A tale of two halves! How 'second half-senal' secured the win at Villa Park

Daisy Goodhand analyses Arsenal Women’s second half comeback over Aston Villa

A tale of two halves! How 'second half-senal' secured the win at Villa Park

Arsenal Women found themselves under pressure but pulled off another impressive turnaround. Credit- Mark Leech/Offside


Arsenal looked to bounce back after a disappointing performance against Chelsea in their previous match, a game that looked to have ruled Arsenal out of the WSL title race. Many will look at that game as one of Arsenal’s worst performances this season, so bouncing back in this fixture against Villa is key as the team sees out the remainder of the season.

With a Conti Cup final coming up against Chelsea, Arsenal will need to get back to winning ways to regain the necessary confidence before they go into that game at Molineux.


Aston Villa (3-4-3): Leat; Turner, Patten, Maritz; Pacheco, Dali, Nobbs, Mayling; Salmon, Daly, Leon.

Arsenal (4-2-3-1): Zinsberger; McCabe, Wubben-Moy, Williamson, Fox; Pelova, Little; Lacasse, Maanum, Mead; Russo.

First half:

Both teams had quite a shaky start to the game, playing loose passes in the opening few minutes.

In possession for Arsenal, the two centre-backs in Lotte Wubben-Moy and Leah Williamson split, positioned on either side of the pitch, with Emily Fox and Katie McCabe higher up. The two forwards for Aston Villa in Adriana Leon and Ebony Salmon were positioned further back, not pressing the centre-backs. Often throughout the match, Rachel Daly would drive to press the Arsenal CB on the ball and put them under pressure.

Arsenal had a significant amount of possession and were happy to play away from pressure to ensure they kept the ball. Arsenal did well to switch the ball quickly from one flank to the other, where space opened up for the fullbacks in McCabe and Fox, with Villa operating in quite a narrow shape.

Williamson would try to drive forward with the ball to open up space for passes through the lines, with Frida Maanum looking to receive the ball. Wubben-Moy and McCabe would stay back and move centrally to provide defensive support when Williamson stepped out.

Wubben-Moy and Williamson also both looked for long switch balls for Beth Mead or Cloe Lacasse to run onto. The final pass into the box from the wide player, however, was often over or under hit and this allowed Villa to clear.

Space often opened up for Arsenal on the edge of the box but the players took too much time to get the shot away, allowing Villa to get back and get the block in or intercept. There was also space for Arsenal to play give and go passes into the box, but the final pass was lacking. Alessia Russo was also looking to capitalise on the space in between the Villa centre-backs by running in behind, yet the final pass was again not accurate.

Out of possession for Arsenal, either Russo or Mead would pressure goalkeeper Anna Leat, forcing her into rushed long balls. Kim Little did extremely well to get back and win the ball when Villa looked to counter.

In possession for Villa the CB’s split, with Noelle Maritz and Sarah Mayling further forward. Both Rachel Daly and Kenza Dali would drop deep to support build up play. Maanum would look to pressure Dali when she received the ball, with Pelova and Mead close by to pick up any loose balls. 

This forced Villa into playing the ball out wide to wing-back Maz Pacheco, with Mead coming across to cover and force her back. When Danielle Turner received the ball at centre-back, Maanum would press her and force her into playing a long ball, with Pelova covering Dali at this point.

Villa attempted long balls in behind for Leon and Salmon to run onto, or balls to the feet of either forward to try and get the ball up the pitch. Williamson stepped out to cut out passes aimed for the feet of Salmon.

Arsenal did not deal with the pass in behind for Leon, however, and this allowed her space to pull the ball back in the box. Salmon was also unmarked in the box, giving her the opportunity to place the ball in the corner to give Villa a 1-0 lead.

Out of possession, Villa were operating in a 5-3-2 formation, with Daly joining the midfield alongside Nobbs and Dali. Leon and Salmon were pressing as a front two.

Villa were looking to overload the midfield to prevent Arsenal having any joy playing centrally, forcing Arsenal to play out wide. When Arsenal looked to play the ball out wide to Lacasse, Jordan Nobbs would come across to help Mayling defend and win the ball back for Villa.

Villa also did well to prevent Russo utilising her hold up play, intercepting or putting her under pressure when she received the ball.

Villa crowded the box out with players when Arsenal had a corner to win the headers and clear loose balls. This also helped them close down/intercept any shots in the box.

Second half:

Arsenal started the second half with a much higher intensity, playing quick passes through the Villa team. They immediately looked to utilise Russo’s hold up play, which Villa allowed them to do, with Lacasse running in behind and Russo playing the ball through to her.

Pelova was able to get in the game a lot more in the second half, driving past the Villa team to get Arsenal on the attack. She was often looking for switch balls for Mead to run onto, where Mead could then look for the pull back in the box.

Villa were still leaving Arsenal players unmarked in and around the box, allowing Maanum to get a shot away that hit the bar. This also allowed space for Wubben-Moy, unmarked at the back post, which forced Leat to make a good save.

Out of possession, Arsenal ensured they covered all areas of the pitch, an improvement from the first half, with McCabe pressing Mayling when she got the ball out wide, forcing her back. 

Arsenal were also closing Villa down in the midfield much more than they did in the first half, allowing them to win the ball back and counter quickly. Maanum and Pelova looked to close Dali down on the edge of the Villa box, forcing her backwards. Villa had little to no route out of this organised Arsenal press.

Lacasse moved in-field to allow Arsenal to do this effectively, pressuring Nobbs in midfield to win the ball back. Arsenal made sure they had a significant amount of players forward and the loose ball falls for Russo, who took a shot. Leat saves the initial shot but Pelova was there for the rebound to equalise.

Arsenal were also first to the loose balls in the second half, something they failed to do earlier on in the game.

The Gunners were still having joy playing out wide, with Fox making runs in behind, receiving the ball from Mead and putting crosses into the box.

The effective second half Arsenal press even forced Villa into making mistakes that resulted in Jonas Eidevall’s side regaining possession high up the pitch. This led to a shot by Maanum that went just over the crossbar.

Leat did all she could to keep Villa in the game with her saves, staying switched on and was there when needed. Villa made little changes to their system throughout the second half, allowing Arsenal to continue to attack and create goal-scoring opportunities.

Following the substitution that saw Blackstenius replace Maanum, we saw Russo move out wide and operate on the left. This allowed her to deliver pinpoint crosses into the box. It was from this that Wubben-Moy scored the second goal for Arsenal, putting them 2-1 up and completing the comeback.

Blackstenius also looked to utilise her strength by making runs in behind the backline and this led to the third goal in which she received the ball from Mead in behind. Arsenal lead 3-1.

The only joy for Villa in an attacking sense came from Salmon and Leon making runs in behind the backline, but often the final pass was lacking.

Closing thoughts:

Arsenal demonstrated how well they can react to being behind in a match and adapt their tactics to create goal-scoring opportunities and turn the game around. This mindset is key for Arsenal in the closing period of the season, especially as they face an extremely difficult fixture against Chelsea in the Conti Cup final on Sunday afternoon.

The key focus for Arsenal will be retaining the dominance they demonstrated in the second half in the other games they are yet to play, with a focus on capitalising on their attacking opportunities and remaining defensively solid.

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