Wednesday, April 24, 2024

Suffocation: Arsenal’s intensity too much for Chelsea Women

After the most recent WSL game against West Ham United at Meadow Park, I detailed how Arsenal exposed the fact that West Ham played with a right-footed left wing-back and left sided centre-half, pressing both players onto their weaker sides. Chelsea play with Niamh Charles at left-back and Jess Carter at left sided centre-half and both are right-footed.

Arsenal’s pressing approach had similarities but there were other ways in which Arsenal sought to expose Chelsea. Overall, this was a victory for Arsenal’s intensity, Chelsea manager Emma Hayes admitted, ‘we were bullied,’ while Jonas Eidevall said, ‘we turned the 50-50s into 51-49s.’ Here are some examples of how they did it.

As Jess Carter collects the ball here, Russo is straight over and keen to show her away from her right side.

Carter does find the time to play the pass with her right foot to Niamh Charles, who is also right-footed and that is the trigger for Beth Mead to run over and shield Charles’ right side.

Charles finds James and that is the trigger for McCabe to get tight to James and show her away from goal. McCabe playing on her opposite side against James was an inspired choice. James’ natural inclination to float in-field suited McCabe and allowed her to defend on her natural side.

James goes back to Charles and Mead is like a coiled spring, closing her down. As a result, Charles rushes her pass in-field to Cuthbert and it’s very untidy.

Foord then presses Cuthbert and the Scottish midfielder is forced to clear it down field and Steph Catley picks it up under little pressure. Arsenal did this to Chelsea all game, harassing players at the base of the team to force them into fruitless long clearances. Just look at how many Arsenal bodies there are in that one shot.

James drifting into central positions from the left creates so many problems for opponents because it makes her difficult to pick up. However, that comes at a price for Chelsea and Arsenal exploited the fact that James vacated the left wing several times in the first 35 minutes or so. So much so that Hayes rejigged and put Kaneryd on the left wing before half-time. Here, Wubben-Moy hits a long diagonal to Arsenal’s right.

Here we see the James dilemma in full. As Wubben-Moy passes to the right, James is poised in case Charles wins this duel with Mead. If she does, James is in a great position. But she doesn’t, Mead wins it.

And now McCabe has acres of space to power into. This sequence ends with a last-ditch interception from Charles in the penalty area.

Pre-match, Hayes talked about Arsenal’s threat on the counter and that’s exactly how their first goal comes about. Kim Little picks up this loose ball with six Chelsea players in shot. She calmly steers it back to Lia Wälti.

Wälti brilliantly spins away from Cuthbert and Fleming. This goal shows you a large part of the reason Wälti and Little were restored into midfield, despite Cooney-Cross and Maanum being excellent against West Ham a fortnight ago. It’s their calmness in possession in deeper areas, which Eidevall hinted at post-match when he said, “We managed the ball better than anyone I have seen against Chelsea, except Barcelona.” Eva Perisset is committed high up the pitch and Foord is aching to test her.

Wälti clips a ball over the top for Foord to run onto and look at Pelova in the middle of the screen exerting herself to make a support run.

Pelova’s run means Arsenal have a four on three situation which sees Beth Mead score.

As soon as Jess Carter gets the ball here, look at Kim Little. That is her trigger to press and block Carter’s right side.

Once again Little shows Carter onto her left foot, shielding off all her comfortable right-footed options.

Carter’s left-footed pass simply drifts towards Zinsberger. Little often boxed off Carter when she received the ball to force her onto her left foot or to force hurried clearances.

Arsenal once again play around Lauren James in this example. Pelova makes a nice angled pass inside to Mead and you can see that James, though not positioned poorly by any means, is not poised and she is not aware of McCabe behind her.

McCabe inverts into a more central position off the back of her so she can use her left foot and James is slow to realise. Playing McCabe at right-back so she could drift inside and create these triangles off the back of James was a key feature of the first half.

McCabe dinks a lovely first time ball over the top for Mead and Arsenal are in a strong position. Per Arseblog data guru Scott Willis, Katie McCabe had the most passes, the most progressive passes and the highest XG chain in this match.

Shortly afterwards, as James does well to recover and win a foul, Emma Hayes does not look pleased with her and it’s not long before she swaps Kaneryd and James around.

Here is another example of Arsenal pressing Jess Carter onto her left foot to prevent them from playing out. Carter controls this cross from Caitlin Foord and look at Russo’s reaction. She is ready to pounce.

Carter swings her left foot at the ball but it only goes as far as McCabe and Arsenal keep Chelsea under pressure.

Arsenal didn’t just target Chelsea’s left side though, their intensity was clear to see all over the pitch. As Caitlin Foord takes a loose touch here look at the desire of the Arsenal players to swarm Chelsea.

Here Arsenal pressure so intensely that Maren Mjelde just has to hook the ball into space.

Wubben-Moy collects gratefully and Arsenal keep Chelsea under pressure.

The third goal comes from a very common Arsenal move, as Wubben-Moy plays the ball back to Zinsberger, that’s a trigger for Wälti to pull over to the left. Arsenal often pull Wälti over to that left-back space when Catley pushes up both to disrupt the opposition press but also because of the quality of her passing from that quarter-back area.

Arsenal circulate the ball and find Wälti over towards that left touchline and she plays an absolutely trademark pass for Russo in the channel. Much like the first goal and her pass to Caitlin Foord, Wälti hits it early while Chelsea are not set.

Here you can see how Arsenal just change the panorama as they play out from the back and Wälti is able to find that curved pass. She could just as easily have played Foord in down the left side. It was further vindication for bringing Wälti back into the team, even if Cooney-Cross was very unlucky to miss out. Arsenal’s two open play goals came from Wälti playing passes from that off-left position.

The second half had a distinct ‘this is either going to be 4-1 or 3-2’ feel for long spells, once it got to 4-1 Arsenal really could have added at least two more. It was a fantastic performance and one that had a bit of everything- calmness and quality on the ball, some tactical tweaks like McCabe inverting into midfield, some details like pressing Chelsea players onto their weaker foots and forcing them to rush clearances and some clinical finishing.

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Absolutely dominant display against the league leaders. My only criticism is that we missed a mass of chances when already 3 up. We repeatedly carving Chelsea open then botched the final pass or smashing a shot over. Not a problem in this match, as we’d already won, but on another day that could cost us.


Now that I see this analysis, it has only just dawned on me that a front 3 of Food – Russo – Mead is a Manager’s pressing dream! Those 3 will work their socks off 7 days a week.

Also, glad that we have Ilestedt’s aerial presence. That’s one of the reasons Rafaelle was going to be a big miss for me.

Fun Gunner

Well, I was looking forward to this and it hasn’t disappointed! “Suffocated” is exactly the right word – better than “bullied”. Excellent tactical plan, great execution. These pieces always remind me how high the football intelligence of the manager and players is. How they can work out what is happening around them, keep the manager’s instructions in their heads and keep so much control while playing at that pace and under that pressure is mind-blowing. Amazing (and hilarious) to me that Emma Hayes didn’t learn the lesson of Lauren James last time. Or she thinks James is so good that… Read more »

Tim Stillman

I wasn’t because Kim was playing that higher pressing 10 role and Frida was the best fit for that imo.

Fun Gunner

Ah, right.


I’m glad you raised how well Wälti played in this match – she was key to quick turnovers in midfield and also provided the 2 key passes for goals 1 and 3 (both with her left foot, although this is not a surprise). Russo has been impressive since joining, her work rate off the ball is top class and I’m glad she got the goals to reflect her performance levels. Lotte Wubben-Moy remains undroppable in the WSL, Pelova was magical, and McCabe had Niamh Charles in her pocket. Great atmosphere at the match and you can tell that it drove the… Read more »


Nye-on perfect performance. A fantastic Gooner day out.
Waited 4 years since the 1-4 at Meadow Park to see that smug smile wiped off Ms Hayes’ “boat race”🤭

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