FAWSL Round-Up: Match Day 1

Arsenal Win Despite Second Half Scares

I was quite surprised when I saw the xG figures for the Arsenal game. While Arsenal had some good chances, with Danielle van de Donk missing pretty much an open goal, some defensive lapses in the second half felt as though they gave West Ham a route back into the game and that Arsenal were quite fortunate not to throw the game away.

The xG timeline below shows West Ham had a few chances in the second half, but they almost flatlined after actually pulling one back – with the indirect free kick likely having a low xG due to the fact half of North London was standing on the goal line as Manuela Zinsberger charged the shot down.

The argument could be made that on another day Martha Thomas scores the chance where Zinsberger is caught in possession or Adriana Leon scores her back post header, but also on another day Danielle van de Donk would have scored her open goal to make it 3-0 and Arsenal cruise for the second half.

Arsenal may have had some lapses at the back but I don’t think it was anything more than a bit of opening day sloppiness due to a lack of match sharpness or new centre-back pairings getting used to each other but, with plenty of games coming up this month, you’d imagine these problems won’t last much longer.

Leah Williamson and Arsenal’s Midfield

With Leah Williamson being one of the first players to stand out when I first looked at the FAWSL data, she’s one of the players I’m most looking forward to watching properly.

She’s played an interesting role in the opening two games for Arsenal – including the Champions League game against Fiorentina. I did actually want to write a separate piece about how she lined up against Fiorentina but couldn’t get my hands on a download for the match so I’ll quickly mention it here instead.

Against West Ham she lined up as an orthodox central midfielder, as the pass map below highlights, but against Fiorentina she played a hybrid centre-back and midifeld role. It was almost a back three of Leonie Maier, Jennifer Beattie and Katie McCabe with Leah Williamson stationed in front of them forming a midfield with Jill Roord, Kim Little and Danielle van de Donk.

I’m intrigued as to whether both Williamson in midfield and the hybrid role she played against Fiorentina will be a regular feature of Arsenal’s play this year or whether it’s just being used to cover for the absence of Lia Wälti – although it’s an odd time to try it considering she had a long-term injury and is now back in training.

If it is the latter though, while Williamson and Beattie will be a good orthodox partnership, it will be slightly disappointing from a neutral point of view.

It’s a big risk to play her in the hybrid role and you can argue it limits the attacking influence of the full-backs, but it allows her to have more influence and use her passing ability slightly higher up the pitch.

In addition to this, it allows Arsenal to squeeze an extra midfielder in, without having to play one out wide, which is probably where they’re strongest. If they play a traditional 4-3-3/4-2-3-1 with Wälti holding they’ve got Van de Donk, Little, Roord and Jordan Nobbs up for just two spots in the team.

Having these players find space between the lines and combine for Arsenal is huge in their play.

Last weekend Danielle van de Donk and Kim Little were first and second for passes received in the central area of the final third not under pressure. Then, looking at progression via passes for midfielders and forwards, Kim Little was 2nd and Leah Williamson 4th, while Little was also 2nd when looking at progression via carries for central midfielders, behind only Ji So-Yun.

To show some this in action and what Williamson brings slightly higher up the field I’ve included a few clips. The first shows her receieve the ball, she has a quick look forward but nothing is on so she spreads it wide, before getting it back and sliding it through for Kim Little, who then plays Lisa Evans in behind for a cross. (A GFY link)

I like the next clip because you see her point to where the player on the ball should go a couple of times, then when she gets it she shapes her body for a wide pass before going inside to Evans on the edge of the area, who lays it off to Roord for a shot. (A GFY link)

For the last pass, I’ve watched it a few times and I can’t decide if she meant for it to turn out how it did. If she did, it’s a great pass, first time with the outside of the boot and breaking the West Ham line. (A GFY link)

From what I’ve seen of this Arsenal side, they seem to a good job of showing @NathanAClark’s ‘players aren’t positions’.

They have players play different positions or roles, but I’m yet to see it feel like a player is playing out of position. It feels as though they’re just using that player’s attributes in a different area of the pitch, rather than asking the player to do something completely different.

It sounds a bit vague, but Williamson hasn’t looked any different in the three different roles I’ve seen her play, while Danielle van de Donk didn’t seem odd out wide against West Ham. It’s something I really like from what I’ve seen of them so far.

A Strong Debut For Martha Thomas

West Ham lost Jane Ross, their player with the highest xG last season, to Manchester United in the summer, but Martha Thomas gave an encouraging first game that may have them forgetting about Ross pretty quickly.

23-years-old and signed from French 2nd division side Le Havre, Thomas showed herself to be a focal point, having received the 7th most progression at the weekend, a hard worker off the ball, making the 2nd most pressures, as well as grabbing a goal for her side.

Like with the previous two teams, seeing how West Ham get on next week playing Birmingham will likely give a better indicator as to how they’ll be this season than an away game against Arsenal will.

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