Saturday, February 24, 2024

‘We can feel the energy from the bench’ Lia Walti talks to Arseblog News about the Gunners’ new-found squad depth

When Arsenal last played Chelsea Women at Emirates Stadium in January, the Gunners dominated the first 70 minutes or so of the game, moving into a 1-0 lead which they arguably ought to have extended (they created an additional 0.9XG on top of their goal). However, Arsenal were ravaged by injuries at the time. They made one substitution, in the 81st minute.

The only forward on the bench that day was Gio, recalled from her loan at Everton a few days earlier to ease the injury crisis. Chelsea brought on Fran Kirby, Jelena Cankovic, Johanna Rytting Kaneryd and Eve Perisset. Chelsea were able to turn the screw in the latter stages and Kirby and Cankovic combined to set up a late equaliser through Sam Kerr.

Fast forward a few months and, even with Lina Hurtig and Stina Blackstenius injured, in their most recent game against West Ham Jonas Eidevall brought on Cloe Lacasse, Kim Little, Lia Walti, Noelle Maritz and Vivianne Miedema. In the build-up to this weekend’s top of the table clash with Chelsea at Emirates Stadium, one of those subs from the West Ham game, Lia Walti, tells Arseblog News that the team’s new found squad depth is a game changer for Jonas Eidevall’s team this season.

‘It’s true that last year especially we had a pretty small squad. When we went into some of these games against Chelsea last season and you see the players they could bring on it made it very difficult to keep defending with the same eleven who started the game.

‘But when you look at us this year and the game away at Manchester United, you can see we brought on Caitlin Foord, Katie McCabe and Cloe Lacasse, we can feel that energy coming from the bench. The opponent feels it too because they don’t want to see players like that coming on in the 70th minute.’

Walti says Arsenal’s depth on the bench makes a difference to those who do muscle their way into the starting eleven too. ‘It’s making a huge difference to us this season. We have those options on the bench, a lot of difference makers and goal scorers. It makes a difference for the starters too because they know big players are going to come on.

‘It means you can go really hard too. If you don’t have options on the bench, it is a little like you have to save energy. We don’t have to do that anymore. It’s going to make a difference for us in the big games too.’

Walti also tells Arseblog News that the squad size is giving the Gunners variety as well as depth, especially in attack. ‘We’ve never had this many attacking options and the great thing is the players we have are all different. Stina (Blackstenius) and Lessi (Russo) are so different and they bring so many different qualities.

‘For me it is about building connections with the midfield and knowing where your teammates are going to be and how can we play the ball in a way that is going to be more successful for them? We have multiple examples this season where the bench players have come on and won the game for us because they have such great strengths for us to play into.’

For probably the first time in her Arsenal career, Walti has serious competition for her place too. The summer arrival of Kyra Cooney-Cross has, in particular, seen Walti subjected to unprecedented competition for her place. The Swiss midfielder says she is helping Cooney-Cross, who is nine years Walti’s junior, to further develop her game.

‘Kyra is a big plus for this squad, she has a great energy around the group, she is still very young but she brings a lot of positive things in her game. She is very physical and very brave when she has the ball. I definitely see her strengths attacking the space in front of her.

‘She is experienced but I am also trying to help her a bit with her defensive positioning, that is something as a young player you don’t need that structure as much, you have experienced players around you helping with that.

‘I can see huge potential with her and the club can too, I see my role as helping her, particularly with the defensive side of the game. Attacking space and driving with the ball there are big, big qualities there.’

Arsenal play Chelsea at Emirates Stadium on Sunday at 12.30pm. There are only a handful of tickets left which you can buy here.

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Heavenly Chapecoense

Too bad, we were eliminated in the European competition before even feeling the positive effect of the squad depth. Hope players and managers learn from it for the future but this year winning the league should be taken as a very serious objective.

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