“Denmark’s next superstar”: Why adding 19-year-old Kathrine Kühl would be a big positive for Arsenal – scout report
Whilst many leagues in the women’s game will not be back from their winter breaks for another couple of weeks, there have still been plenty of things for fans to discuss, with the window transfer window now open and rumours flying around over which clubs will look to strengthen their squads and which players might be on the move.
One side widely expected to have a busy window is Arsenal Women, with the WSL side recently losing star duo Beth Mead and Vivianne Miedema to long-term injuries and therefore needing to bring in players to replace them. As a result, Jonas Eidevall’s side have been linked over the last month with a host of top names, including Brazil and former North Carolina Courage playmaker Debinha, Ajax’s Netherlands midfielder Victoria Pelova and Benfica’s Canada striker Cloé Lacasse.
However, one player who is reportedly closing in on a switch to Meadow Park is 19-year-old Nordsjælland and Denmark midfielder Kathrine Kühl, and this tactical analysis will look in closer detail at what she would bring to Arsenal during the second half of the season if she made a switch to the WSL. The scout report will focus specifically on her attacking, midfield and defensive qualities as well as analysing why she could be an underrated and yet critical signing for the north London side.
What is immediately clear when watching Kathrine Kühl is that she is capable of offering something in every area of the pitch, which will always attract managers and is one reason that she has been linked with a move away from her native Denmark. However, by preference, she tends to play as more of a creative attacking player than a defensive enforcer, so it makes sense to begin this analysis by focusing on her qualities when she is in the final third.
One thing that she does well during matches is reading the game and anticipating what might happen during different situations, and it is common to see her making runs into areas where she can support her teammates as a result. Here, against AGF Women (who are based in Aarhus), she has spotted the gap in the defensive line and is making a run towards that area, giving her team a way of exploiting it and turning this attack into a shot on goal.
What this demonstrates is that Kühl’s focus is always on the second phase of each attack, with her not concentrating on the ball and instead trying to put herself in a position from where she can receive the next pass. This is because Nordsjælland play a measured style of football that sees players overload the central channels and stay in close proximity to each other, meaning that the ball tends not to travel across large distances when they are moving it around.
As a result, Karen Linnebjerg Knudsen was only ever going to pass to on-loan OL Reign forward Ryanne Brown, in the blue circle here, so what Kuhl looks to provide with her run forwards is a way for the team to keep the chance alive once Brown has controlled the ball and turned to face the goal, and it is this that makes the young Denmark international such an important part of her team’s play and a good player for Arsenal to target this month.
Those spaces are not always possible though, meaning that Kühl sometimes has to focus on helping her teammates out in the first phase and not setting up to offer passing options further across the pitch. Here, Nordsjælland are once again looking to create a goalscoring opportunity, with Knudsen the main target player, but Brøndby Women’s defensive line is more organised than AGF’s was, with three players evenly spaced out inside the box and giving them the advantage if the ball were to be delivered into the middle.
As a result, Kühl, who is once again getting forward to support the attack, diverts her run here and instead moves towards the ball, as the red arrow illustrates, with her now focused on offering a shorter passing option and keeping the attack alive. Without this change of direction, Nordsjælland would have had no option but to send an aerial pass into the middle or to pass backwards, both of which would have made it easier for Brøndby to prevent them from shooting at goal, so that once again shows how Kühl’s ability to read the game and recognise where she can help her team out is a key part of their attacking play.
However, Kühl does have other notable qualities in attacking situations that need mentioning. Here, it is her positioning that needs to be analysed, because she has taken up a central attacking role and given her team a way of counterattacking at pace and keeping the pressure on their opponents (HB Køge in this case). It is common to see her moving into this role during matches and it is something that her teammates rely on, with it meaning that they always have a way of keeping attacks alive when the game is moving at a fast pace.
Against Køge, this is particularly important, because they are a robust defensive side who have often been tough to break down, so moving the ball around at speed and being direct where possible is always a good way to play against them, and Kühl’s ability to take up different roles was critical to that being the case here.
Therefore, as has been shown throughout this section, Arsenal would be making a good move to bring her to the WSL, with her qualities giving them a lot of what they are looking for this month.
When in the central third, Kathrine Kühl has several in-game responsibilities, with her versatility clear to see during every match, and this is another reason that she has attracted the notice of big names around Europe ahead of the winter transfer window.
One key aspect of Arsenal’s tactics under their Swedish head coach has been their quick passing and ability to keep the ball moving in tight areas of the pitch, with this being one reason for teams finding them hard to keep out. As this situation shows, this is a quality that Kühl also thrives in, with her at the heart of many of Nordsjælland’s attempts to break their opponents down through quick and precise passing.
On this occasion, against AGF, Nordsjælland have tried to advance up the field but have found almost all of their potential routes blocked. Therefore, they need to create an avenue by tempting their opponents into leaving enough space open for them to transfer the ball through, which is where Kühl comes in. Her pass forward here and instant change of direction to run towards the middle of the pitch is designed to get her into the right area to receive the return pass, whilst also forcing AGF into committing to either winning the ball or closing her down, and this is often all that is needed to create a gap in the defensive line and allow the attacking side to move forward once again.
On this occasion, the move breaks down due to AGF intercepting the initial pass from Kühl, but the fact that she attempted it demonstrates once again how she is always thinking about second phases and how she can have a positive effect on the game.
Kühl’s aforementioned versatility is again crucial in this area of the game, with her able to drop back and push forward with equal ability. Here, she has needed to do the former, with Thy-Thisted Q working hard to prevent Nordsjælland from playing up the field, but this is where her passing range comes into the picture, as the added time and space that comes from her moving back towards the halfway line gives her a better chance of picking out a teammate. The fact that 81.3% of her passes have reached their intended targets highlights the qualities she brings when her team have the ball, especially when they need someone to dictate the flow of the game.
In this case, Kühl identifies the open area behind Thy-Thisted Q’s defensive line and targets it with a long pass, giving Ghanaian forward Princess Marfo something to run onto. On this occasion, the pass doesn’t lead to anything, but it is not the first time that Kühl has sent balls directly into advanced areas, with her two assists both coming from deeper areas of the field.
Therefore, again, she can be given different roles during matches and play in each with equal quality, and that is another reason that she would be a good signing for Arsenal to make.
There is a third way that she shows her versatility though, with her often not looking to make passes immediately and instead opting to progress the ball up the field on her own. As this graphic shows, this is something that she has done on plenty of occasions this season already, with many of these runs coming during transitions as Nordsjælland move from their own third into their opponents’.
The fact that there is a greater proportion of green to red dots indicates that she is more often than not successful when taking the ball up the field herself, with her being tough to tackle at times and rarely conceding possession, both of which are qualities that Eidevall and any other interested managers will really appreciate.
Kühl’s positioning is also important to mention in this section though, because, as highlighted at the beginning of this analysis, she is more of a creative attacking player than a defensive one. As a result, it is more common to see her in and around the final third and working with those ahead of her than it is to see her tracking back.
When in advanced areas of the pitch, her role is often to get between opposing lines and give them as many problems as possible. In this case, Brøndby have set up with a mid to low block and are looking to put as much distance between the ball and the goal, but their mistake here is that they have left enough space open between their lines for Nordsjælland to position players in, and Kühl is one of those who likes to get into these gaps and to link up different areas of her team.
It is also worth mentioning that she is on the half-turn here, meaning that she will be able to control the ball when Dominican Republic defender Brianne Reed sends it in her direction. This will give Brøndby as little chance as possible of tackling her and regaining possession, and that demonstrates her intelligence on the field and ability to play a major role in turning possibilities into probabilities.
However, when her team do lose possession in their own third, Kathrine Kühl is just as capable of giving them the necessary protection and making it as difficult as possible for opponents to break them down, which is another reason that she could be a key player for Arsenal to have in their squad as they try to end Chelsea Women’s three-year run of league titles.
One big way in which she contributes to defensive efforts is that she is quick around the pitch and constantly closes opponents down, and this allows her to get back and limit opponents’ options often before they have realised that she is there.
Here, AGF’s Kathrine Spanner has the ball and is looking to advance towards Nordsjælland’s goal area, with Cecilie Johansen available as a passing option on the nearside of the pitch, in the white circle. However, Kühl has noticed this and is now looking to prevent the ball from travelling towards her, knowing that doing so will stop AGF from using the open space and will force Spanner to pass towards the far channel instead, where Nordsjælland will have the advantage due to defenders being positioned in that area.
Closing the ball down also gives the defensive line additional time to get back and set their shape up, with quick passing now no longer an option for the opposing side. As a result, they can’t exploit any gaps that were initially left open, and the fact that Kühl has been successful in 72.4% of her defensive duels this season indicates how efficient she has been when ending threats early and regaining possession. Therefore, despite being an attack-minded player by trade, there is no doubt that she plays an important role when her side is out of possession too.
Something that is really common in Danish men’s and women’s football is the use of wing-backs, with both national sides using back fives more often than not whilst Danish coach Brian Sørensen has introduced the system at Everton Women this season after taking charge of the club last summer.
Nordsjælland are another side who have used it at times, with the system allowing them to have numbers back whenever they lose the ball. On this occasion, there are six players back, but the principles remain the same, and the key point to mention is that the midfielders and defenders tend to focus on different ways of preventing the opponents from scoring goals. Defenders’ main jobs are to focus on protecting the goal, so tend to stay back, whilst midfielders are more aware of their surroundings as they have more ground to cover and so tend to close the ball down.
Kühl is one of those who is constantly aware of what is going on around her, with her in-game intelligence again critical to her side’s play. In this case, she knows that Fortuna Hjørring play expansive football and tend to build attacks through longer passes, and so recognises that, when Caroline Olesen gets the ball here, her aim will be to find a teammate in the space behind, with American forward Ashley Riefner running across to offer that option.
However, because Kühl has positioned herself in the gap and knows what Fortuna are looking to do, she is able to intercept the pass and end the threat, and the fact that she has already made 41 interceptions in total this season demonstrates that this is not a one-off. Therefore, whilst it is not an area that she normally operates in, the Arsenal target is undoubtedly a good player to have on the field when it comes to defending against opposing threats, and that is another reason that Eidevall’s side will benefit from having her in their team.
Once Nordsjælland regain possession in their own third, their focus turns immediately towards moving the ball forward again and launching an attack, and, more often than not, that starts with short passes through the thirds.
This is another area of the game where Kühl’s awareness comes into its own because she is able to assess her surroundings and identify the best spaces for her teammates to play the ball into. In this case, she is making a run across the pitch and is pointing to an area between the Brøndby players where Nordsjælland will have time to control the ball and assess their next option, and it also puts Kühl into a position where, should possession be conceded, she can immediately close it down and win it back.
Therefore, again, this demonstrates how she is a key player to have on the field, both when defending and when her side look to play out from the back.
In conclusion, this tactical analysis has looked in detail at Denmark midfielder Kathrine Kühl, analysing the qualities that she has shown so far this season for Nordsjælland and what she will bring to Arsenal if she were to make a move to Meadow Park, as is widely expected.
What has become clear throughout this scout report is that Kühl is a player who offers a lot during games and often does the unseen work, such as keeping attacks alive and linking play together, all of which helps her team to keep posing a threat and to remain as defensively robust as possible.
If the Denmark international does join Jonas Eidevall’s side (and they will face competition for her signature, with Chelsea also reportedly interested in a move), then there is no doubt that she would add a lot of quality to their overall play, with many seeing her as Denmark’s next superstar in the sport, and she would provide sufficient cover for those players who are facing a lengthy stay on the sidelines. However, it should also be pointed out that she is still just 19 and so is young and not yet the finished article, and expectations among fans and the media should be managed accordingly.
Nevertheless, if she continues to grow and develop at Meadow Park, then Kühl will be a player that Arsenal fans can get excited about, and she will play a big part in helping the club to build for the future too.