UEFA Women’s Champions League 2019/20: Fiorentina vs Arsenal – tactical analysis
While the Champions League returns for the men next week, the women’s European campaign gets underway this week. The new campaign will have a similar storyline for all teams involved, to try and best serial winners Olympique Lyon.
Arsenal travel to Florence for their first UEFA Women’s Champions League game in five and a half years. Given Arsenal were unseeded in the draw, they will be grateful to have avoided European heavyweights Lyon. Fiorentina, however, look a threat having finished second in Serie A last season. They will look to avoid another hammering from an English side having lost to Chelsea by 6-0 in their return leg of the UEFA Women’s Champions League last year.
Having opened their season with a 2-1 win against West Ham, Arsenal have a mouth-watering clash against Manchester United on Monday. This game represented an important start to the European campaign for Joe Montemurro and Arsenal as they look to mount a serious run at the continental competition.
Lineups & Squads
Arsenal travelled to Florence making one change from their win against West Ham with Vivianne Miedema replacing centre-back Viktoria Schnaderbeck. Montemurro set up his team in a different 3-4-2-1 formation with Kim Little, Danielle van de Donk playing behind Miedema. Jill Roord and Leah Williamson would make up the double-pivot and look to create a base for the front four to play.
Fiorentina came into the game off a narrow 1-0 loss to Juventus in Serie A. They continued to persist with their 4-3-3 formation that got them in the top three last season.
Fiorentina (4-3-3): Durante; Tortelli, Agard, Arnth, Philtjens; Adami, Breitner, Cordia; Thøgersen, Bonetti, de Vanna
Arsenal (3-4-2-1): Zinsberger; Maier, Beattie, McCabe; Evans, Williamson, Roord, Mead; van de Donk, Little; Miedema
Fiorentina’s low block
Arsenal were rightly the favourites going into the match and predictably the preliminary analysis would have been Fiorentina’s defensive set up against WSL champions Arsenal. Throughout the match we could see them set up in a low block trying to contain Arsenal’s electrifying forward line. The Italian team were looking to keep the spaces compact and not allow Arsenal to play through the lines.
Utilising a 4-2-3-1, the likes of Miedema and Lisa Evans were trying to break the lines and constantly move about to allow Danielle van de Donk space to operate and dictate play to cause the most damage. Arsenal pegged them back in their own half for the majority of the game.
Fiorentina adopted a 5-3-2 formation out of possession to compliment their compact low block to keep Arsenal out and it worked in flashes. Combined with a triggered pressing mechanism, the Viola were able to push Arsenal back to their centre-backs and goalkeeper to get them to start building out from the back again.
The Italian side would look to press through their two deep-lying midfielders only when Arsenal would push to the edge of their box. They were trying to cut off supply from central midfield towards the wingers and full-backs by penetrating the half-spaces.
As the image above illustrates, Greta Adami (#7) would press the attacker as she moved closer to the penalty area. Once possession was moved out wide, the Fiorentina midfielder would drop back into space she vacated to not allow Arsenal any extra space for runners to get through. Any time Arsenal did manage to catch Fiorentina out they had enough players at the back to deal with quick breaks. Miedema was denied space to play for the first 15 minutes and keeping her quiet was an important task for the Italian side.
This image shows the Viola closing down Miedema with multiple players to try and deny her any extra room to get a shot on goal. The Italian side repelled Arsenal for the first 18 minutes keeping them to shots from distance, however, Arsenal’s persistence in breaking down their defence finally paid off when Little managed to thread a smart ball through the Italians. The first goal caused a ripple effect opening up the floodgates and forcing Fiorentina to come out of their shell and attack.
Arsenal’s midfield genius
Arsenal’s response to Fiorentina’s compact, defensive tactics was to remain persistent in their own method and it finally paid dividends when Miedema managed to slot home for Arsenal’s first. Arsenal shaped up in a hybrid 4-3-3/4-2-3-1 formation with Little and Van de Donk or Roord breaking forward to join Arsenal’s forward line to create space.
They wanted to create overloads on one side of Fiorentina’s defensive line with clever movement and interchanges to try and open up gaps. Leah Williamson was often seen stepping into a defensive midfield position becoming the focal point during Arsenal’s build-up distributing balls out wide. This would allow the likes Little and Van De Donk the freedom to push forward.
Arsenal’s first two goals exemplified their approach with both goals courtesy of excellent vision, movement, and positioning. They broke the lines well by timing their runs to perfection. Many of the movements were more effective because of Fiorentina’s tendency to ball watch and not track certain players as closely as they should have.
Arsenal’s first goal was a combination of excellent movement and running between Arsenal’s forwards. Keeping a compact shape for 90 minutes requires high levels of concentration and Fiorentina’s players didn’t cover all the gaps and an almost telepathic understanding between Little and Miedema saw them combine to score.
As the graphic above highlights, Little’s initial position was more central, but she dropped deep towards the ball carrier and saw the space over her shoulder. There is no one close by to press Little and make sure she doesn’t have space to operate in.
Both Miedema and Mead recognised the empty space and attempt to make a run before Little has released the ball. While Mead’s marker is attempting to follow her, Miedema is able to ghost her way past the two centre-backs and make an unmarked run.
The second goal saw Arsenal’s central midfielders become more involved with Van de Donk making runs in the half-spaces to combine with the forward line. Van de Donk is a hard-working attacking midfielder who is equally comfortable playing as a number 8 or 10. She is Arsenal’s main creative instigator from a deeper position and spots the next two passes before she releases her own one. This allows the likes of Little, Evans, and Miedema to flourish.
As the graphic above illustrates, the Viola have numerous players between midfield and defence trying to stop balls from going into their penalty area. Van de Donk’s pass is being closely watched by three Fiorentina players with two of them looking to press Little before she receives it. But, Little’s impressive touch and ball movement allow her to drive through their defence.
An interesting point to note here is Fiorentina’s players have continued to ball watch and have now shifted their focus on Miedema. Nonetheless, at least one player should focus on Little’s movement after laying the ball off to the Dutch striker. The Scottish attacking midfielder is allowed to make a direct run in behind the compact defensive line and get on the end of Miedema’s simple pass.
This move started with Van de Donk’s move into a more attacking area on the right side. The goal was scored off Arsenal’s left which shows how Arsenal utilised overloads on one side to shift play across and move Fiorentina’s players around to create these gaps.
Florence to London
In truth, this game was attack versus defence. Fiorentina had a clear game plan and it was effective for the first 18 minutes but Arsenal’s persistence allowed them to find a way through the defensive line. Arsenal will face sterner tests this season but have laid down a marker for the rest of the participants that they are here to compete. The English team have a number of technical players in midfield and like the men’s team have a strong, effective finisher in Dutch centre-forward, Miedema.
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