to give kudos to the frontline for how well they pressed in the first 30-35 minutes… Read more »

Tim Stillman

I think one of the reasons we have a good home record v City is because Arsenal are better at in game adaptations. City are great at what they do but they only really do one thing. Arsenal can adapt better.

Michael (1)

Yeah, this game definitely felt like it had fairly well-defined stages and we coped pretty well with the changes between those stages.

Fun Gunner

<i>Arsenal are using City’s strength against them</i>

If Jonas has a tactical style, this is it. Same when we played Chelsea at home last season at the Emirates (I think it was last season?) and should have won – he turned Lauren James into a liability instead of a weapon for Chelsea.

Fun Gunner

Formatting fail! Never mind…


I noticed too that Amanda was passing out much quicker than she had in previous matches. In those two games at the Emirates most of the time she opted for the simple pass across to Lotte or back to Manu. She now has more confident in her teammates (Kim and Lia are two of the very best at keeping the ball in confined spaces). I’m really pleased for her as I was having doubts. In the period during the second half when we were under pressure Yui Hasagawa was beginning to control the midfield, especially after Vic went off. Up… Read more »

Gunner H

I felt Kim was magnificent from the moment she reverted to defensive midfield on Jonas instructions after about 60 minutes; she was certainly wasted up front chasing and pressing the opposition players in the first half.


Kim wasn’t wasted. I guess people just don’t understand City’s style. City’s style involves their holding midfielder to be involved in everything they do. The past 2 games we’ve played them, hasegawa has bossed our midfield, Kim in that match marked her out of the game. The moment Kim was dropped deep, city was able to play through the middle more easily and hasegawa was moving around with ease picking up passes. Kim had neutralized her for the most of the game. She was still good upfield though that work was more off the ball than it was on it


Atfer the Liverpool defeat I said to myself I’ll be anti-Eidevall if we have less than 10 points from 5 league games

Danny Boy

Well, we have not, so I guess you are proJonas now…?

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