Arsenal’s women went out of the Champions League on Saturday night, losing 2-1 against PSG Feminines as they came short in the first game of the Final 8 in San Sebastian.
There are multiple factors that can explain the defeat. Individual errors in defence, tactical changes in the line-up that did not bear fruit and a lack of match sharpness as the players looked like they ran out of fuel in the second half.
Tactics and line-up
There were a few surprises in the starting 11 selected by Joe Montemurro.
She was replaced alongside Lia by Danielle van de Donk, who has performed in that role many times with excellent results due to her aggressive approach, mixed with her technical ability.
The average position on the pitch shows the game plan: “We decided to play with two out and out wingers, we felt that the area where we could exploit them was through their full-backs,” did not work out.
Miedema was isolated and had to drop back deeper, something she does on regular basis, but she could not get the support she usually gets.
— NWSL Analitica (@NwslAnalitica) August 22, 2020
Little ended higher up the pitch than Miedema and Evanswas also higher than the striker and too central. Mead kept her position on the wing as planned.
Foord and Nobbs came in for Mead and Evans with 14 minutes to go. Catley and Roord came on with a minute go.
Joe was asked if those substitutions could have come earlier in the game. “It’s touch and go,” he said. “I did think of bringing them on a little bit earlier. I just felt we needed to maintain the ball when we did go forward but the problem was that we were coming out too centrally when we needed to come out in the pockets a bit more and work under and every time we did that we had an opportunity to go forward and play in between.”
With the five substitutions rule that allows teams only three moments to make subs, it hampered Montemurro’s ability to stagger the substitutions and forced him to do double subs. It is quite clear that the Arsenal players were tiring quickly in the second half as they had not played any competitive minutes since February while PSG played two French Cup games earlier this month.
With hindsight, substitutions could have come earlier as the players were clearly running out of fuel. I also did not understand why Nobbs was used on the wing and not in her usual central midfield area. Obviously an de Donk could have gone left wing or Catly introduced at left-back to put McCabe as the left winger.
The statistics on duels leave no doubt were the game was also lost. Physical sharpness was clearly not there. An English team outfought by a French team is not something that happens very often.
Arsenal was out-duel in the entirety of the game:
van de Donk 1/9
— NWSL Analitica (@NwslAnalitica) August 22, 2020
Costly team and individual mistakes for both goals
For PSG’s first goal, Katoto’s volley, there is no-one at the near post.
The marking defender is late and that’s enough for the French striker to finish with superb skill. Organisation should have been better and Williamson got caught out, suprisingly.
Golazo de Katoto a la salida de un córner (0-1) pic.twitter.com/KYrk1XcqdR
— FCB (@FCBseny) August 22, 2020
For the second goal, the ball is lost on the left-side of the defence in a dangerous area and then it is an easy pull-back and finish for Bruun.
You can get away with errors in the FA WSL because the forwards are not all sharp and clinical. But when you reach the latter stages of the Champions League, there is a lot of quality in the opposition ranks.
A good majority of the players did not manage to raise their level on the night due to the aforementioned factors with Little and Maritz doing very well. Mead was solid, scoring an offside goal as well. Schnaderbeck also did well when called upon to replace Beattie.
The full game highlights can be found here.
The team needs to be ready in two weeks to make sure they grab ALL the available points before playing those head-to-head games against the other title-competing teams. They certainly need to do better than last year when a meagre three points was the return from four games against Chelsea and City.
Speaking after the match, Lisa Evans gave her thoughts to the media.
on her feelings at the final whistle:
Just frustration. I think in spells we were on top and could have done more and we were unfortunate not to create more chances for ourselves. But all in all, I think we were beaten by the better team on the day.
on Arsenal’s sloppy start and why that happened:
Well, first of all we were really disappointed with the first goal because I don’t think we’ve conceded a set-piece goal in a long, long while. They started strong but then we started to come back into the game and finished the second half really well, we just couldn’t put our chances away.
There were a few in the first half that maybe if we’d converted, it could have been a different outcome, but in the end I think it came down to PSG’s quality and we didn’t particularly get the ball down in midfield and play forward. They punished us for that and we became far too transitional.
on whether Mead’s goal gave Arsenal confidence before the break:
Absolutely, I think we were really dominant in that spell of the game and kept finding ourselves in some really good positions. We were pushing on for another goal, but after the break I think we struggled a bit more and it became a bit of a grind.
It showed that PSG have been back training and playing competitive games for longer. It was a really hard situation for everyone with COVID and having everyone in different places, so maybe it could have been different if we’d been training together a little longer, but it just wasn’t meant to be.
on Joe Montemurro’s half-time team talk and what he wanted to see from the team:
We had a lot of points defensively relating to dealing with the No 10 in the pocket, but I actually think we defended fairly well in the first half.
They creates a few chances but they weren’t clear cut as such and in the second half we just didn’t replicate some of the positive things from the first.
on PSG’s power in the final stages and whether Arsenal were struggling:
Yeah, they were really dominant and powerful. That was their game plan and I think if we’d solved those situations better we could have made things a lot easier for ourselves. We needed more of the ball and we could have played through the middle more too. We went long too early on and played their game and that allowed them to dominate in the second half.
on the importance of Arsenal shifting their focus to the WSL:
Definitely. If anything, it’s been great preparation for the season. Unfortunately we’ve not progressed, but we still had a really good game against a top, top side who could potentially go all the way in this competition. That’s the positive we can take and now all attention turns to Reading.