Best of Three: Why could Arsenal not score in the North London derby?
Plus learnings on low blocks and a concerning trend at Brighton
Following Arsenal’s 1-0 defeat to Tottenham in the North London Derby, manager Jonas Eidevall was insistent that if the game was played again Arsenal would have almost certainly won. Now this is probably true - using Danny Page’s expected goal simulation to input Arsenal’s xG per shot we can see that they were more likely to score five goals in this match than they were to score zero. Sometimes, it just works out like that.
But regardless of the variance gods shining down on Tottenham, it was frustrating to see Arsenal continuing to look for low quality shots from the edge of the area as the game went on. Tottenham were happy to cede space out wide in order to defend the box, much like Liverpool did in the season opener at the Emirates. Instead of trying to move them out of shape, Arsenal resorted to poor efforts which only served to highlight how much Tottenham’s game plan was working.
The Arsenal players were not alone in their disappointing decision making though with Eidevall’s substitutes also impacting Arsenal’s shape and limiting their ability to attack effectively. For the final twelve minutes of the match, Arsenal were playing with two strikers, three wingers and a number ten. Maybe the biggest surprise was that Eidevall did not turn to Jen Beattie to play as a third striker the way she has done very successfully in the past. Even if in another universe, Arsenal win this one, it demonstrated that Eidevall still has some way to go when it comes to using his newly plentiful bench effectively.
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What did Chelsea learn from their draw with BK Häcken?
Chelsea’s visit to Bristol City looked on paper like it could have been a potential banana skin. Despite the promoted team being near the bottom of the table, both Arsenal and Manchester United had found them hard work on their away visits to Ashton Gate. On top of that, Chelsea had been unable to get past fellow low block side BK Häcken in the Champions League midweek. With Arsenal’s loss in the North London Derby opening up the opportunity to go three points clear of the Gunners again, there was pressure on Chelsea to make sure they got this result.
In Chelsea’s match against Häcken, a number of their attacks had broken down as a result of Sam Kerr drifting out to the left and no one consequently being available in the box. After the match, Emma Hayes pointed to this being a result of Erin Cuthbert and Fran Kirby finding themselves in the wrong channels, meaning that Kerr had to move out to support Guro Reiten. All four of those players started against Bristol but Hayes took a different approach. Instead of Kerr moving out wider, Reiten came in narrower, with Lauren James brought in to play off the right instead of Johanna Ryting Kaneryd. This had the effect of disrupting Bristol’s normally well-organised back five, creating space out wide from which two of Chelsea’s three goals came from. Both Erin Cuthbert’s volley and Sam Kerr’s header were a direct result of balls from the left. It helped that Lauren James’ spectacular finish - her seventh of the season - had given Chelsea that initial breathing room, but Hayes’ tweak showed how Chelsea had adapted from Thursday’s 0-0.
Should Brighton be worried?
Brighton’s recruitment this summer was one of the most exciting in the league with a whole host of players joining with a real range of different talents. From a recent Champions League semi-final goalscorer to an impressive World Cup quarter-finalist, there was a mixture of experience and youth to make it seem like the South Coast side could genuinely push on. Yet with this weekend’s 1-0 loss to Aston Villa, Brighton head into the winter break in 10th. They have the worst expected goals allowed (22) and worst expected goal difference per 90 in the league (-1.21). Four of their eight points have come from a win and a draw against Manchester City and Manchester United respectively, the former certainly being more luck than judgement. And they were run ragged by a Villa side who have had an incredibly poor first half of the season themselves. Put simply, both statistically and visually, Brighton do not look anywhere near where they are supposed to be.
Manager Mel Phillips has had to construct close to a totally new squad with the incomings but with ten matches played you would expect them to look more composed against the teams in and around them. Villa found it far too easy to run through them on Sunday night and should have scored three or four. Brighton meanwhile relied on counter attacks that could potentially get the ball to Elisabeth Terland.
They have been impacted by injuries, and only had three outfielders available to them on the bench, but they need to find a way to tighten up defensively and get more control of the ball. With players like Vicky Losada and Tatiana Pinto available to them in midfield, they have the personnel to do that. Phillips will have plenty to ponder over her Christmas dinner.