Sunday, June 16, 2024

Coming Up Clutch? Arsenal Women need to find a way to convert threat into goals

Arsenal Women go into the second half of the season in 3rd place in the WSL table, behind Manchester City on goal difference and three points behind leaders Chelsea. They have to play both of those teams away from home in the second half of the campaign, having beaten both at home.

The first half of the campaign was bookended by unexpected defeats to Liverpool and Spurs. In both of those defeats Arsenal failed to score. As it stands, Arsenal are the lowest scorers in the top four- although they have only scored one goal fewer than Manchester United and two fewer than Manchester City they have eight fewer than Chelsea- despite the fact they beat the league leaders 4-1 in December.

The fact that Arsenal’s two top scorers, Alessia Russo and Stina Blackstenius, have four goals each, is a neat illustration of their shared goals model. Bristol City’s Amelia Thestrup has five goals, while 8th placed Leicester City also have two players on four WSL goals a piece.

In fact, only Everton, Liverpool and West Ham have lower scoring top scorers (Liverpool have two players on three goals). It all adds up to the question of how Arsenal find greater attacking threat or, rather, convert their attacking threat to the level which a title winner needs?

Teams that win the WSL tend to over perform their XG comfortably. At present, Chelsea are over performing their XG by seven goals, City are over performing their XG by six goals and Manchester United are by 5.7 goals. Arsenal are underperforming theirs by 0.6. Everton and West Ham are the only other teams in the WSL underperforming in this metric. It is not the company aspiring title winners want to be keeping.

Under Joe Montemurro, Arsenal relied heavily on Vivianne Miedema for goals. It’s not a criticism or a shame to say that, world class players will always be over burdened, that is what makes them world class. In Sam Kerr and Bunny Shaw, two of Arsenal’s title competitors have the sort of players that are match winners. (Clearly, this piece was written before the news broke on Sunday of Sam Kerr’s unfortunate injury).

The importance of these players is two-fold. Firstly, they help you to convert periods of dominance into goals. Secondly, they are often able to find ways to score when their teams are not playing well. During the first half of this season, Arsenal have often struggled to create this feeling against well organised, deep block defences.

This was very seldom a problem under Joe Montemurro when Arsenal leant on Miedema. Arsenal went nearly two years without dropping a single point against a team outside of the ‘big four’ under that model. Of course, the flipside, was that the record against the other members of the ‘big four’ was poor and that was, partially, because those teams were able to concentrate a lot of resource into crowding Miedema out confident that, if you could stop Miedema (both creatively and in front of goal), Arsenal were stymied.

Something similar occurs with Gareth Taylor’s Manchester City. Hemp, Kelly and Shaw is probably the most dangerous front line in the division. But. But. If. If you can shackle them, they don’t have many other faces to show you. They don’t have the depth or diversity in attack to give you a different problem.

Under Eidevall, Arsenal don’t have that issue. Against Chelsea and Manchester City, Arsenal scored six goals via five different goal scorers. (If you take out Russo’s penalty against Chelsea, it’s five open play goals via five different scorers). Arsenal’s diversity of threat and shared goals model works better against the bigger teams.

When you are struggling against a deep block, sometimes you do just need somebody to don the Superwoman cape and bail you out. The pivotal moment in the 2021-22 title race saw Chelsea toil and struggle at home to a dogged Aston Villa, only for Sam Kerr to come up clutch in stoppage time. Those two points were the difference between Chelsea winning and losing the title.

Likewise, Kerr has been a consistent scorer in Cup Finals and clutch games for Chelsea. They looked tentative on the final day of the 2021-22 season, trailing to Manchester United in a must-win title decider. Kerr scored two incredible goals and they won the league. When games are tight, or when Chelsea are under the cosh, she provides that consistent flicker of hope, that if you can just deliver the ball well once you might score a goal. Miedema provided this service for Arsenal for several years too.

Now, Arsenal have lacked this in my view and, in that respect, they have a similar issue to the men’s team, whose front three probably misses that Salah / Haaland style attacker that truly punishes opponents. Eidevall’s comments last season about City’s reliance on Bunny Shaw and his insistence on moving Miedema into a deeper role shows he is not inclined to move to a model where Arsenal are reliant on a clutch attacker.

However, that does mean they are going to have to find another way to be more collectively threatening, to turn periods of dominance into goals as they did against Leicester in November. Or that ability to beat a deep block with greater fluidity of movement, more runners beyond the forwards. Pelova and Maanum have one WSL goal each this season and those represent the only goals scored from central midfield, for example.

Arsenal’s defenders are currently out scoring central midfielders for this season so there is going to be an onus on getting them into more dangerous situations and provoking deep blocks out of shape. The returns of Beth Mead and Vivianne Miedema from injury ought to help in this respect. Because whatever else happens, Arsenal will not win the league by underperforming their XG so they have to find a way to convert their dominance into a larger number of goals.

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It seems the Arsenal women have the same problem as the men’s team.


So not long before people start demanding we buy a clinical striker then

Fun Gunner

Great article. I was thinking about this yesterday. You can have goal-out-of-nothing player, and you can also have a go-to-tactic. I hate to sully an Arsenal board with the name of Stoke City or Rory Delap, but back in the day, Stoke’s throw-ins were their Joker. It made me think again about our set piece performance, which I don’t think is near good enough, nor has it improved. Too often, we don’t even get first contact, let alone a goal. I would love to know if anyone has any stats to prove me wrong. We absolutely thrashed Chelsea in terms… Read more »

Spanish Gooner

Apologies if this is an obvious question but do xG estimates in women’s football use data from the men’s game? I would assume that due to physiological differences some types of shot are more likely to be scored by men (e.g. easier to twat a ball really hard from distance) and some by women (e.g. a freekick can be scored over the top of a slightly shorter wall) but I’m happy to be corrected.


Good article as always Tim. The fact our defence outscores our midfield is definitely cause for concern! I’m worried that Viv won’t return to being the force she once was – less due to the injury and more due to what seems to me to be burnout…

Peter Story Teller

It was interesting to hear Viv’s insight in the official Arsenal video that the “ACL Team” did where she was pretty much saying that she was at the stage of total annihilation but she has been learning to say “look Guv I need a holiday!” Thing is in her case not only was the club depending on her for goals but she was the first name on the squad list for her international team too. In addition, of course, as Tim says even the teams we used to beat 8-0 learnt how to cancel our threat by blocking Viv out… Read more »

Fun Gunner

Quite so. I think Viv will get back to her previous standard – she’s only 27, so physically she should be all right. We’ve already seen glimpses of her top form, she just needs to keep playing to build her confidence and rediscover the sheer enjoyment of the game. Plus I hear she scored a goal in a behind-closed-doors friendly in Portugal. Regarding the midfield, Frida will contribute but we really need to see more from Pelova and Kuhl. Considering how good they are in other areas, their finishing is disappointing. Another little job for Kelly Smith! I also wish… Read more »

Little Cubby

Is ‘clutch’ a new term in football lve somehow missed ? 🤔


It’s common in American English in a sports context.

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