Wednesday, April 24, 2024

Regain and retain: Spurs pose Little trouble for captain Kim

Arsenal took the points against Tottenham on Sunday and deserved to but, in truth, didn’t deserve to win by more than 1-0. Those looking for reassurance of Arsenal’s calibre against deep blocks are unlikely to have been too reassured by Sunday’s showing.

To be honest, I am running out of things to say about Arsenal struggling with this approach and have touched on it in several analysis pieces this season. I ran a twitter poll to see whether people would prefer to see that analysed or to home in on the performance of POTM Kim Little and the people (just about) decided on Kim Little. So that is what I am doing. I also asked Jonas Eidevall two questions about it in the post-match press conference, the answers to which you can read here.

Kim was voted as player of the match by both the Arsenal Women Supporters Club and by the BBC who screened the match in the UK. Playing in an advanced role ahead of Pelova and Walti in midfield, I think we’re seeing that, for now, this is Eidevall’s preferred midfield trio. Let’s look at the standout moments from Little’s performance.

Arsenal used wide overloads on the right to good effect early on, with Little drifting to the right to support McCabe and Mead. Here, Codina finds McCabe and Little is immediately wandering over to the right.

McCabe finds Mead on the touchline and Little has continued her run in behind the space where Mead has vacated.

On a day where Arsenal were still keen on taking too many touches and checking in good positions, Little did…little of that. Here she fires the ball straight into the area and Russo nearly latches onto the cross.

McCabe often inverted from right-back to punch passes through the lines. Here she finds Pelova.

Pelova finds Little with her back to goal and she lays the ball straight back to Pelova first time. Again, Little was an example on the day of an Arsenal player with an economy of touches in the final third. This is a good set back to Pelova when too many Arsenal players resisted first time passes to take extra touches or check with the ball.

Pelova responds in kind with a first time ball to Mead and she is able to find a cross in a dangerous position. Little did a lot of good work with her back to goal which also enabled Russo to stay high up the pitch where she has been tempted towards the play and away from the goal a lot this season.

McCabe again inverts from right-back here and that gives her a nice angle for a pass to Pelova.

Little trusted her teammates to manage the ball behind her. I think there were occasions in recent seasons when Kim played the advanced role and still had a tendency to get sucked towards the play. In this game she stayed nice and high up the pitch and she takes the ball from Pelova in a good position.

Little then spins and plays a good ball in behind for Mead. Again, there was an economy of touches from Little in these positions that really worked well for Arsenal on the day. Pretty much every dangerous move Arsenal had came from Little receiving and playing the ball quickly.

Another standout feature of Little’s game was her pressing. She had to miss the 1-0 defeat in the reverse fixture in December. In this match, Little had an important pressing role high up given Tottenham’s desire to play out from the back. We see a pass back to Summanen here and she is straight onto it.

She forces Summanen away from the ball and Kit Graham is across to challenge.

Still images don’t do justice to this touch from Little to both keep the ball away from Graham and keep it on the edge of her toe so she has it under full control. The way Little protected the ball in tight situations was outstanding.

And this is the situation that piece of pressing and close control led to. Every good move Arsenal made in the game had Little at its heart.

It was little surprise that Kim was central to the Arsenal goal when it arrived. But while her pass in the build-up was well feted, her ability to keep Tottenham under pressure with few touches again came to the fore. Bartrip miscues a clearance next to her touchline here.

Little collects and doesn’t take a touch to control, she just redirects it to Catley first time. Arsenal didn’t play with enough momentum and purpose for a lot of the game but Little is innocent of that charge.

Catley plays the ball to Foord, who sets it back to Little and again, she doesn’t take a touch to control, she simply plays it first time. Her passing had intent.

And when that didn’t pierce Tottenham’s rearguard. Well…

You can always tell it’s a good pass when the recipient isn’t on the screen.

Little passes the ball straight into Mead’s stride so she can kill it first time and from here, Russo scores.

This angle really does the pass justice. Every single Spurs player is in this shot. That is how tight and deep that defensive block was. Nine Spurs players are behind the ball and one of them is level with it. Only Jessica Naz is ahead of the ball. Playing a defence that tight and still managing to find that pass to take them all out of the game was a match winning pass from the captain.

Another one of Little’s key functions in this game was to keep Spurs under pressure by anticipating and collecting clearances. A clearance loops up into the air and Summanen is onto it and so too is Little. But while Summanen is full steam ahead, Little has her back slightly arched because she knows that she doesn’t just want to win the challenge, she wants to protect the ball and keep it for her team.

Little just leans back into Summanen, winning the challenge and keeping Tottenham under pressure. It wasn’t just about preventing Tottenham from countering, it was about keeping them under pressure.

Arsenal were instructed to hit diagonals to Mead more in the second half. Here, Wubben-Moy finds Mead and Little immediately attacks the space behind Nilden.

Little collects the pass from Mead and fires a cross into the box which Spencer gathers. Little was one of Arsenal’s most dangerous runners on the day too.

Here is another great example of Little both stopping a Spurs counter and keeping them under pressure. Tottenham clear the ball and Summanen is looking to run onto the loose ball.

But Little is sharp as a tack and wins the tackle, preventing the counter and retaining the ball for Arsenal in the attacking third at the same time. Coaches have a phrase ‘regain and retain’ for this type of action. Little epitomised it on the day.

Once again we see Little’s pressing here. Petzelberger passes the ball into Ahtinen here and she is immediately interested.

Little wins the ball back without making a foul, cleverly positioning her body between Ahtinen and the ball and not only stopping Ahtinen from progressing, but forcing her into a foul.

This image shows is even more clearly. Little is able to hook her leg around Ahtinen and take control of the situation. She draws the foul and a yellow card for the Finn.

In her POTM assessment, BBC co-commentator Rachel Brown-Finnis described Little as ‘spectacularly under the radar’ and it’s probably one of the better phrases I have heard to describe the player.

Her insistence on one touch passing, her triangles on the right with McCabe and Mead and her ability to press and force Spurs to turn the ball over was Arsenal’’s biggest bright spot on the day.

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Gunner H

Thanks Tim, for a profound analysis of another phenomenal performance by Captain Kim. Even Fara Williams, when pressed by Alex Scott post-match, couldn’t stop gushing with superlatives describing her consistent excellence over so many years for Arsenal.


Class again from our captain

Bill Hall

Very glad we won and kept a clean sheet obviously. I just wish the team could be a bit more free scoring. GD could be vital at the end of the session.
With all those quality players we really should be scoring more.

Little Cubby

Kim is a world class player. She reads the game so well, she is intelligent with what seems like boundless energy. That’s why her name is on my shirt 😊

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