August 22, 2020
Final Score: Arsenal 1-2 Paris Saint Germain
Game Recap: Paris Saint Germain started out on the front foot, forcing the shaky first steps of England third place finisher, Arsenal. PSG came out willing to run the London side, pushing their players down the wings to try and create an attempt at goal. Ramona Bachmann was an exciting new summer signing for the French runner’s up, producing the real first attack of the game by bringing the ball to the endline only for her tricky backheal to end up in the safe hands of Austrian goalkeeper, Manuela Zinsberger. Later in the half, Kadidiatou Diani slotted the ball right over the face of goal, but no one was there to finish the job. PSG also proved to be very dangerous on set pieces throughout the match, breaking the tie in the 15th minute by an assertive pounding into the net off of a corner kick by Marie-Antoinette Katoto. After the midway point in the first half, Arsenal were finally ready to play. Kim Little missed a clear shot from a few yards away off of a cross from Noëlle Maritz, and Beth Mead’s 39th minute strike made the Gunners level with their French counterparts.
PSG were certain to make the score anything but even in the second half. They created many more chances through Diani, Bachmann, and the Danish international, Nadia Nadim. Signe Bruun came in for Ramona Bachmann midway through the half, and the young substitute made her presence known almost immediately. Arsenal were shaky, and Bruun was able to have a substantial chance before her second was turned into the back of the net. Katoto and Sara Däbritz each had notable opportunities to put Paris up by two, before Arsenal finally made some substitutes late in the match. As well as they may have tried, Paris Saint Germain were the ones going to the semi-final, and there was no doubt that the French team deserved the win.
A Tactical Breakdown
Throughout the match, Arsenal kept their usual 4-3-3 formation, sitting back more on defense and content to let PSG run around with the ball. It was the first game back for the London side, and fatigue really came into play with some sloppy defending in their back third of the field. Arsenal did have their moments however, most of which coming as a result of defensive players moving into attacking positions or the solo runs of Scottish captain, Kim Little. When it came to knocking the ball around, they tried to play in the “Arsenal way”. This type of play involves building the ball out of the back, and getting up through the midfield or using wide runs to then cross the ball into the box. Arsenal are very dangerous in this style of play, and are very comfortable on the ball when using it. However, PSG latched onto this kind of mentality and shook things up to make the Gunners uncomfortable, winning the battle both physically and tactically through the center of the field.
Adding on to the problems caused for Arsenal, PSG are not a team to rue on missed chances. Kadidiatou Diani, Marie-Antoinette Katoto, and Ramona Bachmann were all forces coming down the sides of the field, testing the Arsenal strategy of pushing outside-backs forward. As pacy wingers and midfielders, these attackers were confident taking on one versus one battles and cutting back into the middle of the field to use passing combinations or cross the ball. In addition to the danger Paris has out wide, PSG boasted a very technically skilled midfield during this game, with the likes of Grace Geyoro, Sara Däbritz, and Nadia Nadim among their ranks. This meant that although PSG loved to use wider areas, they could also play combinations through the center of the field before spreading the width, and vice versa. These were major issues for the Arsenal defense, as the constant switching of play caused fatigue very early on. Arsenal were not able to match the pace of many opposing wingers and many were outmatched by a purely physical standard. This caused them to be even more drained by the end of the match.
The Defensive Personnel
The specifics to this Arsenal formation looked to be fairly similar to what they used last season in regular league games. Different partnerships and personnel to allow the defense to integrate into the attack are very important to the inner workings of the Arsenal style of play. Leah Williamson and Jennifer Beattie are very different players, though have proven to complement each other’s style in their starting center-back role throughout the past year. Williamson is the more attacking minded out of the two, having come from a background in defensive midfield which she has been known to play on occasion for both club and her home country of England. Her long balls are a specialty, and earned her three assists over a period of just two games during last season’s run to third place. Against PSG, these long balls were a highlight in her play and in some cases, gave the forwards more chances than their midfield distribution. Beattie, on the other hand, is a typical central defender and provides both the strength and security for Williamson to push up the field and take more offensive chances. Both are integral to the Arsenal set up, and when Beattie was taken off during the match, Williamson struggled to cover the same ground and become a more commanding force. Williamson has a few notable missed clearances during the game, and looked to be the last line of defense for both of the goals conceded by her team.
Aside from their partnerships in the back line, Arsenal are also known to have a very attacking minded defense. Throughout most of last season, Lisa Evans and Katie McCabe were preferred to established German fullback Leonie Maier. Both Evans and McCabe are usually seen playing on the wings for their national team, but with Arsenal, this is not usually the case. McCabe was seen against PSG as a fullback, but Evans was allowed to resume her role as a winger through the addition of summer signing, Noëlle Maritz. As mentioned prior, Maritz and McCabe were very attacking minded throughout the game. Although it did leave wider areas very exposed for PSG to capitalize on, the outside backs did provide substantial help to forming the attack. Maritz in particular was key to this style of play. She is both a solid defender, playing outside back primarily for club and country throughout her career, and she also has the attacking minded qualities of an Arsenal fullback. Martiz was also the only player in the Arsenal squad to have played a competitive fixture in recent months, and was therefore truly match-fit and prepared for the game.
Need for a Visionary
As stated before, it was not the formation that was unusual, but the tactical decisions made by the Arsenal coach, Joe Montemurro. As a team who enjoy using their midfield as a method to distribute and hold possession to go forward, there are a lot of questions to be asked when looking at Arsenal’s starting midfield. Of course, all three players, Lia Wälti, Kim Little, and Daniellë van de Donk, are world class, though with Van de Donk battling an injury and with one of the best English midfielders sitting on the bench, it’s a wonder that Jordan Nobbs did not appear in the starting eleven. Even if Van de Donk was fully fit and ready to run around the pitch like a mid season fixture, Nobbs should still be a complete contender for her spot on the field. As discussed before, both Wälti and Little are very set in their way of attack. Wälti sits in the solid defensive midfield role, and is the player hanging back to cover her midfield and defensive counterparts when they are having trouble. Little on the other hand, is excellent at playing in the center of the field and dribbling into a space further up the field to knock the ball wide. Both Little and Wälti were standouts of the match for Arsenal, and Little in particular looked to be the only one doing anything for the English side at points throughout the game. The only thing that Arsenal seemed to be lacking, was a ball player in the center of the field. Both midfielders highlighted above were shut down in playing their type of passing going forward. Wälti specifically was shut down the majority of the time from even playing in short passing triangles with her midfield and defensive compatriots.
Van de Donk is a very feisty and confident forward player. She is most known for her sliding challenges and aggressive duels with opponents, who might at first glance look to be a head taller than the Dutch international, and her technical expertise and versatility. That being said, Van de Donk is skilled at, but perhaps less qualified for being the main playmaker and creative force in the center of the field when compared to Jordan Nobbs. Nobbs, even if she has still not gotten her form back from her ACL injury a year and a half ago, has vision unparalleled to most veterin internationals. She can get play moving in the center of the pitch and work harder than anyone else on the field when she is off of the ball. Even if PSG were pressing hard enough to stop Arsenal from using their short passing spurts throughout the middle of the field, Nobbs could have certainly made the midfield scale a bit more even to her side. Even Arsenal’s bench showed how stacked and valued their midfield play is, with Nobbs, Jill Roord, and promising Swiss signing Malin Gut providing other options. When PSG were able to cut off their passing through the center of the field, it affected everything. Vivianne Miedema was forced to drop back in to try to become the main distributor. This, clearly, didn’t work when the person she wanted to distribute to was herself. Lisa Evans and Beth Mead were also absent from the game for long periods because no one was playing them into space.
The Inner Workings of a Failed Attack
As most people very well know, Arsenal possess one of the best, if not the best, striker in the world. What many do not realize however, is that Vivianne Miedema is not your typical powerful, unleashed forward that steals all of the glory. Her style of play is hard to put a finger on and it has been said many times before that it is something that has never been seen before in the history of women’s soccer. She can almost appear invisible for parts of the game, disappearing in between the lines of the opposing defense and intelligently waiting for a moment to capitalize on a chance. Before the game against PSG, Miedema was the top scorer of the Champions League, with a whopping ten goals in just eleven shots on target. Although Miedema’s stats are almost unparalleled, it does not mean that the Dutch 24 year old is invincible. Miedema was not noticeable at all throughout the game versus the Paris super-powers. Why was this?
Although Miedema in general was not at the top of her game, the entirety of the blame cannot be placed solely upon her. Miedema throughout the match, was attempting to make up for the lack of midfield distribution. She often drops back into a solid attacking midfield role when she doesn’t feel like the attack is moving fast enough. Although, against PSG, these attempts were easily nullified. Miedema was playing the same way her midfield counterparts were, though further up the field, without the same playing style, and with no ability to play the ball through to anyone out wide. Irene Paredes, the Paris captain, made sure that attempts to start up the attack were ended even before they even began, and was a key anticipator of the ball throughout the game. Paredes was also marking Miedema touch tight, not allowing her any space when she did receive the ball long from the back line. This type of marking has also been seen when Arsenal play tactically sound teams such as Chelsea during their season in the Women’s Super League (WSL). Chelsea always try to force Miedema to drop back and receive the ball. They do this by limiting Arsenal’s midfield distribution. Chelsea, for an equivalent to Paredes, use the Chelsea skipper Magdalena Eriksson to maintain the exact same job as the PSG captain.
The infamous Miedema danger appeared only towards the end of the game when Caitlin Foord was able to attack the end lines and try to cross. Jordan Nobbs was also a key piece in allowing distribution out wide in those last minutes. Even if she may not have touched the ball as much as one would have liked, her movement without it was enough to shake up the PSG midfield enough to get the play out wide and behind their midfield five. These substitutions were extremely necessary, and caused fans to wonder why they did not come one earlier. With Beth Mead just coming back after an MCL tear and Van de Donk returning from an ankle injury, their minutes should have been more limited, especially going along with the flow of the game.
Despite some rather dramatic signings made in this season’s WSL summer transfer window, Arsenal are never a team to write off. They battled hard, showed their strengths, and if they can get their game plan right, they are a team that looks to go very far in the coming seasons. Sadly, the Gunners will not be back for next year’s edition of the Champions League due to finishing third, but you can bet on them hopefully being back sooner rather than later.
Maritz Williamson Beattie McCabe
Wälti Little Van de Donk
Evans Miedema Mead
Paris Saint Germain: 3-5-2
Lawrence Paredes Dudek
Geyoro Diani Däbritz Nadim Morroni
Written by Maddie Metz
Creator of Only Women’s Soccer
- El Zaguero – YouTube: ARSENAL WOMEN’S v PSG FÉMININE 1-2 | HIGHLIGHTS & GOALS | RÉSUMÉ | 2020: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=61I9JwbY6Y0
- Women Also Play – YouTube: Arsenal FC vs Paris Saint Germain PSG. UWCL Champions League 2020. 4t final: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iR2yMeVEnYU
- Sports.yahoo.com: Arsenal Women beaten in Champions League quarter-finals by PSG: https://sports.yahoo.com/arsenal-women-beaten-champions-league-201658304.html
- Theguardian.com: Signe Bruun sent the Parisians into the semis as Arsenal ran out of second-half steam in San Sebastián:
- Arsenalpics.com: Arsenal FC v Paris Saint-Germain – UEFA Women’s Champions League Quarter Final: https://www.arsenalpics.com/arsenal-women/v-paris-saint-germain-2020/arsenal-fc-v-paris-saint-germain-uefa-womens-20206947.html
- Timesandstar.co.uk: Arsenal Women beaten in Champions League quarter-finals by PSG: https://www.timesandstar.co.uk/sport/national/18669769.arsenal-women-beaten-champions-league-quarter-finals-psg/