It has been a summer of change for Arsenal Women, with new players, a new manager and new tactics. They lost some players too, including Netherlands midfielders Jill Roord, who joined Wolfsburg, and Danielle van de Donk, who moved to Lyon Feminines. As a result, the squad has needed remodelling, with one newcomer being Norway midfielder Frida Maanum, who had captained Linkopings during the first part of the current Damallsvenskan season. In this tactical analysis, we will assess whether Maanum can ably replace Arsenal’s two departed midfielders, looking first at Roord’s and van de Donk’s playing styles last season, before focusing on how Maanum could fit into Arsenal’s tactics in the next campaign. The scout report will also provide a data comparison between all three players, detailing where Maanum’s strengths on the pitch are.
Last season, Jill Roord was more of an impact player for Arsenal, tending to come off the bench to play. However, she always made an impact and was important in defensive and attacking situations.
She operated in a box-to-box midfield role, often dropping back to receive the ball in her own half, before running forwards to create a chance for the attackers. In this image, we see Roord in possession and beginning her run into the Everton Women half. Arsenal didn’t play long balls last season unless there were no other options, so having players like Roord who were comfortable playing out from the back was essential, as it meant they could keep the ball on the ground and didn’t risk losing it as often.
Roord’s pace also helped when Arsenal lost possession, as she tended to get back and hold off attackers whilst moving the ball to safety. She always remained calm under pressure, which helped when Arsenal needed to fight to keep the ball, and was a key part of their transitional play and tactics of building from the back.
When Arsenal were attacking, Roord was often the one finding space, and we can see her looking for a way to transfer the ball through Everton’s defence here. Having seen striker Vivianne Miedema’s run, she expertly plays the ball through to her, setting up the shooting opportunity. Arsenal depended on players like Roord getting into these spaces last season, as it increased the accuracy of their passes behind, and this is another way Roord was key to their tactics.
The thing to take from this is that Roord had an excellent awareness of where spaces were, meaning she could set up teammates behind opposing defences, and this is something Arsenal lost with her departure and needed to replace.
This is even more evident in this image, which shows one of the triangular structures that Arsenal formed at times last season. These came about because of Arsenal’s desire for the midfielders to push up the field and work with the forward line to create opportunities. With Miedema drifting out to the wing on occasion, the central spaces were often left unoccupied, with either Australia’s Caitlin Foord or England’s Beth Mead filling in. However, when needed, one of the three central midfielders would move into the gap, highlighting Arsenal’s flexible formation during matches.
Once the ball is passed into her, Roord sends it towards Miedema, as the red arrow indicates. However, what is key here is that she doesn’t stand still once she has done this, instead turning and running into the open central space, giving Miedema a target to find when she tries to cross the ball into the box. The speed of Roord’s turn means that the West Ham United Women players are unable to keep up with her, so Roord’s threat and spatial awareness are again demonstrated, both of which Arsenal needed to replace this summer.
Danielle van de Donk
Whilst Roord was a central midfielder who moved the ball around, Danielle van de Donk was more of an attacking midfielder or, at times, a winger, often seen behind opposing defences and shooting at goal.
Here, she runs ahead of the ball, giving her teammate a passing option in the open space. Manchester United Women played with a high backline last season, so there was always space available for their opponents to exploit in attack, and van de Donk was the type of player who liked to make those runs and cause problems. Her movement here ensures that Arsenal have a way of continuing their attack if the ball is closed down, and can continue moving it forwards, which is important.
Here, the ball is on the far side of the pitch, with Arsenal looking to cross it into the goal area. van de Donk has seen the gap between the Manchester United defenders, running through to meet the ball in the middle. This shows her natural instinct to find good attacking positions where she can pose a threat, and the midfielders running through these gaps was a major part of Arsenal’s play last season. Despite playing in the midfield three, van de Donk filled in further forward when the strikers weren’t available, again showing her awareness of what was going on around her.
We have already mentioned that van de Donk played on the wing at times, and this image illustrates how she remained tight to the sideline when in that role. In doing so, she stretched Arsenal’s attack out, making it harder for Brighton and Hove Albion Women to crowd together in the middle. As a result, the likes of Miedema and Foord had more gaps to run through, which gave van de Donk more crossing targets centrally.
What has been evident is the vast array of roles that van de Donk filled, and any replacement would need to be flexible and comfortable in different areas of the pitch, especially as Arsenal’s tactics rely on players moving around and filling spaces where needed.
Frida Maanum’s positioning and movement
Flexibility on the pitch is something Frida Maanum has in abundance, as she similarly moves around and plays free-flowing football. She is the type of player who sees spaces and is as happy creating an opportunity as she is shooting at goal, which is why she will be perfect for Arsenal.
One of Maanum’s key characteristics is getting behind opposing defences. Here, the ball has been played over the top of the Hammarby backline, with Maanum getting forward and trying to win it. Although she doesn’t manage to gain possession here, her dangerous positioning puts a doubt in the defenders’ minds, and that could be all that is needed for them to make a mistake next time. We can also see how far ahead Maanum is from the rest of her attacking teammates, which demonstrates how she anticipates the play well, knowing where to be to create something. This is something Arsenal lost with Danielle van de Donk’s departure, so is something they will appreciate next season.
We mentioned that Jill Roord was a box-to-box player, and Maanum operates similarly to her in defence and attack. Here, Linkopings are counter-attacking against Kristianstads, with Maanum running around the outside of her teammate to offer a passing option in a forward area. In doing so, she ensures her team can keep attacking forwards, and prevents the defenders from surrounding the ball. This again shows Maanum’s anticipation, as she can read the game and get into the right position to receive the ball. We know Arsenal play along the ground, and that has not changed since Jonas Eidevall left Rosengard to replace Joe Montemurro, following the latter’s move to Juventus Femminile. Therefore, having players who can keep the ball moving and not allow it to slow down is important, and Maanum has that quality.
In attack, Maanum is just as good at positioning herself to receive the ball in good areas. Here, she is between the midfielders and forwards, providing a link between both. Her ability to remain calm under opposing pressure also helps in these situations, as it means she can make decisions and see where the best passing options are, helping her team to keep possession in tight spaces. Her positioning in between the two lines also means the forwards don’t have to drop back to win the ball, and can instead focus on getting behind the AIK defenders and stopping them closing the ball down.
There are some teams in the WSL who already play with this link player, but Maanum’s ability to operate in this role means that Arsenal can use this system now as well. Having options and the ability to play in different ways will be important if they want to regain the league title.
Frida Maanum in possession
When in possession, Frida Maanum always looks around to see where she can make things happen for her team, and had taken on a playmaker role at Linkopings this season; something which clearly attracted Arsenal to her services.
Here, Maanum has the ball in the Kristianstads half, dribbling it towards their goal area. We have already mentioned her good positioning in attack, but her ability to take the ball a long way forward before releasing it is important for her team. The further she takes it, the less distance it needs to travel before entering the goal area. The result of that is that the forwards can enter the box before receiving the ball, giving them less distance to shoot from, which subsequently increases their shooting accuracy. It is also notable that Linkopings have three passing options ahead of Maanum, which is another thing that comes from her keeping possession for longer, as the team only needs to focus on making the pitch as big as possible, rather than the ball’s current whereabouts.
Therefore, whilst it may seem insignificant, this is a really important detail to have in the team. For Arsenal, it may prove to be the difference between them breaking a defence down and being shut out, as they were at times last season.
One thing Jonas Eidevall has introduced this summer is a pass-and-move mentality, with the players constantly looking to play quick passes across shorter distances, before receiving the ball in other areas of the pitch. This is something they used in a pre-season friendly against Tottenham Hotspur Women and in their opening Champions League qualifying match against Kazakh side Okzhetpes. In order to be successful, it requires the midfielders to move up the pitch and work with the forwards; something we know Arsenal did last season anyway.
Maanum is capable of playing within these tactics, as this image shows her passing into a teammate, before running around the AIK defender to receive the return ball. From there, she can move the ball into one of the forwards, thereby creating a shooting opportunity. In the friendly against Tottenham, which Maanum played in, we noticed her making short passes and trying to break through the defence, so, in this regard, she has already settled into her new club.
She doesn’t only feature in central areas though. In this image, she has the ball in a wider position and can either cross to one of her teammates in the middle or shoot at goal herself, even if the angle looks tight. This indicates her confidence with the ball in a different area of the pitch, and it will give Arsenal more options in their attacking play, such as playing Maanum out wide for a couple of games if they are short of wide attackers. van de Donk also did this on occasion last season, so it again shows how Maanum will be an able replacement for her at Meadow Park next season.
It is also worth mentioning that she has cut inside from the wing here, and is now inside the goal area, which comes from her aforementioned confidence with the ball and ability to make decisions. That confidence is also demonstrated when she is closed down by an opponent, as she is not afraid to take players on and move the ball around them, meaning that her teammates are free to wait for the ball to come in, instead of running to help Maanum keep possession. Therefore, for many reasons, Maanum will be a useful player for Arsenal next season.
We have so far analysed how Frida Maanum can fit into the roles left behind by Jill Roord and Danielle van de Donk, but the best way to compare all three players is by looking at their statistics.
Maanum’s statistics are from the current Damallsvenskan season, whilst Roord’s and van de Donk’s are from last season. It is worth noting that Maanum only ranks at the top in one statistic (expected assists), but this is not a bad thing. Instead, in quite a few of the statistics, she ranks between the other two players, which shows how she will be good at both roles, replacing both players well.
Maanum’s highest statistic is her passing accuracy, which is critical for an Arsenal player, because of their focus on passing and moving. In this regard, it appears that Maanum will be an upgrade on what Arsenal had last season, potentially allowing them to create more opportunities and keep possession for longer than they did last season. We know there are some teams in the WSL who will sit back and try to keep their opponents out, so having a player like Maanum who can unlock defences will be very useful.
Maanum’s lowest statistic is her crossing accuracy, but this will not be a concern for Arsenal, as they will not expect Maanum to play in the wide channels that often. They currently have Beth Mead, Caitlin Foord and Nikita Parris who can feature in those roles, and it has looked so far that Eidevall has signed Maanum to play on the outside of the midfield three, which allows her to combine with those alongside and in front of her to create opportunities and break down opposing defences.
In conclusion, this analysis has sought to answer the question of whether Norway midfielder Frida Maanum can replace Arsenal Women’s two departed midfielders, Jill Roord and Danielle van de Donk. The evidence we have found suggests that she can perform well in both roles, operating in the box-to-box role that Roord played in, whilst also adding the attacking midfield element that van de Donk brought to the team. The statistics suggested that she is, on average, a mix of the two Netherlands internationals, and that is important. Arsenal have made other signings this summer, such as the aforementioned Parris, Bayern Munich Frauen defender Simone Boye Sorensen and Japan international Mana Iwabuchi from Aston Villa Women, but Maanum could be one of their most important additions, given the number of options tactically that she will give them next season.