Arsenal were brilliant on Sunday as they beat Brighton 4-0 away. We expected a tough game after previously drawing 0-0 in the Conti Cup group stage, but the girls performed superbly and made it an easy win.
Goals early in each half
Arsenal were very quick off the starting blocks and scored early on. Leah Williamson launched a superb diagonal ball from her right centre-back position. It went all the way to the left wing where Danielle Van De Donk raced away from the Brighton defenders and scored from close range. 1-0 Arsenal after three minutes.
If you score early, it’s well known that it totally changes the complexion of the game and that early goal settled the team. They repeated the feat in the second half, with a phenomenal team goal from Jordan Nobbs to make it 3-0 and kill the game.
The ball moved to the left-wing from Schnaderback to Van De Donk who sent it straight to Miedema. The Dutch striker dummied it and took the whole Brighton defence with her, leaving Nobbs one on one with Walsh and she did not miss.
Tactics on point and tailored to the opposition
Following the 0-0 draw in the Continental Cup group stage game, the coaching staff devised a tactic to beat the opposition’s 4-3-3/4-5-1 defensive shape. They came up with the 3-4-3 system with a diamond midfield.
Our midfield was extremely narrow and compact and attacking from the back was actually asymmetrical as Williamson was used as a wing-back launching long diagonal balls while Schnaderbeck stayed in position and did not go over the half-way line often.
Because Brighton were defending heavily ball-side, the Arsenal wingers were hugging the touchline in order to create space and stretch the opposition defence. The opener came that way and many chances were also created with that kind of play. As the manager said: “If we cannot find space on the ball side, we obviously have to invite pressure to create space on the opposing side”
You can often see that kind of play in Rugby after a scrum when the defence get concentrated around the ball and then the forwards are in acres of space on the opposite wing.
This kind of tactic can only be used if your players are good at retaining the ball in tight spaces and the Arsenal players were fantastic in that respect as the pitch quality was really poor.
Passing was sharp and the off-the-ball movement was exceptional as the ball carrier was always offered passing options when under pressure.
Tactical flexibility with three systems used during the game
To start the game, we saw Joe Montemurro use the 3-4-3 with a diamond midfield: Zinsberger; Williamson, Quinn, Schnaderbeck; Wälti, Roord, Little, Nobbs; Evans, Miedema, Van De Donk.
Then when Kim Little came off for Beth Mead, the whole team changed. They went to a back four and nine players changed their base position with only Zinsberger and Miedema keeping their initial role. It went 4-4-2 as Zinsberger; Williamson, Quinn, Wälti, Schnaderbeck; Mead, Van De Donk, Evans; Nobbs Miedema.
And then when Nobbs and Williamson went off for Maier and McCabe we went to 4-2-3-1 with two regular full-backs as Zinsberger; Maier, Schnaderbeck, Quinn, McCabe; Van De Donk, Wälti; Evans, Roord, Mead; Miedema
The tactical flexibility and understanding of the game was epitomised by Lia Wälti’s performance as she was alternating between the centre-back and defensive midfielder like a piston during the attacking and defensive phases.
I thought the Swiss midfielder was exceptional in that role with her reading of the play, ball distribution on the attacking side and positional awareness in defensive transition, deciding when to tuck in with the defenders or pressing alongside the other midfielders to win the ball back.
Joe Montemurro acknowledged this point: The system allows us “to play a lot higher, especially with Lia Wälti being the pivot between doing the three or the four. It forces the opposition to play a bit deeper and allows us to push us more into midfield.”
Squad rotation on point despite having a few players still on their way back to fitness
“We are being cautious, not accumulating to much load on the players coming back from injuries and not bringing them back to early. We know February and March is going to to be big. If we accumulate the loads now, it might hurt them later.”
Overall, it was a great and important win as our main competitors won their game 6-1 and 3-1 respectively and we therefore stay at the top of the League.
Next is the Conti-Cup quarter-final at home to Reading and then the title decider at home to Chelsea next Sunday.