After Arsenal’s 5-1 victory over Tottenham on Saturday, Jonas Eidevall picked out Victoria Pelova for special praise. “A player like Victoria Pelova is very important for us today, both in the way she plays defence but also because the way she keeps possession and sets up attacks for us.” The Dutch schemer had probably her strongest game in a Gunners shirt, playing on the right side of the attack.
What is interesting is that in Pelova’s last three games on the right, it has been Noelle Maritz behind her at right-back. On Tuesday night in Munich, Maritz started at left-back but when Pelova was introduced on the hour mark, Maritz shifted over to the right. Let’s look more closely at Pelova’s performance in the North London derby.
Pelova is on point from the first second. As Spurs take kickoff, Summanen rolls the ball back to Angharad James who is looking to immediately hit Beth England in the left channel.
Pelova reads it like a book and cuts it out.
She then finds a good pass on the left side to Caitlin Foord, Spurs have overloaded their left because they are expecting an early attack through Beth England. Instead, they are on the back foot in the first three seconds of the game. Arsenal end up with a throw in deep in Tottenham territory.
It’s a marginal gain but having centre gives a team the chance to dictate the territory in the early moments of the game. Pelova’s interception not only wrestles that advantage away from Spurs but gives it to Arsenal and sets the tone for what is to come. This is especially important as teams can often be sluggish in the opening stages following a European away fixture in midweek and Spurs would have been banking on that being the case. Pelova’s alertness takes away two relatively minor marginal gains from Tottenham in the opening seconds of the game and now Arsenal have the opponent under pressure right from the off.
Here we see another example of Pelova’s work ethic. Drew Spence takes a loose touch on the halfway line and Pelova’s eyes light up.
Angharad James rushes across to try to bail Spence out but Pelova is strong and wins the 50-50, retaining the ball at her feet in the process. ‘Regain and retain’ is a favoured refrain of coaches. It isn’t just about winning challenges but, when you can, winning them in such a way that the ball stays under your control.
From here, she drives towards the left flank.
Then releases a good, angled pass to Foord on the left.
Pelova showed a willingness to stretch the game in wide areas too. Here she motions to Kim Little to play a pass in behind when Little has the ball in the centre circle.
Unfortunately for Arsenal, Spurs left-back Kerrys Harrop just gets a slight touch on Little’s cross field pass to prevent Pelova from being through on goal.
But Pelova doesn’t just allow the ball to drift out for a corner, she runs to retrieve it and finds this underlapping run from Maritz in the area. Arsenal win a corner from this situation.
We see something very similar here a few minutes later. Little has the ball in the centre circle and Pelova immediately signals for it to go in behind.
On this occasion there is a twist though, Pelova’s run takes Harrop inside and opens up the flank for Maritz’s run.
Maritz is able to deliver a dangerous cross from here and Blackstenius’ eventual shot is blocked for a corner.
Spurs threaten a rare break here with Harrop and Ayane is making a run behind Maritz on that flank. Pelova has already spotted it and is busting a lung to track back.
The Dutchwoman gets back and forces Ayane to miscontrol and Arsenal have a throw-in. Had she not tracked the run with such determination, Spurs would have found themselves in a good situation.
From the resulting throw-in, Wälti touches the ball to Pelova in a tight space with her back to goal.
Pelova turns out of trouble and delivers a cross-field ball to Foord and the Australian accepts the pass and scores to make it 2-0.
She just loves scoring against Spurs!@CaitlinFoord 🙌#WomensFootballWeekend pic.twitter.com/hPcfkc5CLV
— Barclays Women’s Super League (@BarclaysWSL) March 25, 2023
Pelova should immediately have had a goal to her name too. As Arsenal win the ball back in midfield and Maanum drives into space, Pelova, who was always pretty central when the ball was on Arsenal’s left, instantly smells an opportunity and has her skates on.
She runs into space and gives Maanum a simple option to put her through on goal.
However, she doesn’t quite take the ball in her stride on her right foot, the ball ends up on her left foot and she has to dig out the finish and Korpela saves. Pelova really ought to score here.
It was Pelova’s alertness that really stood out in this game, as Williamson surveys her options with the ball at centre-back, Pelova is willing to make a sharp, sudden movement away from the right side- she can see that Noelle Maritz is already hugging the touchline so she feels liberated to bolt into the half space.
The angle doesn’t open up instantaneously; so Pelova moves again and motions for Williamson to play the ball into space.
Now she has the ball in a dangerous position and turns. Spurs were reasonably well set a couple of seconds ago but Pelova changed that with her willingness to move into space quickly and demand the ball. From this move, Blackstenius gets a shot off- albeit she loses her footing as she does so.
This is the build-up to Arsenal’s second half penalty. Pelova can see that Blackstenius wants to run that right channel so she has the intelligence to move away and drag Harrop with her to clear the space by drifting towards Maritz in possession. It also gives Maritz a secondary option of using Pelova with the pass if she needs to.
Maritz does indeed attempt the braver pass, however. Harrop is late to realise that Pelova’s run is a decoy and she starts to run back but that piece of movement from Pelova has just created enough space for Blackstenius to run into.
From this position, Blackstenius crosses, McCabe arrives late at the back post and wins Arsenal a penalty.
Pelova helps herself to an assist for the fourth goal where she demonstrates skill and tenacity. She collects the pass from Wienroither here.
And takes a wonderful touch to get away from two Spurs defenders.
Spurs get players around her and look as though they will defend the situation but Pelova just will not give up the ghost and fights to keep it.
She scraps to keep her body between the ball and Angharad James and keep the attack alive.
When Pelova touches the ball back to Wienroither, the Austrian’s cross is blocked and Victoria is, once again, the first player to react, running towards the ricochet.
She chops the ball back past James and then hits a left-footed cross to the back post for Foord to control and score.
Caitlin Foord just loves the North London Derby 🤩#WomensFootballWeekend @ArsenalWFC pic.twitter.com/fYzNFXpt8F
— Barclays Women’s Super League (@BarclaysWSL) March 25, 2023
It was a just reward for her performance where she came away with two assists and really ought to have had a goal. But what really stood out was her alertness and her work rate. In many situations in this game, Pelova was the first player to react or the player to provoke with her movement. It was a strong display from the Dutch international.
Offt they do have families, Pelova 😮💨😮💨 pic.twitter.com/rwUc380615
— Belinda (@maanumitstwitta) March 26, 2023