Arsenal Women 4-1 Brighton & Hove Albion Women Dominique Bloodworth FAWSL Tactical Analysis

Arsenal Women continued their 100% start to the new FAWSL season with a convincing 5-0 win over Chelsea FC Women yesterday. But how were the Gunners able to topple the reigning Champions and stay top of the pile?

Find out in this tactical analysis of the game which will examine how Arsenal shut out and dominated Chelsea.

Closing Central Spaces

One of the most evident changes we’ve seen to Arsenal Women since Joe Montemurro took charge just shy of a year ago is how they play on the ball. Everything has become very possession based and that starts with the goalkeeper more often than not.

However, yesterday, despite scoring five, Arsenal were almost more impressive without the ball than with it.

This was key to seizing control of the game as they stopped Chelsea from playing in central areas which made it that bit more difficult for the hosts to build attacks. This can be seen below.

Chelsea Women 0-5 Arsenal Women FAWSL Tactical Analysis
As Ji, one of the most creative midfielders in the FAWSL, receives the ball the four most central Arsenal players all try to close down the space available to her so she can’t turn and attack their goal.
Chelsea Women 0-5 Arsenal Women FAWSL Tactical Analysis
Arsenal put the squeeze on both quickly and well meaning Ji has no other option but to play the ball back to Millie Bright in defence.

This was a trend throughout the game which was a real problem for Emma Hayes’ Chelsea. Their creative players were forced to drop deep to receive the ball which only played into Arsenal’s hands. Arsenal didn’t go about defending in this manner for the whole game, however.

The Mid-Low Block

Rather than continuously chase Chelsea for 90 minutes, Montemurro’s side picked their moments well. When they opted not to press the Chelsea midfielders high though, this meant they needed another method of play when out of possession.

What they often reverted to was a mid-low block. This allowed them to keep their shape and put all the onus on Chelsea to break them down and create chances. The way Arsenal done this was to change from the 4-3-3 they used in attack to a 4-2-3-1 with the two holding midfielders dropping to minimise the space between themselves and the back-line.

Chelsea tried hard to break them down, in the first-half especially, but it proved a tough ask as seen below:

Chelsea Women 0-5 Arsenal Women FAWSL Tactical Analysis
After having to drop, Fran Kirby spread the ball to Ramona Bachmann out wide who beat Emma Mitchell out wide but had a difficult angle to execute her shot.
Chelsea Women 0-5 Arsenal Women FAWSL Tactical Analysis
Peyraud-Magnin parries the shot but Arsenal have enough numbers back to deal with it. Leah Williamson shows her concentration levels are second to none and reacts quickly enough to move the ball to Kim Little.

What this shows is how disciplined Arsenal were in travelling to the home of the reigning Champions and how that affected them. Since they couldn’t attack Arsenal centrally, they had to rely on wide areas which aren’t as reliable. Although they were able to get in behind a couple of times, the numbers Arsenal had centrally were too much.

Midfield’s Licence To Attack

Numbers, along with discipline, were a key reason to why Arsenal were able to run out 5-0 winners. Along with some luck, when you see Jordan Nobbs’ first goal.

But Arsenal were able to attack and defend in numbers which ultimately made the difference at Kingsmeadow. They were organised in the moments they chose to actively press Chelsea and fluid enough to turn defence in attack in a matter of seconds. This was best seen in the final goal of the day.

Chelsea Women 0-5 Arsenal Women FAWSL Tactical Analysis
Chelsea try to build an attack but as the ball goes central, the Arsenal press is triggered. The shape of the Arsenal midfield is also very solid as there is a screen in front of the back four preventing a ball in between the lines.
Chelsea Women 0-5 Arsenal Women FAWSL Tactical Analysis
Not only does Lia Walti press the Chelsea player, but striker Vivianne Miedema comes back to help. Now out of position, Nobbs has the licence to head forward and fill her position further up the pitch.
Chelsea Women 0-5 Arsenal Women FAWSL Tactical Analysis
Arsenal win the ball and break quickly through Beth Mead on the wing. This is able to happen as with Chelsea’s full backs high up the pitch, Arsenal can stretch their centre backs.
Chelsea Women 0-5 Arsenal Women FAWSL Tactical Analysis
That’s exactly what they do and Nobbs exploits the gap left between the centre backs and is found by Mead in the box.
Chelsea Women 0-5 Arsenal Women FAWSL Tactical Analysis
Nobbs shows her quality and sticks the ball in the bottom corner when one-on-one.

What this shows is the importance of having a set structure but also giving players freedom to express themselves.

Arsenal somewhat manufactured the way in which they regained possession with their double-sided press. But once in possession, the goal very much had a natural feel about it.

With over 50 Arsenal goals from midfield, Nobbs is one of England’s best attacking midfielders and this showed that. With that mindset, filling in for Miedema almost came as second nature and under Montemurro she doesn’t have to hold back on that instinct to roam forward.

It also showed what having Beth Mead out wide can do as she stretched the defence and bagged her second assist in as many games.

Summary

A performance of discipline, expressiveness and little bit of luck that was deserved as a result of that.

Arsenal’s trip to Chelsea is one that possibly came at the perfect time but the performance on the day was one that left no questions as to who the winners should have been. After conceding three to FAWSL newcomers West Ham, Arsenal showed that they can compete off the ball as well as on it and should be considered real competitors for the title this season.

The main thing, however is that this is replicated in part consistently throughout the season. Consistency is something we saw from Montemurro last season in the cups and league so the future should definitely encourage Arsenal Women’s fans.