Nikita Parris: why “dream forward” will only improve Arsenal’s attack next season – scout report
Chelsea Women are undoubtedly the team to beat in the WSL, but Manchester City Women and Arsenal Women, who finished second and third respectively in 2020/2021, have been building their squads ahead of next season’s title battle. Arsenal also have a new manager, with former Rosengard boss Jonas Eidevall replacing Joe Montemurro, who left and later joined Juventus Femminile. They have so far added two new players, Japan international Mana Iwabuchi from Aston Villa and England forward Nikita Parris from Lyon Feminin.
Parris is a particularly exciting signing, described by many as a “dream forward” to have, and this tactical analysis will look in greater detail at what the former Everton Women and Manchester City Women attacker will bring to Meadow Park next season. We will see how she can fit into Arsenal’s tactics, as well as comparing her statistics from last season with Beth Mead’s and Caitlin Foord’s, who are the most likely to compete with her for positions in the starting XI.
Offering passing options
To begin this scout report, we will look at how Nikita Parris gives her team passing options around the pitch. This is a key part of her game, as it enables her team to pose a threat wherever the ball is on the field.
The first thing to mention is that Parris is a versatile forward, not only able to play in one position or area of the pitch. Here, she is positioned tight to the side line, with Bordeaux Feminines leaving the space open for her to exploit. Parris’ positioning here stretches Lyon’s attacking line out across the pitch, making it harder for Bordeaux to close the ball down.
Arsenal also operated with a front three last season, so Parris would have no trouble slotting into their formation if Eidevall opts to stick with it for next season. However, what is particularly notable is that Parris nearly always stays ahead of the ball, and this would enable Arsenal next season to get players behind opposing defences much quicker, thereby causing more problems for their opponents in the final third.
When playing in a central role, Parris constantly hunts for gaps in the defensive line to make runs through. Vivianne Miedema, her new strike partner at Arsenal, also likes to get into these gaps, so, again, Parris will have no issues slotting into their tactics. We can see here how the ball is travelling into the middle from the far side, with the England international focused on bringing it down well.
However, she doesn’t just shoot when in these spaces, as, in this example, she sends the ball backwards for Delphine Cascarino to score from, with the yellow arrow illustrating Cascarino’s run inside the Brondby line. Therefore, Parris has used her positioning to set up a chance for her teammate, and that again demonstrates how she gives her team plenty of options in attack.
However Arsenal set up next season, Parris is unlikely to play in attack on her own, or not initially anyway. This is because, when she is alone in attack, she tends to drift towards one side of the field, rather that stay in a central area. This image demonstrates that issue, with Lyon trying to play through the midfield, and Parris, in the red circle, making a run towards the left wing, as shown by the red arrow. This leaves the central space unoccupied, making it easier for Bordeaux to close Lyon off, as they don’t have to consider any unmarked attackers in the middle.
The two examples we saw before this showed Parris playing alongside teammates, so her movement wasn’t so much of an issue. Therefore, this is something Parris will need to adapt to, but her quality will not make this too hard for her.
The second aspect of Nikita Parris’ play to examine is her clever positioning during games. We have already analysed her versatility and ability to create options, but this is about the finer details of her individual performances.
One of Parris’ key strengths is making runs at the right moment. Here, the ball is on the far side of the pitch, with Bordeaux looking to surround it and regain possession. However, Parris has seen the gap and made the run forward, with this positional change giving Lyon a way of moving the ball forwards, continuing their attacking momentum. Therefore, we can see how Parris’s spatial awareness is important. With Netherlands midfielder Danielle van de Donk leaving for the French side this summer, Arsenal are in need of someone who can change games by making intelligent runs into spaces, and Parris definitely has that ability.
Another key factor in Parris’ positioning is that she often plays off to one side of the main attack. To explain, it is normal to see wingers cutting inside and shooting at goal, but Parris tends to remain wider than normal. This is an effective part of her team’s attack, as they can avoid the area where the defenders are expecting the ball to go, instead playing over the top towards Parris.
The fact that she is in space here shows how Fleury 91 have not realised where she is until it is too late. The time she had to control the ball when it reached her enabled the England forward to pick her spot and score, so it proves the threat she poses when in these spaces.
She sometimes moves into these spaces to help her team keep the ball in play. It is a common occurrence in the men’s and women’s games for crosses to be sent in too high, harmlessly rolling out of play. However, Parris ensures her team can continue their attack if this happens, and this is not something we see too much of, so is definitely something Arsenal can pick up on and build into their tactics next season.
When the box is overcrowded, Parris’s awareness and positioning become even more vital. Here, we see how the majority of Lyon attackers are in the middle, where the ball is. Brondby’s players have naturally moved towards that area, trying to win the ball back, but Parris has maintained her position and is now behind the defenders. When the ball reaches her, she can control the ball and shoot, with this being another goal for her. Brondby’s body shape means they are unable to turn back and stop her, and this all came because Parris saw the space and kept herself in a good position to convert the opportunity. Parris scored 15 goals in all competitions last season, so this positional ability and quality in tight spaces is something Arsenal can benefit from in the WSL next season.
Playing in different roles
The final idea to focus on is how Nikita Parris can play in different roles, making her a central part of her team’s tactics no matter what system they are playing with. This is something that will really help Arsenal next season, as they are likely to experiment with formations and tactics in the early games, trying to find a style that suits both their players’ individual qualities and Jonas Eidevall’s footballing philosophy.
Firstly, we mentioned how Parris sees things happening ahead of her, acting on them early to expose gaps before opponents can rectify their mistakes. This image shows Le Havre in an initially well-organised defensive structure, with Lyon unable to find a way through. However, one defender, in the yellow circle, moves out of line to close down the ball, allowing Parris to run into the gap, giving her team a way of transferring the ball into the space behind.
This is not new to us, but what it demonstrates is that Parris can play ably in a centre forward role, making good attacking runs that increase the pressure on her team’s opponents. Therefore, when Arsenal are in desperate need of a goal, Parris can give them a way of breaking down tough opposing defences and creating a crucial goalscoring opportunity.
However, when Arsenal want to keep possession and not push their luck, Parris can drop back and find pockets of space, like here against Brondby. In these areas, she can receive short passes and then look around for the best option to move the ball to.
This will be particularly useful in matches against bigger teams, when Arsenal need to dominate play and be patient with the ball, waiting for the right time to attack forwards. Whereas we have seen Parris generally play ahead of the ball throughout this analysis, this demonstrates a different side to her game, and therefore indicates her versatility on the field.
When needed, Parris can drop back into her own half too, helping to link up play and provide her team with a way of playing forwards with less risk. Canada tried to control the game against England in their friendly match earlier this year, so Parris was asked to drop deeper and pick up the ball there, before turning and using her pace against the Canadian defence. Therefore, this is a third way that she can play, demonstrating how she plays in different roles as required, and this adaptability is again something that Arsenal will really benefit from next season, especially as they don’t yet have a forward player who has all of these qualities.
We have analysed three different aspects of Nikita Parris’ game, but the only way we can get a true picture of how she will improve Arsenal next season is by comparing her statistics with Mead and Foord.
It should be noted that Lyon and Arsenal have different playing styles, so it is expected that the statistics will be quite different. However, what is immediately clear is that Parris has a better goals per game rate, although failed to meet her expected goals (xG) when both Mead and Foord did. However, she will help Arsenal to get more of their shots on target, with her positioning in small spaces allowing Arsenal to score goals that they might have missed last season. Her good crossing accuracy will also contribute to a more dangerous Arsenal lineup, as Miedema is likely to have more in the box to get on the end of.
In conclusion, this tactical analysis has shown us that Nikita Parris was a solid signing for Arsenal to have made. With regards to their league hopes next season, bringing Parris in will only make Arsenal a more dangerous side to underestimate. It will be interesting to see how Jonas Eidevall looks to fit Parris into the team, and how he sets up his attack, and it is highly likely that there will be a few variations and a lot of rotation in the early weeks, as he tries to work out the best combination. There has been speculation around Miedema, so Parris would be an able replacement if she were to leave the club. However, if she stays, then it will be interesting to see how much Arsenal develop with them both in the squad.