Thursday, July 18, 2024

Ten

A few weeks ago, I wrote about Arsenal’s issues in the left wing position and how Jonas Eidevall’s attempts to procure back-up and competition for Caitlin Foord had been frustrated by injuries and recruitment misses. But, at least in that scenario, Caitlin Foord has been there and has been fit for the majority of the last three seasons. The issue on the left-wing has been one of depth and one that has been dogged by a little bad luck.

The number 10 position, however, is one that has rarely felt as though it’s had a long-term home since Eidevall was appointed. Jordan Nobbs and Mana Iwabuchi were not favoured from the beginning of Eidevall’s tenure due largely to the physical emphasis Eidevall places on the role. During the autumn of 2021, he gravitated towards playing Lia Walti in the deep lying role with Kim Little and Frida Maanum as dual 8s.

There was something about that configuration that just didn’t ‘pop’ however. Allied with having Vivianne Miedema at centre-forward trying to resist her natural urge to drop deep and connect play, it just lacked understanding as none of Little, Maanum and Miedema felt liberated to really take responsibility ‘in the pocket.’ It was probably the first stylistic wrinkle in the transition between Joe Montemurro’s football and Jonas Eidevall’s.

Things changed in January 2022 when Eidevall signed Stina Blackstenius to play at centre-forward and he dropped Miedema into a deeper role. Pretty much the first combination between the two players saw Miedema deliver one of the greatest through balls ever seen for Blackstenius’ late equaliser against Manchester United in February 2022. Arsenal began to play Walti and Little as much more of a double pivot with Miedema clearly ahead of them. There was less fluidity but more a sense of clarity and ownership.

That Vivstenius goal against United felt like a portent of things to come but it wasn’t really. Over time, Miedema as a 10 began to feel less like an inspired tactical decision and more a convenient compromise. The team was no longer being built around Miedema, due to her immense gifts, she was being accommodated into a team that was no longer geared to her qualities.

Arrangements of convenience tend to have a short shelf life in football. When Arsenal went to Wolfsburg in the Champions League quarter-finals later that season, the German side double marked Miedema, stopped her from turning and cut off the supply lines to Arsenal’s attack, which was neutered. There simply wasn’t enough diversity in Arsenal’s creative play to proffer a solution.

When the Gunners played an equivalent level of opponent in the proceeding Champions League campaign away at Lyon, Frida Maanum was preferred to Miedema as a 10. The Norwegian turned in a player of the match performance in a 5-1 victory. I asked Eidevall after the game about that selection choice.

Frida is one of our strongest runners and she carries the ball very well. We gave her a role that requires an extreme amount of running because she basically had to defend two players. She was absolutely brilliant tonight, on and off the ball.’ Maanum kept the position for the ensuing weeks while Miedema took a short break as she was still feeling the effects of long covid, contracted at the Euros that summer.

Maanum became difficult to dislodge from the team but Miedema did return from her hiatus and scored four goals in four games in November and December 2022 until…her ACL injury against Lyon at the Emirates. Maanum took up the mantle for the remainder of the season and finished as Arsenal’s top scorer for the season and scooped the player of the season prize.

However, Frida could not repeat that form this season. I think the returns of Mead and Miedema changed the configuration of an attack that had Frida as its face out of necessity. Maanum was the player carrying the attack but as Beth and Viv returned, I think Frida lost the sense of her role a little.

The addition of Russo to the attack, who spent much of the first half of the season dropping too deep, too often, occasionally clouded the responsibilities of the 10 role. (I think this wrinkle has been ironed out now with Russo excelling as a penalty box presence in the final third of the season).

In 2023-24, I think Arsenal fell into another series of convenient arrangements in the ‘enganche’ position (or ‘hook’) as it is known in South America. Kim Little sometimes played there and was good. But it feels as though she is more of an 8. Alessia Russo sometimes played there and was good but she had been bought as a 9. Miedema sometimes played there and was good but there was the lingering sense that Arsenal were compromising with a generational 9.

Arsenal’s failure to convince against low defensive blocks is undoubtedly the theme, symbol and motif of their 2023-24 season. Too often they have lacked craft, subtlety, bravery in the final ball or that little piece of movement that unseats stubborn defenders or crowbars the door open a little. Too much of the attacking play has been so heavily patterned that it could have been constructed on a fussball table. Arsenal are good at being physical and direct but lack that piece of ingenuity (of which Miedema was capable when fit).

Following the last game of the season, I asked Jonas Eidevall what kind of qualities he wanted to bring into the squad in the summer. We had already broken the news onlf the club’s interest in Mariona Caldentey earlier that week so I admit that I had her in mind when I asked the question.

What has been apparent this season is that when opponents give us space, then we are very good at exploiting space. But when the space isn’t there and we need to create it, that is where, at times, we have been lacking.’ I won’t pretend that I watch Barcelona every week but when I do, I do regard space manipulation as one of Mariona’s most interesting qualities.

It is difficult to parse the quality of Barcelona players given their dominance over Liga F, however, at the very least they face low blocks every single time they play. Even Chelsea and Lyon showed Barca the courtesy of defending against them in a low block. It rarely works for any team, so Mariona is, at least, very well versed in playing against and opening up low defensive blocks.

She typically plays either as a false 9 or a left winger with license to drift inside for Barca. However, it’s Barca, in reality, at least six of their starting line-up is cosplaying as a number 10 during different phases of the game. This is a team that could afford to leave Alexia Putellas on the bench until stoppage time in this year’s Champions League Final (I realise the injury context for Alexia but feel the point remains).

One of the things I imagine would be attractive for Mariona at Arsenal would be the chance to be a main creative player rather than a member of a large creative ensemble. I suspect (and this is speculation, not information) the intention would be for her to play centrally and for someone to finally nail that number 10 position.

There would also be the opportunity for Mariona to play from the left and drift in-field with Frida Maanum playing more centrally too. In short, Arsenal have lacked creativity, craft and guile this season. The service to the wide players in particular has left them with too much to do, a pass rolled gently to feet with three players ahead of them to try to beat.

It isn’t just a through ball that opens up a defence. From what I have seen of Mariona, she is clever at finding spaces, moving into pockets of space and either dragging defenders around, or else opening up play with small, quick movements or one touch passes. I can see why Eidevall has prioritised a player like this. Mariona is good at holding off players with her back to goal too and her time playing as a false 9 for Barca serves her well in this respect.

Assuming the signing gets over the line as expected, there would clearly be some adaption required, to the WSL, to not winning by five and six goals every week, to being the lead singer, creatively speaking, as opposed to a member of an orchestra. Whether my suspicion about Mariona being viewed as a solution in the number 10 position holds true or not, Arsenal certainly needed to look externally to import greater creativity into their attack.

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Henkamp

In my opinion, we could use an upgrade in the Foord wing position. Brilliant player, but she is also inconsistent.

It is important to win the WSL next season. That’s the only way players like Leah will stay on. Chelsea should, hopefully, go through a transition period next season, City will be stronger, but we should position ourselves to profit from any wobbles those two show!

He’s got no hair but we don’t care...

So sad that a team with our quality have to hope the other 2 have wobbles. Sadly this is due to a manager who cannot pull out their true potential

Amor pelo futebol feminino

5 or more players left City, with 3 significant departures (Filipa, Esme, Mace) players who can help with the depth of the team, and losing them close to CL qualification could complicate things for them, I just know that they will have a very busy transfer window and not make the right choices.

C.B.

We need a player rated 10 in the number ten position.

Salvador Berzunza

Mariona is# 10 in the Spanish national team, the world champions

He’s got no hair but we don’t care...

Another excellent piece Tim, thank you.
However, we all know that The gigantic humongous elephant in the room still exists. Low block. High block. No.10. New players. Etc etc. the real question which most of us know the answer to is: Is Jonas the right man?
Sadly, even with the obtuse Hayes leaving chelsea and even with adding more quality to a squad already laden with quality, Jonas has reached his level and cannot take us further.

Henry

I agreed. The guy has run out of idea. He reached his limit.

Kwaert

The last point in the articles perfectly sums it up. Our passes are often too slow and straight to the feet, hence shunting attacks. And this is something that could be corrected. Pelova, Little and McCabe are top players that shouldn’t be struggling to execute attacking passes.

The coaching team need to seriously work on it. I believe we won’t have that problem with Caldentey. Her assist to Bonmati in final tells us that

Fun Gunner

Very interesting article. This feels like something that should have been sorted out or at least addressed halfway through JE’s first season. If he wanted a different kind of player, he could have let Jordan and Iwabuchi go in his first January window, or at the latest, the end of that season. Why keep on the bench players you don’t trust? And if he didn’t want Miedema at 9 or at 10, he should have let her go at the end of the 2022 season. It’s not as if he didn’t know what sort of player she is even before… Read more »

Amor pelo futebol feminino

Excellent observation, I think he only has this season to make it work!

Goonersince55

Knowing that she may well be coming to Arsenal, I watched Mariona with interest during the UWCL final. I did like the way she could find other players with a telling pass. She also seemed to have time to do everything. I don’t think she’s a speed merchant. However, on this site, Peter Storey Teller reminded me that George Graham was known as Stroller, and that’s just how I see Mariona playing!

Peter Story Teller

Ha! Back in those days nobody was particularly quick due to a majority of the pitches being a quagmire from November onwards and the players’ boots weighed about 5kg when it was wet! Highbury had one of the best pitches anywhere but even that is not like the manicured billiard table of the Emirates!

Swnkflpflck

For the record, Stina was the top goal scorer with 18 goals to Frida’s 16, and Katie McCabe was the Player of the season.

Tim Stillman

Should have clarified WSL top scorer. Frida won the Arsenal.com and Supporters Club POTS. McCabe won the sponsored Mastercard POTS award (the lesser of the three imo).

Swnkflpflck

The Arsenal.com POTS is sponsored by Mastercard, there’s no third award. If I’m wrong, I’ll write you an apology.

Amor pelo futebol feminino

What a good observation Tim, that’s exactly it, Jonas is trying to make Arsenal’s game unpredictable for the opponents, if you watch City play it’s a style of play that doesn’t change, Arsenal and Tottenham have already caught on to this tactic of the Citizens. And even with Arsenal’s difficulties, they finished 3rd in the league, let’s be positive and bring this positivity to the team.

Amor pelo futebol feminino

Jonas only has this season to make this work, his potato is baking

Karen

Wrong place to post probs. But does anyone know what Stinas injury is, and how long she might be out?

Karen

Also Laia Codina

Karen

Also pelova at today’s match v finland ….subbed off after 10 mins

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