Having not got the striker they wanted in January, the focus was always going to be on the Arsenal attack against a West Ham side who were looking to sit deep and frustrate Jonas Eidevall’s side. The 0-0 draw will keep how Arsenal attack without Vivianne Miedema and Beth Mead under scrutiny.
It’s not just the amount of end-product that Mead and Miedema produce that the Gunners miss, but both players have been a constant feature of the forward line for nearly five years and, until their respective ACL injuries, both had barely missed a game in that period. Arsenal are having to make new connections in attack and re-learn their muscle memory. Let’s look a little closer at why the team couldn’t make the breakthrough in this game.
Running shot XG from last night. West Ham’s last shot came in the 10th minute (Arsenal didn’t have a single goal kick in the game). Lots of activity here from an Arsenal POV but nothing absolutely gilt edged. pic.twitter.com/HW6WOtfirD
— Tim Stillman (@Stillmanator) February 6, 2023
You can see that it wasn’t for the want of trying. Arsenal had 21 shots in total while West Ham didn’t muster a single effort in the final 80 minutes of the match. It was very much one-way traffic with the central presence of Williamson, Wubben-Moy and Rafaelle making West Ham’s counter-attacking strategy a non-event. This was a pure attack v defence contest but Arsenal only generated 1.6XG from their 21 shots. Enough to have won this game but there wasn’t really a standout opportunity.
All the noise came down Arsenal’s right hand side in the first half. Caitlin Foord, usually on the left, started on the right. Noelle Maritz was preferred at right-back to Laura Wienroither and Frida Maanum, who usually attacks the left channel, played largely on the right. As Grace Fisk goes back to her goalkeeper here, look at Frida Maanum, she is immediately looking towards Cissoko, West Ham’s left-sided centre-half and Kirsty Smith, the left-back. Both are right-footed players.
As goalkeeper Mackenzie Arnold goes to Cissoko, Maanum is quickly over to press.
Cissoko finds Smith and because she is right-footed, she is more likely to pass inside. This was something Arsenal anticipated, they wanted to force West Ham to pass the ball into traffic on this side so they could win the ball back high up the pitch. Smith’s pass to Brynjarsdóttir here is awkward for the Icelander to control and Arsenal immediately win the ball back.
Seconds later, we see the same pattern. Arnold passes to Cissoko and Maanum wants to shepherd her towards Kirsty Smith.
Sure enough she does and that’s the trigger for Foord to press Smith and force her into an uncomfortable position. This is a big part of the reason that Foord was played on the right, because she is very effective at pressing.
Foord does indeed intercept Smith’s attempted pass and Maritz picks up the pieces and look at the numerical superiority Arsenal have on that side with Little, Foord, Maanum and Blackstenius waiting. This was a big part of Arsenal’s plan, press West Ham’s right-footed defenders into traffic, win the ball back and attack that flank. Maritz attempts a first time pass down the line which is blocked but you see the intention.
The StatsBomb pass map shows you that Arsenal were clustering on that right side.
As West Ham look to play out here, Maanum once again comes to life when Cissoko has the ball. As a right-footer, she really only has one option, to pass to her left to Smith. A left-footed centre-half would have more angles to pass out here. We can see that Foord is already anticipating the pass and is close to Smith.
Foord tracks the pass and Smith is not comfortable trying to control and receive on her left-foot so she lets the ball go out of play for an Arsenal throw. Arsenal have territory again deep in the West Ham half.
From the throw, Arsenal are able to create a good situation. The other advantage of having Maanum pull to the right side is that she is physical enough to live with the attention of a touch tight defender like Cissoko. Here, she holds Cissoko off and is nearly able to play Blackstenius into a promising position (this play is pulled back for a free-kick when the pass doesn’t find Blackstenius).
Moving Foord and Maanum to the right wasn’t just about pressing though. Cissoko is a touch tight defender who likes to engage and Arsenal probably felt they could pull her out of shape. Maanum is also physical enough to deal with that kind of attention. Here, Arsenal build down the right and Blackstenius runs into the right channel and Cissoko follows.
It means that Maanum is able to run into that right channel and find some space. Here, Cissoko is able to hold Blackstenius up.
However, Maanum sweeps in and takes over and because of her physicality, she is able to bulldoze her way past Cissoko to the by-line.
Maanum shrugs Cissoko off and pulls the ball back to Hurtig who miscues her finish. This is exactly the kind of scenario Arsenal’s game plan was built around but it lacked the finishing touch at the crucial moment.
It’s the same move in the very next attack as Arsenal funnel the ball out to Foord on the right. Blackstenius moves into that right channel, Cissoko follows and Maanum will look to attack that space to create a superiority.
Foord plays the ball to Maanum in the channel and now Cissoko is caught between Blackstenius and Maanum.
Maanum finds Blackstenius, who is now being picked up by Fisk. What Arsenal really need here is for Hurtig to attack that central space and look for the next pass and really demand the ball from her compatriot. Likewise, Leah Williamson is making a run towards the area and she could impact this space by running to the penalty spot.
Instead, Hurtig backs off to the back post, perhaps affected by the miss a few seconds earlier and Williamson, a centre-half by trade, doesn’t really add another body in the area to give the West Ham defenders another player to pick up. It means they can crowd Blackstenius, who has to try to get a shot off from an awkward angle, which is blocked.
It’s the same pressing trap here too. Arnold passes to Cissoko and Maanum is across.
Cissoko is again forced wide to Smith and, again, Foord is across and Smith is not comfortable enough on her left side to cope with this attention. Foord blocks Smith and Arsenal have a throw-in deep in West Ham’s half again.
That pressing trap leads to a good chance for Maanum at the half hour mark too. Once again, Foord has pinned Smith next to the touchline and Smith wants to come inside on her right foot to Cissoko. Maanum has already anticipated this and is running over to Cissoko before Smith even plays the ball.
Cissoko is forced to clear long and Arsenal have the ball back quickly with Wubben-Moy.
Wubben-Moy finds Williamson and here we see the same shape again, Foord wide with Blackstenius and Maanum overloading in the right channel. Cissoko runs to Maanum as soon as Williamson plays the pass.
Maanum whips the ball out wide to Foord but there isn’t a good angle for her to hit the penalty area, she comes back to Williamson and here, Williamson produces an outstanding scooped pass to Maanum in the right channel.
The Norwegian gets the shot off from here but Arnold is equal to it.
In the second half, Arsenal were far less successful at attacking this right channel. This was for two reasons, the first was that West Ham had spotted the pattern and started to clog that area up. Here Williamson receives the ball over towards the right.
Brynjarsdóttir engages with Williamson on this occasion, something we didn’t really see in the first half and makes it difficult for her to pick a pass.
Snerle, who played on the opposite flank in the first half, then intercepts the pass. She has swapped flanks with Mel Filis now. We can see that Abby Stringer is also in that space. West Ham have more bodies in this space.
Wubbe-Moy finds Foord on the right flank here and, again, we can see that West Ham are far more alive to this possibility with a greater number of claret and blue shirts on this side.
Snerle is getting far tighter than Filis was in the first half and she is able to double up on Foord with Kirsty Smith, forcing her backwards.
As Maritz gets the ball here, once again, Snerle is far closer, Stringer has a good eye on Foord’s run in the right half space here meaning Cissoko doesn’t have to leave her position to engage with the run. Maritz has little choice but to pass backwards again.
Wubben-Moy wants to go right here but Brynjarsdóttir cuts the angle off and Snerle is also nearby. It means that West Ham have all but totally surrendered as a counter-attacking force- they didn’t have a shot in the second half- but they have a more compact shape on their left hand side.
As Foord gets the ball here as a result of a cross field pass from Rafaelle, Snerle is close by again.
Foord moves down the line and you can see that her, Kim Little and Frida Maanum are each closely marked. Arsenal aren’t creating numerical advantages on this side any longer.
The upshot is that Little has to come back to Williamson. West Ham’s shape means Williamson has to receive facing her own goal and Arsenal have to go backwards again. West Ham shut this flank down in the second half, which is why Jonas Eidevall introduced Gio and Laura Wienroither later in the half.
As a result, Maanum moved back over to the left in the second half. As we see here as Foord receives the ball from Maritz, Arsenal no longer have Maanum or Blackstenius working that channel.
When Maanum moves over to the left, West Ham respond again. Mel Filis is replaced by striker Amelie Thestrup, meaving Asseyi moves to the left and Snerle back to the right. Konchesky clearly believes Snerle to be a superior defensive player to Filis and wants her on Maanum’s side.
The other alteration West Ham made was not to pass out from the back via Cissoko and Smith any longer. Mackenzie Arnold passed the ball to Cissoko nine times in the match but only once in the second half.
Instead, Arnold would hold onto the ball for a long time.
Before launching it down field. It meant that Arsenal didn’t have the opportunity to create transitions by pressuring Cissoko and Smith into uncomfortable passes.
Essentially, Arsenal’s original game plan was sound but they needed to produce something before West Ham could react. Having not done that, they then lacked the inspiration or craft to find chances via other avenues.