From bringing teams to “choking point” to a first win over a title competitor in 679 days, Jonas Eidevall’s side feel like they have grown some teeth, writes Jessy Parker Humphreys.
In Jonas Eidevall’s first interview with Arsenal on their website, the new manager spoke about the importance of margins in football.
“The one thing I’ve realised in football is that it’s a business of fine margins. The margins between success and failure are so small, and that means you need to work as hard as possible to ensure those margins are on your side.”
When Beth Mead burst through on goal against Chelsea from an offside position, it was hard not to recall Eidevall’s words. Admittedly the offside itself was hardly marginal, but it was undeniable that the way Arsenal played had demonstrated the work required to get that element of luck.
The win against Chelsea was Arsenal’s first over a title competitor in 679days. It is hard to overstate just how psychologically important it might be for the club as they push this season for their first silverware after two fallow seasons. Being trophyless in 2019/20 and 2020/21 is the longest stretch without silverware for Arsenal since their founding – although, technically, they will have the opportunity to rectify that with the 2020/21 FA Cup being completed this winter.
If you had to pick out two words to describe Arsenal’s victory over Chelsea, it would be pragmatic and “high-paced” – another phrase from Eidevall’s introduction.
Under previous manager Joe Montemurro, Arsenal could feel more focused on their philosophy than on the game in front of them. Pragmatism was not a word you would associate with the club at that time. But against Chelsea, Eidevall was more than willing to do what was needed to win the game.
Looking at Arsenal’s Passes Per Defensive Action (PPDA), a measure of how quickly a team looks to press the ball, they averaged 13.05 against Chelsea, according to Wyscout. This means they allowed Chelsea to pass the ball 13 times before they pressed them, much higher than their previous PPDA of 8.07 and 8.88 in games against Chelsea and Manchester City.
Arsenal did not look to press Chelsea quickly or high up the pitch, instead focusing their defensive actions once the ball crossed the halfway line. This was not solely a result of gamestate either. Sometimes, when teams are winning, they will sit back in a defensive shape and let the other side have the ball so they are not dragged out of position. Arsenal, though, pressed the most in the fifteen minutes after they had gone 1-0 up. They were actually more focused on harrying Chelsea on the ball when they were winning.
The pragmatism can even be seen in Eidevall’s substitutions. By the end of the game, Arsenal had four players who could be classed as centre-backs on the pitch. Lotte Wubben-Moy and Simone Boye Sorensen were in defence, whilst Leah Williamson was pushed into central midfield and Anna Patten was ostensibly their left winger.
All of Arsenal’s pragmatism was worthwhile because of how quickly they had played, most notably in Chelsea’s half of the pitch. That speed could be summed up in the direction of their passing. Gone were the patient horizontals of Montemurro football, and in their place were long vertical passes.
Two of Arsenal’s three goals against Chelsea were assisted with passes from inside Arsenal’s half. Chelsea did little to discourage Arsenal from doing this; the large gaps between their three centre-backs offered plenty of space for Arsenal players to play the ball into.
Meanwhile, Vivianne Miedema made five progressive passes. According to FBRef, this was more than any other Arsenal player made, as well as the most Miedema had managed in any of her last five games against Chelsea or Manchester City. In the past, Miedema has struggled with getting marked out of these important games. By dropping deeper to pick up the ball and then playing vertical passes to Beth Mead ahead of her, Arsenal were able to get a lot more out of their star striker. Even here, there was a sense of pragmatism – a recognition that Miedema would be placed under the watchful eye of Millie Bright and a solution that proved essential to Arsenal’s victory.
It was an impressive WSL debut for Jonas Eidevall, who had already guided Arsenal to three victories in Champions League qualifying. The speed of Arsenal’s play enabled them to go 3-2 up and their realism ensured they held onto that victory through a tense final 25 minutes. Even beyond the play on the pitch itself, the result will ensure that no team in the WSL takes Arsenal lightly this season. The fear factor is being restored.
Follow Jessy on Twitter at @jessyjph