Women’s Champions League 2022/23: How Arsenal’s defensive organisation and attacking play set the tone against Lyon – tactical analysis
On Wednesday night, European Champions Lyon began the defence of their title against Arsenal at the Groupama Stadium. Lyon came into the match in a confident mood as they had not lost a competitive home game since April 2021.
Arsenal travelled to France in a good run of form themselves as they had won four out of the last five games in all competitions.
Both teams have a history in the competition with Lyon looking to retain its title and win it for the seventh time, while Arsenal dream of winning the competition for the second time in their history, after their success in 2007.
It was Arsenal who started their campaign in style as they emphatically ended Lyon’s home record with a 5-1 victory. The Gunners came with a clear game plan and Jonas Eidevall’s team implemented it perfectly, scoring four goals in the first half.
In this tactical analysis, we will focus on Arsenal’s tactics and analyse the team’s attacking and defensive performance and how it proved too much for Lyon.
Lyon manager Sonia Bompastor continued her flexibility by switching from the 4-1-4-1 formation Lyon used in their previous game, to a 4-3-3 formation. As you can see below Bompastor has been very adaptable with her approach so far this season, switching between five different formations.
Lyon continued to be without several players for this game as Ada Hegerberg and Delphine Cascarino were both ruled out after the pair picked up injuries on international duty. They were also without Griedge Mbock, Ellie Carpenter, Catarina Macario and Sara Dabritz, who all missed out through injury.
Janice Caymen came into the starting eleven after getting forty-five minutes as a substitute in the 3-1 victory against Bordeaux on Sunday
As for Arsenal, Jonas Eidevall set the team up in a 4-3-3 formation for the second game running. The 1-0 win against Reading previously was the first time Eidevall used the system this season. It is the formation he is preferring at this moment after moving away from the 4-4-2 and 4-2-3-1 approaches.
They were without the services of Leah Williamson and Rafaelle as both players remained sidelined with injuries. When they played Reading last weekend left full-back Steph Catley was partnered with Lotte Wubben-Moy in central defence, and they retained their partnership for this game.
Stina Blackstenius started up front, she scored the only goal against Reading, but she was unable to add to her three-goal tally in this match.
Arsenals attacking performance
Arsenal’s attacking transition from their 4-3-3 proved to be one of the decisive factors in this win as Lyons’s lacklustre defensive shape and lack of defensive stability were unable to cope with the positions Arsenal were taking up during their attacks, and the areas of space they were looking to attack.
In the build-up phase Arsenal’s full-backs, Katie McCabe and Laura Wienroither, were pushing high and joining Arsenal’s attacking line, as the image below shows.
This countered Lyons’s attempt to sit in a narrow and compact defensive shape and gave Arsenal extra space in the wide areas and enabled the Gunners to be more direct. You can see how the positions that Beth Mead and Caitlin Foord assume create potential 2v1 situations. Once the ball is played out wide, this instantly attracts Lyon towards that area causing their defensive lines to break.
The overloads created in the wide areas were isolating Lyon’s full-backs and creating a lot of space on the outside for Arsenal to exploit. Once the play was starting to progress through the wide areas the wide forward would push inside like in the image below. Mead and Foord were both able to take advantage of the space behind Lyon’s defence, and their movement into the channels played a role in creating Arsenal’s goals.
The example above also shows how easy it was for Arsenal to pull Lyon from any defensive structure they held. Lyons’s midfield becomes staggered and disjointed as they attempt to win the ball back. This creates space between Lyon’s players both laterally and vertically.
It is the same in this example Lyon is defending a 4-4-2 block, but their wide players are drawn towards pressing Arsenal’s defence at the same time. Once this happens, it presents Arsenal with opportunities to attack either side quickly and directly.
Part of the reason that Lyon was unable to settle into any type of defensive set-up was because of how effective Arsenal were in transition. Lyon’s tactical approach is to control the game through possession, however, in this game, it was clear that Eidevall had prepared Arsenal to attack once possession was won.
You can see below how Arsenal attacked Lyon in transition. Immediately after winning the ball, Frida Maanum pushes up from midfield and they occupy Lyons’s defence from women to women.
Once the ball carrier and the other midfielder join the attack it creates a 6v4 counterattack in Arsenal’s favour. Once this pattern of play occurs, space in Lyon’s defensive third naturally opens up and any kind of forward movement from the Arsenal attackers will cause issues as Lyon’s defensive line is left unprotected by the lack of defensive organisation in their midfield.
Arsenal’s defensive performance.
Arsenal was well organised defensively in this game and were aggressive with their approach to winning the ball.
As Lyon always look comfortable in possession and enjoys dictating the tempo of a match Arsenal’s defensive block was good at forcing Lyons into areas they won and exerting more pressure on them in key areas without having to break or compromise their defensive shape.
During Lyon’s build-up phase, Arsenal defended in a 4-2-4 shape with either of their wide forwards Beth Mead or Caitlin Foord joining Stina Blackstenius in the first line of defence depending on the side Lyon was attempting to play through. Then, a centre midfielder would move out and cover the channel that Mead or Foorde vacated. Like below.
Once Lyon start playing down the right. Arsenal’s defensive shape can shift across and condense the play to one side. This protected the centre of the pitch and enabled Arsenal to put instant pressure on the ball in the wide areas.
Moving across the pitch and trying to fulfil Lyon’s possession by closing the spaces allowed Jonas Eidevall’s team to be aggressive against the ball. The type of pressing system Arsenal applied was a woman-to-woman orientated press but because the team moves across as one, it limits the space between each player meaning the pressure on the ball was constant when Lyon played through the wide channels
The next images are in sequence to show how Arsenal set up to block the passing lanes through the centre and then as the play goes out wide, they applied instant pressure on Lyon as they attempted to win the ball.
When Lyon’s right back Inès Jaurena receives the ball, it signals the trigger for Arsenal’s players to immediately start to press and block the nearest available passing options. As Arsenal intercept the play, they can transition attack quickly with a 4v2 numerical advantage. This is due to the close proximity the players kept in their defensive shape.
There was nothing revolutionary about Jonas Eidevall’s defensive tactics, but they were implemented perfectly. Arsenal played like a team that are well-coached and knew exactly how their manager wanted them to play. Their defensive structure was set to force Lyon to try and play through the wide areas where they pressed and then looked to take advantage of the space Lyon left open, with quick transitions. The space between the lines was limited for Lyon, and they maintained constant pressure on the ball without breaking their defensive shape.
England’s star Beth Mead once again proved to be the key player for Arsenal as she scored a brace to take her tally to five goals this season. The 2022 Women’s Ballon d’Or nominee has started the season in good form for the Gunners.
As well as her ability in front of goal her movement from inside, the right half-space in this game was crucial to Arsenal’s tactics when they attacked, as was Caitlin Foord’s on the other side.
Mead is also pivotal to Arsenal’s defensive phase as she is good at putting pressure on the opposition’s defensive line during their build-up. The map below shows her ball recoveries in the opposition’s half so far this season. As you can see she plays an important role in Arsenal’s defensive set-up as she is good at regaining possession.
The charts above don’t include her stats from this game
Jonas Eidevall could not have asked for a better start to his team’s European campaign. Arsenal would have gone into this game knowing it was a great challenge and any result being considered a positive, let alone a 5-1 victory. The tactics worked, and Arsenal was decisive and clinical during the attacking phase.
This is a result that could push them on this season as they look to progress deep in the competition, Juventus will remain a threat to them winning this group, but this victory has provided them with a good platform to build from. Eidevall will be hoping they can use the result to maintain their challenge on both fronts as now they are currently joint at the top of the Women’s Super League with Manchester United and Chelsea.
For Lyon, their manager Sonia Bompastor will want to forget about this quickly, move on to the next game and put it down as a one-off result that was assisted by the number of injuries they had to key players. However, there will be aspects of the team’s defensive play that will trouble Bompastor because even though they have several players out injured, it was obvious Arsenal compromised her tactics and philosophy.
This article provided an analysis of the tactics implemented by Arsenal that proved to be an important aspect of their victory over Lyon.