Jonas Eidevall confirmed yesterday that he won’t start at Arsenal until July 12, as he sees out the final two games of his contract with FC Rosengård, before the Damallsvenskan goes on a mid-season break. When asked about recruitment, Eidevall said, “we have two more games before that, so obviously that is taking up a lot of my time at the moment.” So while his time may be taken up with his current club, there are some things that will be on his to-do list, in both the immediate, and the longer-term. Here is a list of some of them:
Bolster the midfield
Arsenal currently have just three central midfielders who are on the squads books, and fit for next season. Malin Gut, who was expected to leave the club, suffered a torn ACL in the final week of the season. With Jill Roord departing for Wolfsburg, Danïelle van de Donk departing for Lyon, and Ruby Mace departing for Manchester City, Arsenal have just Jordan Nobbs, Kim Little, and Lia Wälti. Little will be at the Olympics, and while Arsenal have signed Mana Iwabuchi, she is much more of an attacking midfielder rather than a central midfielder. This is an immediate need given Arsenal’s congested start to the season, and given that Little, Nobbs, and Wälti have all had injuries over the past three seasons.
Improve Injury Record
That brings us to the next issue: improve Arsenal’s injury record. This is not only something that is within Eidevall’s remit—though, as the first team head coach, he has some control over how training is structured and the size of squad he uses—but also requires improvement and investment from the club. The club have announced some of those improvements according to Vinai Venketesham:
For example, we’ve significantly increased and enhanced the backroom staff that support our women’s team, so we’re bringing on board a new head of sports medicine and sports science, we’ve increased the staff in our medical team, we’ve brought on board a nutritionist, we’ve created a new individual development coach role, we’ve brought on more operations staff.
The club will also be building new dedicated facilities for the women’s first team at London Colney.
With Arsenal’s congested schedule this is an important issue to solve quickly. That being said, with several players involved at the Olympics, this may be an issue that takes a little bit longer to properly address.
Big Game Record
One reason why Arsenal were in the position of needing a new head coach was the club’s big game record. In the last two seasons, Arsenal had won three league games against Chelsea, Manchester City, and Manchester United, out of eleven—with two of those wins coming against Manchester United. It was a similarly poor record in the Cups, and in the Champions League, Arsenal were knocked out by PSG. While each game was slightly different, there was a common theme between most of them: Arsenal struggling with the high press opponents placed on them, leaving their midfield and attack disconnected, while also not being able to counter-press the opposition, even if Arsenal could do it at moments to great effect.
Pressing is something that, in his introduction to the fans, Eidevall has spoken of quite a bit:
I want to play a high-paced possession game, that’s no secret if you’ve seen my teams play before. If we lose the ball, we need to have a structure, and we need to have methods to win that ball back as soon as possible. Any team in the world will show at least one weakness if the pressure is intense enough, and we need to make sure that we bring every team we face to that choking point.
During my time at Rosengard, we had some key principles of play that always remained consistent. I wanted us to create with the ball, I wanted us to have the ball, and I wanted us to win the ball back quickly. That is always a constant. But in other parts, I’m very, very flexible as a coach. At Rosengard, I’ve played four different formations on a regular basis. We’ve had a lot of different pressing schemes that we’ve used depending on which players we have had available and the opponents we were playing against. I think that’s a crucial part in football, that you need to be tactically flexible with your positioning. But you also need to be constant and those are your main principles of play.
If Arsenal can improve their structure on the ball and off the ball, especially in regards to pressing, they will be better in big games, as Eidevall explains to Tim Stillman: “For me it is always about the positioning of the players, if the positioning and the methods are clear to the players and they know where to look for the next pass it is easier when you are process orientated when you are on the field.”
This is less of an immediate need. While Arsenal will want to play well against big opponents to begin the season, this is a process that will need to be judged across the season as a whole; essentially, can Eidevall turn Arsenal into a team that is again routinely competitive against the best teams they face in Europe and in England? Given the disparity in the WSL between the best teams and the rest of the league, the success of Arsenal under Eidevall will be determined by a successful process in big games.
Convince Players of Ambitions
Arsenal face a consequential close season next summer—with decisions having to be made now about what will happen in that window. Vivianne Miedema, of course, is out of contract, but there are a number of key players who will also see their contract expire, including Jordan Nobbs, and Leah Williamson, who only signed a one-year contract extension earlier this month. When she re-signed, Williamson said, “That’s another thing about signing my new contract: can I do that [become the best centre back in the world] here? I believe that for the foreseeable that yeah, that’s true.” Essentially, Williamson wants to be convinced long-term that Arsenal remains the best place for her career—something that will extend to a number of players.
For example, if Arsenal are to keep Miedema, Nobbs, Williamson and others, it won’t be enough to simply be competitive. There will have to be an articulated vision as to how, and how quickly, Arsenal can compete for the Champions League title. This is going to be hard to achieve in the first few months of Eidevall’s reign given a number of extenuating circumstances: a congested schedule, and key players at the Olympics, and if Arsenal draw Wolfsburg or Lyon in the 2nd round of Champions League qualifiers, and go out, that does not mean Eidevall is a failure.
This week, the club have spoken a big game about wanting to maintain the standard that has been set throughout this club’s history. It is, after all, the only British team to win the women’s Champions League, and the result of review of Arsenal Women that was put into place by Vinai Venketesham has a potentially positive outlook. But as Venketesham himself said, it is important to retain key players—as important as bringing new players in. Those players will only stay if they can see their ambitions fulfilled at Arsenal; that is, is there a path set out by the club on the support and infrastructure side and by Jonas Eidevall on the coaching side that will enable Arsenal to bridge the current gap to Europe’s elite.