Monday, April 22, 2024

Space Invaders: Arsenal Women exploit space behind United defensive line

The instant Arsenal’s starting line-up landed on Saturday morning, their approach was obvious. After the reverse fixture at Leigh Sports Village in October, Jonas Eidevall told Arseblog News that he selected Kim Little and Alessia Russo wide and Stina Blackstenius through the middle because he felt United were vulnerable behind their full-backs.

On this occasion, Cloe Lacasse came in for Caitlin Foord on the left, Blackstenius started ahead of Russo upfront and Sabrina D’Angelo started her second WSL game of the season. Her first? The reverse fixture. D’Angelo is quick off her line and quick to release the ball and kicks long and diagonal very well.

Eidevall picked all the players that would enable Arsenal to punish United in behind and United pretty much allowed them to do it. Arseblog News asked Eidevall about his selection post-match and he confirmed, ‘You are right, United is a very strong team they do open up some gaps and they step out and it is really important to have movement against that.’ Let’s look at some examples.

Not only do both United full-backs often step out but the wingers, Geyse and Lucia Garcia, are not the most fastidious defenders. Here we see Walti on the ball, Lacasse’s run has dragged United right-back Hannah Blundell away from her position and Geyse is ball watching as Catley runs into the space Blundell has vacated.

Catley runs in behind easily and is able to put a dangerous cross into the area. Blackstenius was selected ahead of Russo both because of her ability to run in the channels and because she arrives in the penalty area quicker than Russo does. Eidevall wanted to be sure the box was filled when Arsenal got into these positions.

This angle shows much more clearly how much space Arsenal were given to work with in wide areas. Evans puts Catley’s cross behind and the Gunners take the lead from the resulting corner.

Here is another example of how easy Arsenal found it to expose United out wide. Little finds Mead on the right.

Little is simply allowed to continue her run on the right flank without challenge. Gemma Evans is high up and out of the game and Mead plays a simple pass.

Blackstenius is high and central, so she is pinning Le Tissier in the area. Millie Turner has to rush across with a last-ditch tackle to stop Little. She makes it but it’s not good viewing from a United perspective. You don’t really want to see your defenders having to make rushed, last ditch tackles like this.

Arsenal also used quick switches of play to work these positions. Wubben-Moy pings a ball out to Lacasse on the left but as soon as the Canadian realises there is no take on option, she quickly moves the ball inside.

Pelova accepts the pass and quickly moves the ball to the right.

Mead is one on one with Evans in the area and her shot is deflected just wide. Again, the second image speaks to a franticness in United’s defending. It is panicked and they are stretched without Arsenal having to work too hard.

Arsenal really did not have to work very hard at all to get in behind United’s defensive line. This is a simple up and under from Wubben-Moy.

Lacasse flicks it on.

And Blackstenius has space to run in behind. Easy.

Walti receives the ball here in acres of space and her first thought is to whip it out wide. You can see Lacasse pointing to where she wants it.

Lacasse skips past Zelem and then Blundell and Blundell hacks her down and earns a yellow card for her trouble. This becomes important in the build up to the Arsenal penalty later in the half.

A few minutes later, the other full-back, Gemma Evans, earns a booking for this cynical foul on Mead. Evans is committed very high up with no protection. A team shouldn’t be so stretched that a full-back has no choice but to make a cynical foul deep inside the attacking half because their flank is so exposed. That Arsenal had both full-backs on a yellow card for cynical fouls inside 32 minutes summed up the game.

The second goal makes grim viewing for United fans once more. As McCabe takes this quick free-kick to Mead, Garcia is looking in the wrong direction. Evans is pointing at Mead but not picking her up.

Evans eventually comes over to Mead but it exposes a big space for Pelova to run into in the channel. Garcia is still not alive to the situation. Once again, Blackstenius’ positioning is key here, she is pinning defenders again. Zelem is looking at Blackstenius and is therefore, not alive to the run of Pelova.

As Pelova runs into the area, there are four Arsenal players in the box. Lack of box presence has been a big issue for the Gunners in recent weeks. Pelova pulls back to Blackstenius but she can’t quite collect the ball.

Zelem slices the ball away from goal and Lacasse is rewarded for her aggressive positioning close to the goal to head her team into a two goal lead.

The third goal again sees Arsenal expose United out wide. Wubben-Moy hits a diagonal pass to Lacasse. Catley has made a run inside to take Geyse away.

Because Blundell has been booked, she has to exercise caution as Lacasse takes her on. Lacasse burns Blundell for pace and the United right-back cannot get too tight and risk a red card.

Lacasse’s pull-back finds Mead and now it’s Gemma Evans’ turn to panic, Mead’s touch is heavy and that just tempts Evans into a lunging tackle and Arsenal have a penalty to make it 3-0.

Unsurprisingly, Marc Skinner opted to replace Gemma Evans, a centre-half by trade, with Leah Galton, a winger, at half-time. Injuries to United’s first-choice full-backs Rivière and George were harmful to them in this game. We once again see how Arsenal expose their lack of a natural left-back. Mead drifts away from her position to show for Codina and Galton doesn’t know whether to mark her or sit off.

In the end she does neither and Mead is able to flick the ball first time into space for McCabe who has lots of time and space on the right.

McCabe even has time to check onto her left foot and whip in a cross which Blackstenius just can’t connect. Again, this is an illustration of why the Swede was selected upfront, to fill the area when Arsenal created good situations out wide.

There is another illustration here too, Blundell hits a disastrous back pass for Earps allowing Stina to go through one-on-one. Stina was selected over Russo because she plays higher up the pitch on the shoulder of the last defender.

Walti and Wubben-Moy were superb at switching play and finding those wide passes during the game. Walti pulls over into that left-back area she likes so much here and a curved ball in behind finds Blackstenius’ run into the channel. Deep blocks often don’t allow for this kind of run but United allow space behind, which is why Lacasse and Stina were selected.

Blackstenius finds Little, who tees up Mead- again Arsenal have gone from left to right very swiftly here. Mead chops the ball onto her left foot and her shot is deflected onto the post.

Arsenal selected a team equipped to attack United’s weaknesses and their visitors were very obliging, making little accommodation for their own weak spots. Walti and Wubben-Moy spread play quickly, Blackstenius ran the channels and pinned centre-halves and Mead and Lacasse were presented with several scenarios where they were able to isolate the United full-backs. It proved to be a pretty routine victory for Arsenal but, having taken 10 points from 12 available from other members of the Big Four this season, we know by now that these games are not a huge issue for Arsenal this season.

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What also really struck me in this match was the bad positioning of their double pivot in relation to their FBs and to each other, and how that played into our hands. If Evans was going high and wide then Zelem needed to go into at least a LB pocket and Naaslund needed to shift over, but she often stayed so central to protect against Stina or Kim. Or when she would venture a few metres over, Naaslund would stay where she was, which was often much higher than she ought to have been as someone in a double pivot.… Read more »

Tim stillman

Yes, I am very surprised they didn’t put Ladd next to Zelem and have her protect Gemma Evans a little, who is a back up centre-half. United played very much into our hands in just about every way conceivable.

Fun Gunner

Thanks for the analysis, Tim. It’s always a pleasure to read and I appreciate the detail. I’ve been awaiting this piece with especial interest. It’s the karate strategy again – turning their weapons and style of play against them. Not merely nullifying dangerous players, but using them to hurt their own cause. I won’t talk about our problem with low blocks because you’ve said it yourself. I was surprised by some commentators claiming that we weren’t three goals better than ManU, that we’d won without having played well. While I think there is a lot more to come, I think… Read more »

Fun Gunner

*between the first and the last 5 minutes 🤦🏿

Peter Story Teller

We played better but then we had the solid midfield and Cloe who seemed to pop up everywhere but what I took from the game was two thoughts: How were United so bad? No shots to speak of so we didn’t need to be at our best to win comfortably. We must concentrate until the final whistle. We were cruising at 3-0 at 100 minutes or whatever it was but then we just stood around and let them take a quick corner and score a gift that they did not deserve. In the WSL small margins matter because Jonas keeps… Read more »

Fun Gunner

I know – the fly in the ointment, that silly goal at the end. Purely down to lack of concentration.
I don’t think United recovered from the concession of the own goal. Disappointing for them.

Salvador Berzunza

Thank you, Tim as always, very good display of control, because of Mary Earps didn’t finish in 7 to 1. On the other hand, if we are looking for a winger, Lucia Garcia is one to consider.

Colin Carey

Seems strange to me, but, there again, what do I know. This time last year JE would have paid half a million for Alessia Russo from Manchester United, presumably to play her. He ended up getting her for nothing and is failing to instruct her how he wants her to play. She may have started every match bar one but he never plays her for ninety minutes. Russo is too fine a person to show any resentment, either on or off the pitch, but I’m wondering what she’s feeling. I know how I’d feel.

Peter Story Teller

He seems to want Lessi to be a back to back for Stina but for some unknown reason is getting her to play like Viv? I don’t get the logic either!

Peter Story Teller

Then he needs to stop her! I don’t think she came so deep for United or England last season where she was more of a forward so something or someone is leading her to believe that is what she should be doing. We have a midfield and wide players that are capable of finding her but that’s not much use if she is still in her own half. I get the full 90 minutes substitution thing. You cannot expect any of the players to give the pressing intensity required for the full match especially now matches often seem to last… Read more »

Fun Gunner

Hi again Tim. I expect you’re fed up of this by now but can I just ask 1) Are you of the opinion that when JE talked about Russo’s header, he was seeing it as a sign that the adjustment/adaptation was starting to work?
And 2) is Miedema leaving at the end of the season?

Fun Gunner

Tim, I read your substack piece which goes into more detail about what JE’s thinking is on Russo, but I’m afraid I still don’t really understand what is going on there. If he felt Miedema was not the right type of player for the way he wants the team to play (which is a whole other conversation for another time), why did he bring in a player who is very like her? A striker who likes to play as a false 9. If she wasn’t like this at ManU, then he must have encouraged her to play this way rather… Read more »

Peter Story Teller

Nice one, FG! You managed to explain in an essay what I was trying to say in my few words “something or someone is leading her to believe that is what she should be doing”. I think we both see Lessi as a Viv rather than a Stina and believe that a Stina/Viv or Stina/Lessi would be a starting partnership we could live with. In the short term rather than attempting to double Lessi’s seasonal return more effort should be put into converting the chances we do make into goals. Neither City nor Chelsea appear to generate as many clear… Read more »

Fun Gunner

I honestly don’t care what JE comes up with as long as it works! Whether it’s VivStenius, RussStina Meadema or Russo adapting her game to his satisfaction. That’s where I’m at right now.
I do think we have an underlying problem of lack of goals from *midfield*, though.

Gunner H

Profound Poetry Ms FG!

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