How did Arsenal's women win the league last season and what will it take to repeat their success?
With the new season just days away, Arsenal will be hoping to replicate their stellar achievement last season where they broke the duopoly of Manchester City and Chelsea to win the Women’s Super League and their first title in seven years.
The key question this campaign will be whether they can hold off their rivals to retain the title and whether anyone can keep up with the style of play shown by Joe Montemurro’s team.
The Gunners’ squad is largely unchanged from last season, with only goalkeeper Sari Van Veenendaal leaving to join Wolfsburg. But they do have Jordan Nobbs back from injury and she is only likely to strengthen the side.
So, what makes them special and how can they remain the best team in the country?
The statistics behind last season
While City lost just once last year in the league, Arsenal’s record average of 2.70 points per game meant they swept aside any challengers right from the very beginning.
The average points per match needed to win the WSL since 2014 is 2.38, and Arsenal last season joined only Chelsea and City to perform better than that points total in a season.
Furthermore, Arsenal scored 3.5 goals per match on average last season, which is far more than the average needed to win the league of 2.62. And they conceded just 13 goals throughout the whole season.
The reasons for these statistics can be traced to their style of play and specifically two factors; a high press and players showing adaptability.
The high press
Throughout last season Arsenal attacked with large amounts of possession, but even without the ball, they applied pressure on the opposition.
The three images above are from Arsenal’s away game against West Ham last season and as can be seen, they look to defend from the front.
Players such as Louise Quinn and Lia Walti, who are positionally defensive players, still go forward to try and intercept the ball. Opponents then feel there is no way to get out and opt for the long ball, giving posession straight back to Arsenal who can then build an attack again.
This happened not just in the West Ham game, but numerous times throughout the season and after their final game against City, Montemurro said: “We play a high-intensity game and winning the ball high upfield is part of our style.”
The adaptability of players
The manager also spoke to ArseBlog News earlier last season about the style of play and the flexibility of his players.
“We’ve got a fluid squad where players can play three or four positions. This is work we did last year and it was really important work. We’ve seen Lisa Evans play as full-back, she can play as a winger, Katie McCabe can play wide or as a full-back or inside as a midfielder. Danielle van de Donk can play as a holding midfielder, but also as a winger or as a number 10,” he said.
The full backs in particular, Emma Mitchell and Leah Williamson, are able to bomb forward and help out in attack knowing that Walti will drop back and help the defence cope with any counter attack.
This is an area where Nobbs can be extremely lethal this season. Her ability to influence the game from various positions will only add to Arsenal’s strengths.
While Arsenal may struggle to scale the enormous heights of their performance from last season, they still remain strong favourites to retain the league because of their tactical awareness as well as the range of skills their players show.