Arsenal Women surrendered top spot after a 2-1 defeat to champions Chelsea Women on Saturday. Manchester City Women are now top after beating West Ham Women 3-1, but Arsenal sit just a point behind in second with a game in hand.

The defeat was Arsenal’s first at home since 2016. But for Chelsea, it was their 13th consecutive win. So how did they get the better of Arsenal? I’ll tell you in my tactical analysis of the match.

Chelsea Women stifle Arsenal Women

It’s no secret that Joe Montemurro’s arrival at Arsenal has brought a certain possession-based style which sees them play out from the back often. However, with injuries mounting up, that’s been hard to maintain of late.

Chelsea came into the game knowing this and were able to stifle Arsenal throughout. Emma Hayes’ side were on the front foot both off and on the ball for most of the game. The most important part of that, however, was off the ball. This saw them disrupt Arsenal’s play before they could build attacks, as seen below.

FAWSL 2018/19:Arsenal Women vs Chelsea Women Tactical Analysis Statistics
Here, Arsenal look to play out from the back as they did throughout the game. Peyraud-Magnin’s pass to Janni Arnth is the trigger for Chelsea’s press.
FAWSL 2018/19:Arsenal Women vs Chelsea Women Tactical Analysis Statistics
Arsenal they are a quality side, however, and they play out of the initial press.
FAWSL 2018/19:Arsenal Women vs Chelsea Women Tactical Analysis Statistics
With Erin Cuthbert tucking in, however, this congests the midfield for Arsenal. Unable to play through Chelsea, Walti opts to pass back but the ball is stolen by an alert Bethany England.
FAWSL 2018/19:Arsenal Women vs Chelsea Women Tactical Analysis Statistics
Chelsea can then attack straight away, leaving Arsenal incredibly vulnerable.

Similar to West Ham last week, this gave Arsenal trouble to create a rhythm. Overall that was seen as Chelsea had more of the ball and limited Arsenal to just three shots in the game.

Chelsea Women win the battle of space

Being the dominant side on the day, Chelsea controlled almost every aspect of play. Another important part of this was the spaces they picked up.

With Bethany England leading the line, she occupied Louise Quinn and Arnth for most of the afternoon. This, along with Leah Williamson filling in at right back, created spaces in between the lines which Erin Cuthbert picked up effectively as seen below.

FAWSL 2018/19:Arsenal Women vs Chelsea Women Tactical Analysis Statistics
Here is a screenshot taken just before Cuthbert’s opener: an example of the space she was able to find.
FAWSL 2018/19:Arsenal Women vs Chelsea Women Tactical Analysis Statistics
From this angle, we see both centre-backs occupied by England which opens up the space. With Blundell crossing early, they don’t have time to adjust.
FAWSL 2018/19:Arsenal Women vs Chelsea Women Tactical Analysis Statistics
With good positioning, a run-up and a great leap, Cuthbert heads Chelsea ahead.

This space between the Arsenal defence and midfield also proved costly in the second half. Yet again, Cuthbert was the beneficiary as she volleyed home in acres of space on the edge of the Arsenal box.

Arsenal Women’s midfield suffers

As previously mentioned, Arsenal struggled to get create a rhythm in attack. Like last week, this came from the lack of attacking midfielders. Last week, Danielle van de Donk was missed centrally. On Sunday, however, she was missed overall. She was ruled out of the game as a precaution with a thigh strain.

This meant that yet again, Kim Little was Arsenal’s only creative spark in midfield. However, most of her play came deeper in midfield rather than the final third. As seen in the ‘Chelsea stifle Arsenal’ segment, the positioning and intent of Chelsea was a big reason.

FAWSL 2018/19:Arsenal Women vs Chelsea Women Tactical Analysis Statistics
Here we see how the lack of movement in the Arsenal midfield forced Williamson to step up from right back. Chelsea do well to cut off central options and she passes wide.
FAWSL 2018/19:Arsenal Women vs Chelsea Women Tactical Analysis Statistics
Little has dropped deep to take the ball but Cuthbert is alert enough to sense the danger and applies pressure.
FAWSL 2018/19:Arsenal Women vs Chelsea Women Tactical Analysis Statistics
Getting goal-side, Cuthbert eventually forces Little towards the Arsenal goal and cuts out the attack.

With this a common occurrence across the pitch with different players also, Arsenal’s attacks were quite disjointed. They had to adjust to the way Chelsea were playing which ultimately hurt them going forward.

Arsenal Women’s late surge

However, Arsenal were able to get themselves back in the game. This was thanks to Kim Little who was able to work in more familiar areas as the game opened up. This was because of her off-ball movement as Arsenal built upfield.

FAWSL 2018/19:Arsenal Women vs Chelsea Women Tactical Analysis Statistics
Here Dominique Bloodworth travels with the ball, something she couldn’t do much of. Lisa Evans pulls wide, taking her marker with her. Little can now run into the space created behind.
FAWSL 2018/19:Arsenal Women vs Chelsea Women Tactical Analysis Statistics
Evans spots Little’s run and plays her in behind.
FAWSL 2018/19:Arsenal Women vs Chelsea Women Tactical Analysis Statistics
Able to get deep into Chelsea territory, Little is at her most effective. Miedema peels off knowing that Little can fizz that ball across to her. She does and Miedema taps home.

The final 10 minutes saw Arsenal take the game to Chelsea at every opportunity. Miedema was much more involved and proved to be dangerous dribbling directly at defenders. One of these dribbles took her one-on-one with Lindahl but she wasn’t able to finish.

In the dying moments, Arsenal then went route one, but Chelsea’s last-ditch defending closed the game out.

Summary

On the day, Chelsea showed people across the FAWSL two things. One was why they are champions. The second was why Arsenal have a long way to go before being crowned champions.

The overall quality and depth of the Chelsea squad set them apart. This was demonstrated late on as they were able to bring Fran Kirby on for England who had done a great job while Kirby was out injured. Unfortunately, that’s not a luxury Joe Montemurro has, especially seeing as Beth Mead was taken off injured at half-time.

It’s important to remember though that Arsenal are still in a favourable position, just a point behind first-place Man City with a game in hand. Hopefully, they’ll be able to make use of that.


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