Monday, April 22, 2024

DisCONTInued: How Arsenal overcame Chelsea in Conti Cup Final

Arsenal once again took the Conti Cup home after an extra-time win over Chelsea on Sunday afternoon. Often these teams can bring out the worst in one another with one team comprehensively beating the other. This was much more how you would expect Arsenal v Chelsea encounters to look. It was a very even game that could have gone either way.

In the end, Arsenal took advantage in the second half of extra time and I think Chelsea’s heavy schedule of late made the 105 – 120 minute period a step too far for them. Arsenal had some clear plans in this game, I have decided to look in depth at how they used Maanum in the 10 position and Blackstenius as a 9.

Arsenal have suffered from a lack of cohesive partnerships in attack this season but Maanum and Blackstenius is an established chemistry they relied on in this game, both in and out of possession. Let’s look at how they used the pair in tandem.

In the opening seconds of the game, we see instantly how Arsenal use Maanum and Blackstenius off the ball as Charles plays the ball back to Buchanan.

You can see Maanum signalling to Blackstenius to move towards Buchanan, playing at left centre-half for Chelsea.

While Maanum drifts over to the left for Arsenal’s 442 press, she is not too fussed about pressing Jess Carter. This was a consistent theme in the game.

Maanum forces Carter wide here but even as she does so, you can see Maanum is looking ahead. She is not worried about what Carter will do with the ball, she is looking to see where Chelsea’s central midfielders are.

As Perisset plays back to Carter, you can see that Arsenal are happy to let her have it. Maanum instead tracks Leupolz and marks her.

Only when Leupolz drops deeper towards Carter does Maanum act and close Carter down, forcing her to kick long. It’s Leupolz Maanum wants to screen. Arsenal were happy for Carter to have the ball. Had Millie Bright been fit, there is no way Eidevall would have been as happy for her to have the ball at her feet.

Here we see exactly the same thing again. Carter has the ball and is not being pressured, with Maanum sitting on Leupolz instead.

This image shows you Arsenal have a pretty firm 442 shape out of possession with Maanum alongside Blackstenius. But Blackstenius is asked to pay much closer attention to Buchanan in possession than Maanum is Carter.

It is the same again here. Blackstenius’ presence means Carter is not comfortable passing to Buchanan, so she tries a trickier pass to Charles instead. Bright would make that pass in her sleep but Carter’s distribution is not quite as strong over long distances.

And just to firmly illustrate this is no coincidence. Every time Chelsea build from the back, Carter is left in space while Blackstenius stays close to Buchanan and Maanum sticks to Leupolz.

But Maanum was good at ‘jumping out’ and pressuring Carter once she had been on the ball for a few seconds. Arsenal clearly felt Carter’s long distribution was not something they had to worry about and felt they could disturb her once she had been in control of the ball for a few seconds.

We see it again here, Carter collects the ball from Hampton. Arsenal intentionally leave Carter free so Chelsea have to funnel distribution through her instead of Buchanan, who is an accomplished passer and very good at dribbling out from the back too.

Once Carter has had the ball a few seconds, with her options blocked off, Maanum ‘springs’ and puts her under pressure.

We see again from these images that Arsenal stay in shape when Hampton rolls the ball to Carter. But compare to Blackstenius when Hampton passes to Buchanan, that scenario is treated far more urgently.

I fear I am labouring the point by now, but Maanum is marking Leupolz here and Blackstenius is primed to close Buchanan down. Arsenal are baiting Hampton into using Carter by leaving her free.

Chelsea notice this pattern and Leupolz drops far deeper and closer to Carter here and you can see Maanum pointing for someone to mark Leupolz. They don’t want the German on the ball and they don’t want Buchanan on the ball.

In possession, Arsenal largely stuck to a model where Blackstenius bore right and Maanum centre to left. As Pelova wins the ball and dribbles forwards here, Blackstenius is practically on the right wing, looking for a pass into the right channel, where she spent a lot of this game.

Building on the right and quickly switching to the left was a big part of Arsenal’s attacking plan too. Pelova doesn’t look for Stina’s run here but finds Maanum instead, who shifts to Little and then to Mead. Arsenal wanted to drag Chelsea over to one side and quickly switch, leaving the left winger isolated against Perisset. They do that here and Mead plays a dangerous cross. Look at Maanum in the area when the cross comes in, she is playing as a second centre-forward here.

As Arsenal build here, we can see Blackstenius and Maanum look more like split strikers, with Stina peeling into the right channel.

Williamson uses Blackstenius as a target here and Stina holds the ball and turns it to Fox on the right.

Fox plays the cross and it’s Maanum attacking the area. Again, at times, both in and out of possession, Stina and Frida operated like a front two.

It’s very similar here, Williamson again looks for Stina in the right channel.

Stina again holds the ball up and Maanum picks up her knockdown. Again, this is like an old fashioned two striker relationship.

Then again, we see the quick switch from right to left. Maanum picks up the ball and finds Lacasse isolated against Perisset. On this occasion, she can’t quite generate the power in the shot to unduly trouble Hampton.

Another example of the swift right to left switch. Emily Fox was a huge part of Arsenal being able to do this. She shimmies past Leupolz and James. Fox’s ability to drive down the line and inside the pitch were a huge part of the reason she was recruited.

Fox passes to Pelova, who quickly passes the ball to Maanum and again, Chelsea have been attracted over to Arsenal’s right side. Maanum plays a slide rule pass to Lacasse in a dangerous situation again but Perisset blocks the attempted cross to Blackstenius.

Arsenal’s first attack of the second half shows you a similar move. Mead and Blackstenius are ‘pinning’ Charles and Buchanan, so Fox drives inside and finds Maanum where Arsenal have a superiority over on the left side again. On this occasion, they don’t really take advantage.

Hampton clears the ball upfield here and Fox heads the ball forwards.

Once again, we see a very old-fashioned front two type combination. Blackstenius is again occupying Buchanan in that right channel and she wins the header here and Maanum picks up the loose ball. She tries a shot from distance which doesn’t quite come off. But it’s classic front two play.

There is an amusing period during the second half where an action takes Buchanan over to the right of the centre half pairing and Carter goes over to the left. This swap persists for a few minutes until a natural break in play.

You can see that Blackstenius and Maanum respond to this by swapping their positions, so Maanum is near Carter and Blackstenius is near Buchanan.

When Buchanan and Carter swap back, so too do Maanum and Blackstenius. Frida and Stina were essentially man-marking the Chelsea centre-halves.

As the game progressed, Arsenal increasingly indexed switching play. Presumably because they wanted to challenge Chelsea’s tired legs. They switch McCabe to the right wing for this reason, so she will come inside and look for those diagonal passes. Little whips the ball straight out to McCabe here.

McCabe comes in field and immediately looks for a diagonal to Foord, whose introduction was also about stretching Chelsea and making the pitch bigger.

Arsenal really pushed to win the game in the second half of extra time, backing on Chelsea’s heavier schedule taking its toll. Wubben-Moy hits a big diagonal here to Catley. Bringing Catley and Foord on in quick succession was also intentional, both to bank on their existing chemistry and to create dynamism down the left side.

Russo replaced Maanum for extra time and we see Blackstenius and Russo combining like a front two. Pelova plays the ball forward on the left and you can see Russo has drifted into a pocket of space. She knocks the ball forwards to Blackstenius in behind as Chelsea have become increasingly tired.

Blackstenius really should score from here. Fortunately for Arsenal, she would get another big chance in normal time.

Cooney-Cross was introduced for half-time of extra-time and one of the Australian’s best attributes is her ability to spread play. She plays possibly the pass of the game here to Foord with a sweeping right to left delivery which results in a shot on target for Russo.

Arsenal finally get the goal, again by working the wide left and it’s Blackstenius, whose excellent work on and off the ball made such a contribution to Arsenal’s victory, who notches the winner and also makes her the top scorer in this year’s competition.

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Fun Gunner

Cheers, Tim. Well! So JE outsmarted EH this time around. She played Ramirez where James had played last time, but perhaps it was a mistake to then put James out wide where Emily Fox and Katie pretty much nullified her. And Manu saved from her one big chance. Should have been sent off IMO, but winning with her still on the pitch was sweet revenge. I’ve probably said this before, but reading these tactical analyses makes me appreciate what great football brains top players have. There is so much to keep in their heads as well as actually just playing… Read more »

Michael (1)

Great piece. As well as the more exciting stuff that happened in the final third I was really impressed with how consistent our build up was. We had our foot on the ball and controlled the game with the ball for the majority of the game and I was really impressed by that.

Michael (1)

Especially in the abscence of Lia Walti.

Fun Gunner

Yes, agree. I was super-nervous to start with but our composure on the ball and aggression off it helped calm me down. Until extra time, obviously. And we didn’t miss Lia Walti, you’re right. Pelova was fantastic from that point of view.


We missed Lia big time. If I can remember very well, we lost possession around the box a couple of chances due to the limited turning angle of Captain Kim lately. We were lucky Chelsea didn’t punish us for them. The build up wasn’t the same format as it is always with Lia. Also had moments of transitions I’m sure Lia would’ve prevented before our CBS were reached. It’s just the strategy worked and Chelsea weren’t that intense.

Gunner H

I noticed not 1 fault from our Fabulous Captain Kim throughout the 120 minutes of play.


While reading this (great!) article I was reminded how some of the tactics employed by the women’s team mirrors the men’s. E.g. that quick switch to draw the defence to one side and create an overload on the other- Martinelli and Saka did that a lot last season (probably would’ve seen more of it if not for Martinelli’s injuries). A few seasons back when White was still playing as a CB, he’d carry the ball out and deep into the opposition half in a manner that resembled Leah Williamson’s play. It got me wondering whether there is some collective “brains… Read more »

Fun Gunner

I don’t watch the men much these days but it seems to me that there’s a new Arsenal playing style and ethos which is being developed and inculcated club-wide. The bosses are also taking the same approach to the head coaches – backing a relatively young but talented person to grow and develop with the team.

Amor pelo futebol feminino

I noticed Chelsea’s football was quite aggressive, they hit more than they played, I think they were stressed, it’s good that the players trusted and believed in the tactic/strategy that was proposed for this game.

Peter Story Teller

Chelsea have always been a physical team under Emma Hayes and it is in part why they have been successful in the UK. Not many teams could stand up to them. It will be interesting to see how they transition once Hayes is no longer there.

Gunner H

Yes Peter, I’m rather looking forward to the “transition” to put it politely – there will certainly be less moaning / grumpiness from whoever takes the position – and in reality, it’s a pretty tough act to follow Ha Ha!


I was particularly struck by how well Fox appeared to handle James. I wonder what might have been had Fox started the previous game against Chelsea.

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