Arsenal’s 2-1 defeat at West Ham on Sunday unpicked a number of familiar foibles in Arsenal’s season. Struggling to break down a deep block defence, giving up very little territory to the opponent but still giving them enough clear sights of goal to win the game. After the game, Arseblog News asked Jonas Eidevall whether the game felt a little familiar for the wrong reasons.
“I think we’ve come back, especially in the second half, to some sins early on in the season where we missed targets on our finishing, and we get finishes blocked as a result of not playing the chance a lot bigger or setting up the final pass a little bit better.” Let’s look at some examples of where hesitance often cost Arsenal in the final third.
Russo is a striker that drops deep to connect play and she is very good at that. What Arsenal need to do is make sure that players run in behind when she does so (because she is very good at winning and holding the ball up). Under Joe Montemurro, Vivianne Miedema did something similar and she often had the likes of Nobbs, Little and van de Donk running behind her. Here Russo drops deep and holds the ball well; but it can leave a gap upfront.
Russo then spins and Arsenal spread the play. Now she is running towards the area. Miedema is behind her in this shot. Pelova is ahead but decides to check her run and ask for the ball in front of the West Ham defence rather than in behind.
Mead doesn’t expect Pelova to check her run and plays in behind but she cannot attack that space having decided to check the run and Arsenal can’t threaten West Ham here. Even if Pelova does get the ball, Russo is still 25 yards from goal and only Foord on the back post would be a crossing option for her in any case. Arsenal didn’t challenge the West Ham back five enough with their movement.
Here we see another example of some hesitancy as Foord collects the ball in a good position and the switch to Mead is on while West Ham’s defensive line is very high.
But Foord takes an extra touch before delivering the pass and Mead is offside (to be fair, it looks a marginal call to say the least). The pass just needed to go off a millisecond earlier for Mead to be able to run in behind.
This is the situation Mead finds. Not taking the extra touch to set the pass and playing it more quickly would have made this a more live scenario.
Another example of Arsenal overindexing accuracy in the final third here. Pelova does brilliantly to wriggle away from two West Ham challenges and Arsenal are in a strong situation here. Look at Foord at the bottom of the screen, she busts a gut to make a run in behind.
This is not an easy pass for Pelova by any means but if she gets it right, Foord is one on one with the goalkeeper. She has to take the risk of making a slightly tricky pass for the enormous upside of a one-on-one with the keeper.
But Pelova instead checks back and plays the ball inside to Miedema. Foord is running to quickly that she cannot slam the breaks. Not only has Foord not been played through on goal, she is now not even a passing option for Miedema.
This isolates Miedema in any case because she can’t move the ball on with Foord now out of the game. She waits for Catley on the overlap but that delay allows West Ham to crowd her and win the ball back. Arsenal too often prized moderate value passes in the interests of ball retention that didn’t challenge West Ham’s defenders.
There were times too where Arsenal failed to fill the penalty area. In this example, the ball is played to Mead on the right and Russo is attracted over towards her to help her but it’s a moderate value run that means she is not in the area.
Mead and Russo combine here but this is not really a dangerous area for them to combine in. Russo needed to trust Mead in that position and get into the penalty area where there was a higher potential upside.
Of course, that is not to say Arsenal never attacked well in the first half. Here we see a really strong example of Russo dropping deep, taking a centre half with her and Miedema running in behind into the space.
Russo flicks the ball brilliantly into Miedema’s pass and now West Ham are panicked. Cissoko dives in and Miedema shimmies past her to create this goal scoring opportunity. But…
Again, this is a better example of understanding between Russo and Miedema. Russo drops deep to provide an outlet for Walti and she takes Cissoko, the right centre-half, out with her. Miedema is immediately on the move.
Walti sees the pass and Miedema bends her run into the exact space Cissoko has left. It’s marginally offside but Arsenal didn’t do enough of this in the game.
Here again, Pelova dribbles away from a crowd scene, as she often does so effectively. Russo is bending her run to the right channel.
But Pelova checks back inside. Again, it is not a simple pass to Russo.
But checking back creates an even trickier scenario in a far less desirable area. Checking back means West Ham have the opportunity to surround her and win the ball back. The ball into the channel for Russo might not have worked out but it was a risk worth taking compared to checking back and having to beat three players in a suboptimal area.
The best illustration of Arsenal’s tendency to hesitate over the final pass came in the build up to the West Ham equaliser. Again, Pelova has turned away from trouble and into space here and we can see Mead bursting into space on the right. The ball needs to be played there.
But again, Pelova checks and allows Gorry to win the ball back.
Now look at the pass Gorry plays here, it’s a difficult pass but it’s a brave one between the lines.
Hayashi takes it and again, there are easier passes for her to select here. But she goes for the pass in behind to Ueki.
The pass forces Catley to run back towards her own goal and she makes the foul and West Ham win a penalty. Arsenal shied away from a line breaking pass in midfield, West Ham won the ball back and played two line breaking passes in a matter of seconds.
There is no doubting that West Ham’s winner comes courtesy of a goalkeeping error as Zinsberger opts to punch this cross and executes poorly. But it’s not just the execution. Zinsberger should be catching this not least because West Ham have seven players in the Arsenal area. That didn’t happen often in this game. Catching the ball and getting the game restarted quickly so Arsenal could counter would have been the better decision.
Once West Ham have a lead to hold onto the game becomes less complicated. In the first half, West Ham had nine players back and left Asseyi and Ueki forward. Being 2-1 up just meant West Ham dropped Asseyi too and added an extra body to the mix.
Look at how deep she is here, defending her own penalty area, providing yet another brick in the defensive wall in the West Ham area.
Russo shifts the ball to Cooney-Cross in the area here and without Asseyi in the picture, she would have been able to turn out or maybe take a shot.
Instead, she is able to chase the ball and protect the area, forcing Arsenal backwards.
Here, Blackstenius sets the ball back for Lacasse and if we imagine a world where Asseyi is being asked to play on the counter, that is likely a clearer shot for Lacasse. But now Asseyi has been added to the defensive ranks and she stops the shot.
And then she can carry the ball away from danger. Lacasse trips her out of frustration here, getting a yellow card for her trouble but allowing West Ham a precious stoppage to slow the game down and reset.
Arsenal need to become less risk averse in their quest to break down deep defensive blocks. Not everything they did in this game was bad and they were brutally punished for a 10 minute lapse at the beginning of the second half. But sympathy will be in short supply given the regularity of these issues this season. Once can be written off as a one-off, three times cannot.