The first North London Derby headlines a big weekend of fixtures in the FAWSL. Newly promoted Tottenham Hotspur Women host defending champions Arsenal Women on Sunday in what should prove to be an interesting contest. The visitors got back on track before the international break with a victory over title rivals Manchester City Women. Tottenham come into the match with three wins out of their first five matches in the top flight.
In this preview, we will go into a tactical analysis of both sides so far this campaign. We will also look at some key areas and tactics that could prove vital in deciding which side comes out on top this Sunday.
Tottenham Hotspur Women’s set-up
Tottenham Hotspur Women will be pleased with their start to the campaign after five matches. However, Chelsea and Manchester United both showed the gap in quality between the league’s elite and this current Spurs side. Given Arsenal Women’s dominance in the English game, it is likely we will see a more defensive approach from the home side, similar to the one we saw in the two matches mentioned above. This analysis will look at what we are likely to see with their set-up.
Out of possession, Tottenham Hotspur Women set up in a 4-4-2 shape. Furness creates a two-striker initial press with Dean, and the two banks of four sit deep when the opponent is in possession. This allows the midfielders to be able to aid in cutting off space for opposition attacks to exploit.
While this is their traditional shape, we could likely see some variations during the match. Against Manchester United Women, at times a 4-3-3 with two eight’s was deployed in and out of possession. With one of the two in the London side’s double-pivot to join Furness who drops deeper into this shape, this tactic was used to occupy United two holding midfielders.
On Sunday, we could see a similar variation of this structure. With Arsenal’s midfield containing a lone six and two eights, Spurs could use a 4-3-3 structure to directly counter Arsenal’s shape. A 4-5-1 with two holding central players and one slightly higher to occupy Lia Walti could give Spurs their best opportunity to stop Arsenal’s attacking flow.
When possession is gained, Spurs will look to be expansive. Their preferred area to attempt to build-up is through the middle of the pitch before finding a winger. Midfielders such as Josie Green and Chloe Piplow are adept in dropping into deeper positions to act as outlets for possession to go through before finding a player in the attacking third. In the matches against Manchester United and Chelsea, Spurs were frustrated in these attempts. The oppositions were able to successfully block off the middle of the park when defending and forced Spurs into looking wide or over the top. The London side’s full-backs are not strong at progressing play forward themselves. Rather, they often take up wide spaces to allow for maximum space in the inside channels.
Opportunities to get numbers forward will come at a premium in this match for the newly-promoted side. Due to this, they will have to be very clinical to take any points away Sunday afternoon.
One area Tottenham Hotspur Women are particularly dangerous in is long-range efforts. The attacking players are encouraged to look for spaces in between 18 and 25 yards out to look for attempts at goal. Kit Graham scored both of the London side’s goals using this tactic against Birmingham City two weeks ago. Below you can see the winger finding space centrally to score one of these goals.
During most forward progressions, possession is moved forward into Furness if she drops deep to receive a pass, or out wide to Graham or Rosella Ayane if Furness plays high alongside Rianna Dean. Both of the strikers possess a massive aerial threat along with their ability with the ball at their feet. This gives the wingers different options in terms of looking to create chances. Against West Ham when Graham gained possession in the wide right area, Dean and Furness moved into the box. When they made their forward runs, Graham found a pinpoint cross which found Dean. The striker moved ahead of her marker before nodding in the game’s opener.
Arsenal Women’s counter-press opportunity
Arsenal Women will go into this match looking to assert an early dominance in this rivalry. With one loss to a London club already this season, nothing less than a win will be acceptable for the reigning titleholders.
In possession, Arsenal will most likely utilise their normal 4-3-3 formation. Wingers Danielle Van de Donk and Bethany Mead will be allowed to float inside into the half-spaces to allow them to get closer to Vivianne Miedema. The full-backs will then look to push forward when possible to create overloads in these positions out wide. This particular area could be a major threat to Spurs’ defensive set-up as we will discuss later.
It is perhaps out of possession where Arsenal could find their best opportunities. Looking at Spurs this season, a common theme in their matches so far has been the tendency to get caught in possession in their own defensive third. Against Manchester United, Spurs were exposed using a pressing trap in the centre of the pitch. United encouraged passing into the central midfield positions. Here, one of United’s players was acting as a cover shadow. When a pass was made into the central players because the initial line of United’s press blocked off passes to other defenders, the midfield presser would jump in to either intercept the pass or immediately dispossess the receiver. This tactic led to United’s first goal of the match.
Against Chelsea, a similar pressing approach was used to create turnovers. However, instead of encouraging passes into the middle of the park, Chelsea restricted this area, forcing Spurs to look out wide to their full-backs. When the ball was played into these areas, Chelsea’s aggressive press was triggered. They looked to outnumber the Spurs players and use cover shadows again to pressure any passing options. This yielded a similar result to United’s pressing scheme. Possession was lost, and Chelsea used this to score the only goal on the day.
Arsenal Women have the ability and personnel to have a huge amount of success in creating these kinds of turnovers. In their 1-0 victory over Manchester City Women before the international break, they deployed a similar approach as the one Chelsea did against Spurs. Arsenal Women will look to maintain a shape in possession that will simultaneously act as an effective counter-pressing scheme. When possession was gained by one of City’s full-backs, Mead or Van de Donk pressed them immediately. Behind this initial press, Arsenal’s defensive shape was already set up in their attacking phase, and the midfielders and full-backs were positioned to restrict any forward progression from the visitors in this match. Possession was instead usually recycled backwards or cleared upfield where an Arsenal defender could win the ball and re-establish the attack.
Walti’s return to Montemurro’s side is essential to carrying out his pressing ideologies. Against City, we saw a perfect example of the holding midfielders natural ability to break down opposition attacks on her own. Possession was won back by City in a central area. Walti acknowledges the potential danger the situation provides and moves into the space ahead of the ball carrier. She is able to simultaneously block the path forward to dribble and block the passing option. She wins back possession and sets Arsenal back into their attacking phase.
This attribute is invaluable to Montemurro. Her presence gives Arsenal Women’s attacking players the freedom to get further forward. This provides the side with two main strengths. They are able to create overloads in wide and central areas in the attacking third, as we will discuss in the section below. This also allows Arsenal to set up their counter-press extremely high. With intelligent forward players, their positioning allows them to create opportunities in possession and be ready to press upon any potential turnover. When this happens, they can try and create a turnover in a dangerous area, knowing Walti is in a position to clear any moves that get by this initial line of press.
A similar approach should be anticipated in this match. Spurs are a confident side, but at times this can be their downfall. Montemurro will look to use Arsenal Women’s brilliant pressing and counter-pressing abilities to force Spurs into unwanted situations. It will be up to the home side from here to anticipate these occurrences and be able to find ways to bypass the danger.
Spurs’ weakness out wide
An area Arsenal can look to break Tottenham’s defensive set-up down is out wide. The full-back roles have caused the home side issues to begin the campaign. Arsenal Women could find copious amounts of success with their wide players combining with the advancing full-backs.
A vast amount of opportunities Spurs have conceded this campaign have come from wide positions. In these areas, the London side have been constantly switching the personnel, trying to find the best combination to allow for a more compact and solid back-line. However, this can also have a negative effect on the side, with no players having the opportunity to get a sustained run in the side to find their feet.
In Tottenham Hotspur Women’s’ match against Manchester United Women, Leah Galton found a great amount of success down Spurs’ right-hand side. The Spurs full-back was caught out of position on numerous occasions with runs in behind her. Above you can see an example of this. The ball moving into the centre of the pitch attracted Percival, taking her focus away from the winger. Galton is able to make a dangerous run in behind the full-back, which Jackie Groenen is able to find to create a chance for United.
This issue was evident in the match against West Ham United Women again. While Spurs came out victorious in this match, a major contribution to this was the poor finishing from the home wide. In the second half, Siri Worm was beaten too easily on the left side of the Spurs defence numerous times. The West Ham attacker went around her in a wide position before coming inside and delivering an uncontested cross. The recipient missed the chance to put the game on level terms, however.
Arsenal Women have one of the most dangerous sets of wide attacking players in the world. Van de Donk and Mead are given the freedom to get into central positions due to this factor. Kim Little, Jordan Nobbs, and Lisa Evans are all capable of moving from their normal central positions into these wide areas.
Arsenal’s abilities to interchange these players from central and wide positions create a huge marking issue for oppositions. As soon as a full-back commits too far inward marking Mead or Van de Donk, a full-back or central midfielder is immediately moving into this space to progress the attack. Above you can see an example of this. In the initial stage of this move, Van de Donk is holding a central position, which attracts the West Ham left-back to tuck in close to her centre-halves. When this is recognised, Evans moves out to the wide area and can be seen in this image below in a large amount of space as she receives a pass.
Centrally this also creates dangerous situations for opposition defences. With Mead and Van de Donk given the ability to find room in the half-spaces and close to Miedema, it is difficult to contain them for the duration of a match. In the example above, Evans is able to pick out Mead with a cross. The winger found room in a central position after drifting inside and scored a stunner from the edge of the box. Van de Donk scored against Brighton and Hove Albion by taking up space in a secondary striker position. Miedema held up possession as she receives it, before playing a precise through-pass into her Dutch counterpart making a run around her behind the defensive line.
Players to watch
Both sides possess players that have the potential to turn this match on its head at any given moment. Through this analysis, Van de Donk and Furness are two individuals have stood out as having a massive potential to tilt this tie one way or another.
Van de Donk is Arsenal’s diamond. While she is technically deployed on the right side, she is given total freedom to move around the pitch, looking for areas where she can create opportunities for her teammates often in central positions.
On Sunday she will be given this freedom by Montemurro to break down the Spurs defensive structure they will deploy. As we discussed earlier with the problems Spurs have encountered with their full-back positions, Van de Donk will be one of the last players they will want to see lining up in these areas.
With Katie McCabe offering a potent attacking threat from her right-back position along with the players occupying the free number eight roles, this can be an area Arsenal Women can find a great deal of success, as we discussed above. Van de Donk’s effectiveness in the half-space will cause Spurs similar issues to those we saw in the match against Manchester United. Her ability can be seen in the build-up to the late winner. Evans picked up the width on the right side of the attack, allowing the Dutch midfielder to gain possession in the inside channel. As she moves into an inside are, she forces Katie Zelem to step up to press her. This opens up the space in behind the midfield line for Little to find room. Van de Donk makes the pass into her midfield counterpart, whose shot hits the bar before taking a kind deflection into Van de Donk’s path. The winger carried on her run into the centre of the 18-yard area and was left unmarked to provide her side the winner.
On the Spurs side, Furness is the individual to keep a close eye on in this encounter. The England international has been Spurs standout performer to begin this season and will be looking to make the most of any opportunity she can create for her side, unlike the match against Manchester United Women. In this 2-0 loss for the London side, Furness used her attacking ability to create a large amount of space for herself in the final third on two occasions. Both times, she composed herself before taking a shot from distance. Both times, she saw her effort come off of the woodwork and out of the danger area. While the end product never came, she showcased in this match the danger she represents in matches like this.
Traditionally a striker, Furness uses her previous experiences in midfield to work as more like a centre-forward at times. She is equally comfortable keeping in line with Dean upfront or dropping deep to aid the two holding midfielders. At her best, she is finding the space in between these two areas. Here, she is able to find room in between the opposition’s defensive and midfield lines. This represents a tough task for Arsenal’s defensive unit. Walti must be vigilant during the match. Most of her time will be spent looking forward, acting as a metronome swinging possession from side to side as Arsenal look for a breakthrough. The toughest part of her job on Sunday will be keeping a 360-degree image of her surroundings, as Furness will likely look to drop in deeper than Dean out of possession. The latter will keep the centre-halves from pushing forward to limit the space Furness has to operate in, so it will be up to Walti to carry out this job.
Arsenal Women are overwhelming favourites heading into this match. Montemurro will be encouraging his side to get off on the right foot in this North London Derby and continue their form from their victory over Manchester City Women before the international break. With league leaders Chelsea hosting Manchester United on Sunday.
Spurs will be looking to conjure up an unlikely upset. This will likely involve maintaining a compact defensive unit out of possession. When the opportunity comes, they cannot waste any chances they are able to create. Dean and Furness have shown that they can be clinical when provided with the right opportunities. Graham specifically will be tasked with creating space out wide for herself to counter, before looking to find one of these two.
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