As Jonas Eidevall put pen to paper on a new contract just days before the away game against Manchester United Women’s, he was coming off a immense pressure period amidst UWCL elimination and the opening day loss against Liverpool. With an away game against Man United looming, which also marked Alessia Russo playing against her former team, it was a big chance for Eidevall to bring in some fans confidence against one of their bigger rivals for the Super League this season.
Judging by the history of the fixture for Arsenal Women’s, this was always going to be a tricky fixture on road for Little & Co. and it turned out to be exactly that.
Eidevall refurnished his line-up following that vanquishment in hands of Liverpool Women’s at the Emirates in front of a record-breaking 54,000 fans. He went in with a more 3-5-2 starting eleven, with both Lessi Russo and Stina Blackstenius playing together upfront. Laia Codina made her debut for the Gunners as well following her move from Barcelona over the summer. On paper, many argued – Manchester United’s starting line-up was more balanced, although the Gunners did have a deep bench which was always going to play an integral part.
Man Utd starting XI: Earps, George, Le Tissier, Blundell, Toone, Zelem, Galton, Ladd, L. Garcia, Turner, Geyse
Arsenal starting XI: D’Angelo, Beattie, Catley, Little (C), Walti, Maritz, Pelova, Russo, Blackstenius, Codina, Ilestedt
How the Game played out??
Pics 1, 2, 3, 4: Arsenal and Man United’s In Possession and Out of possession Ideas
Eidevall’s choices for Arsenal women produced some questions out of the surprising setup as as Kim Little and Alessia Russo were asked to keep width and usually the central striker Blackstenius had freedom to drift, this was evident in the opening goal when Arsenal who sat in a 5-4-1 shape without the ball (Pic 3) had Blackstenius drift wide (best example in Pic 1, the buildup to her opening goal) as Russo and Little on ball would be present more centrally
With United sitting in a 4-4-2, it did initially make sense that even with the cost of isolating Russo or Little, having 4 players in the midfield narrow would force United more to stay compact, this way in transitions having runners behind lines would yield chances ( the 1st goal was a good example)
Marc Skinner’s women though perhaps had much cleaner game plan: Defend and press from a 4-4-2 and then attack in a 4-2-4 with Toone and Geyse overloading the central zones ( Pic 2 and Pic 4). With a 5 woman defense, Eidevall would have thought it would be comfortable but allowed more midfield circulation.
Pic 5: A Match report of the Game
The Pass Networks of both teams summarizes the points in best ways: Geyse Ferreira and Toone both close to each other in central zones, for Arsenal Little and Waiti overloaded the zone 14 and had Russo drift or drop to create lanes for Blackstenius.
With respect to final 3rd carries, Arsenal had more amount of carries into United’s final 3rd. It was a game where United created interesting chances but Arsenal defence held strong but the 2 goals they conceded came from some unnecessary giveaways This was also something Eidevall was keen to point out in his defence of how he managed the game after the final whistle blew.
Alessia Russo’s Homecoming: A promising yet frustrating return
Pic 6: Alessa Russo’s performance against Manchester United
Following her move for free over the summer (which to the expense of United, who rejected a world record fee for her back in January from Arsenal), Russo was seen as a significant coup for Arsenal women. Her return to United saw Eidevall play her on the right and provide as a channel for Blackstenius to exploit. Though initially keeping width, as the game went she gradually started making more central actions and as we see on the 2nd pitch in Pic 6, she was able to carry the ball thrice into box, laying off once and trying to score twice though she unfortunately couldn’t find the net.
She played very close to Pelova, and that pass flow dictates how she tried combining with the Dutch star into more offensive zones.
There needs to be said something about her mentality though, everything about this fixture revolved around her and you could hear the boos loud and clear even when she got near the balls – let alone touch it. She was moved centrally once Stina was subbed off and Cloé Lacasse came on to take that right flank. This is when she started to get more and more involved. Her hold-ups complemented by her pressing and dropping-ins as she started to get more involved. She kept close to scoring when she hit the bar following dribbling the United defence horizontally in the box.
Alessia Russo vs Manchester United pic.twitter.com/mTlWEAo3U3
— Laura Veen Comps Specialist (@veencomps) October 7, 2023
Codina, proving her worth
Pic 7: Laia Codina’s performance against Man United
One of the more interesting things to pick up in Arsenal’s build-up was how Jonas used Laia Codina. She started on the left side of the back-three but her role was more of a progressor. Carrying the ball into the midfield, or picking pockets in that second phase of build-up which not only enable Steph Catley to explore more offensive zones but also Kim Little and Walti to pick spaces that could impact sequences of play. If her role is anything of the signs to come, the World Cup winner will be an integral part of build-ups especially from that first phase. She also attempted some interesting between-the-line passes, conforming her technical abilities and understanding of space.
It was an impactful debut that proffered to sign of things to come from her, and Arsenal going ahead.
Jonas Eidevall’s struggles haven’t come to a fore yet as he’d have hoped for after yesterday night’s result so this is something that will start hanging over him as days pass by. For Marc Skinner, being at the top of the table early in the season will count highly important as they will try to maintain the momentum going.
Eidevall’s larger criticism to be able to find a system that could eventually house the absentees such as Leah Williamson, Vivianne Midema and Beth Mead will be discussed amongst AFC Women’s supporters as Arsenal play a dramatically different playstyle where a certain disconnect can be seen which Eidevall can’t hide longer with the same systematic principles. Although the trio are closer to a return from injury, the pressure builds on …