Two third-place finishes for Arsenal, behind Chelsea (1st) and Manchester City (2nd) for two consecutive years running, has meant change is afoot. Swedish Jonas Eidevall replaces the departed Joe Montemurro, having previously led FC Rosengard to the Champions League quarter-finals in the 2018/2019 season, whilst two star-studded forwards have come through the door to provide competition for Eidevall’s front three.
Whilst Nikita Parris arrives from French club Lyon after two seasons by the river Rhone, swapping croissants and duck confit for pie and mash, just north of the river Thames, it’s the signing of USA star Tobin Heath who breathes some new, exciting life into the club.
Whilst a front three consisting of Vivianne Miedema, Nikita Parris and Tobin Heath would rival that of the men’s outfit, on the red side of north London, the depth, with number 9 Beth Mead and Caitlin Foord, almost seems unfair, especially with the return of, Jordan Nobbs, an ankle injury sustained in pre-season against Chelsea has ruled her out the start of the season. The addition also allows Katie McCabe the flexibility to continue her reign of the left-back position in the Women’s Super League.
Last season, McCabe topped the assists charts, whilst playing left-back, mirroring the change in the full-back’s responsibilities we have seen in the Premier League. Her tally of 11 assists put her level with Fran Kirby, of Chelsea, and Chloe Kelly, of Manchester City, both who play in the forward three of each teams’ 4–3–3 system.
Below are the top 9 assisters in the FAWSL for 2020/2021, in three categories, “Passes which lead to a shot”, “Passes which were completed in the final third” and “Progressive distance of passes”, all on a per game basis.
(Getting to grasps with boxplots? No problem. Below is how you read each individual boxplot. The Median is the value right in the middle of the data sample, and an outlier is essentially 1.5 x (Upper Quartile — Lower Quartile) above the Upper Quartile or below the Lower Quartile. More is here: https://towardsdatascience.com/understanding-boxplots-5e2df7bcbd51 )
What the data shows is the Katie McCabe marks incredibly well against her peers. On average, she will, each pass, progress the ball more up the pitch, whilst also being incredibly consistent in doing so, a trait quick to be forgotten, but pivotal when being one of, if not, ‘the’ playmaker of a team. Whilst her numbers dropped between gameweeks 11–13, within that period Arsenal came away with just 4 out of a total of 15 points (between late December and early February), the last part of the season, in which Arsenal won 8 from 9, drawing the other, McCabe’s numbers were incredible.
The number 15, however, benefitted from incredible finishing, maybe ‘lucky’, but as the saying goes, you create your own luck, and adding Nikita Parris and Tobin Heath may mean McCabe manages to benefit from incredible finishing from here-on-out, but maybe then it isn’t finishing and she is just magic.
Below, you can see the ‘incredible finishing’ in numbers form. A positive ‘Goals — Expected goals’ is associated with good finishing, but the good players will finish better. It isn’t just Arsenal who score more than their xG would dictate. 8 out of the 12 FAWSL clubs for 2020/2021 finished with a positive ‘Goals — Expected goals’.
But that was last seasons squad, so what are Arsenal getting with the new inclusions? To put it simply, more incredible finishing.
Whilst data is not collected in the Division 1 Féminine, in which Parris’ Lyon played last season, we can use her 2018/2019 stats whilst with Manchester City, where her ‘Goals — Expected goals’ was a +2.4. Now, in her prime, and with 2 years with the 7-times Champions League winners, a record, under her belt, a good estimate would be her numbers stay in the positive.
However, back to the USA star which is Tobin Heath. After she came through on the Super League stage (like she needed any introduction) with a stunner against city-rivals, Manchester City, and subsequently a league award for player of the month for November, it left her proclaimed as Manchester United’s best player last season. As Eidevall has spoken about “She’s [Heath] an incredibly talented player who will bring so much experience to our squad”, and there is no room for interpretation after her 8 game cameo in the FAWSL last season.
The numbers bode well for Arsenal and their front-line.
Using last years WSL data, provided by fbref.com, expect Heath to shoot a lot, and more importantly, be a incredible finisher. Whilst her numbers may not look spectacular, her average distance of each shot, 19.1 yards, puts her above any of the names listed with her, 35th in the whole WSL last season, and puts her 2nd in the current Arsenal squad, behind the ‘one’ Katie McCabe.
Arsenal will hope to challenge for the title, ensuring a three-team race between Manchester City and Chelsea, maybe a forth if Everton can squeeze themselves in. Bridging that gap between the top two will ultimately be difficult, but with their bolstered attacking options, and a firing Katie McCabe, you feel the only way is up for this Arsenal team.
Like what you read? Want some more graphs? Follow my Twitter, for a data analysis of the FAWSL after the weeks conclusion.