Both Frida Maanum and Vivianne Miedema have adapted to the No.10 role, marking the position changes of recent years. The conundrum of who to play and where – which also extends beyond the two forwards – underlies the burden of Arsenal’s women’s trophy this season.
The issue was brought to the fore when Arsenal’s squad sheet came out against Lyon in the Champions League last week. Maanum started in the No.10 role which until this point in the season had been largely filled by Miedema.
For years, Miedema has been Arsenal’s focal point and star striker – somewhat reluctantly. The Dutch international is not in the spotlight and has always said she prefers assisting goals to scoring them.
His stance has changed this season, giving him more leeway for that. She returned to a more attacking role in midfield after years of being one of the most devastating No.9s in the Women’s Super League.
It wasn’t an immediate or even completely permanent change, but a change that has proven itself since the arrival of Jonas Eidevall. For example, in the 2020/21 season, she scored 18 goals compared to 14 last season.
But she has registered eight assists – three more than the previous campaign – and created many more chances (41, compared to 29 in the 2021/22 season). Her defensive numbers were also up in almost every category, being more involved in Arsenal’s midfield play rather than waiting up front for the ball to come to her.
His heatmaps of the 2021/22 campaign compared to the start of this season show a further shift back but also a greater spread through midfield. There’s also less activity inside the box itself.
But while Miedema was slightly pushed back, Maanum was actually pushed forward. Since joining the club last summer, the Norwegian has impressed, but mostly as a central or defensive midfielder.
Comparing its heatmaps, there is a stark difference. In his games this season, Maanum has operated in full in this attacking midfield position with much less action in the defensive half. She also operated largely on the left last term and now has much more freedom.
There are many good qualities that characterize Maanum as a striker – her game is direct and aggressive. She can enter space with or without the ball, separating an opposing defence. Against Lyon, she was tasked with defending two players at once and did so with great efficiency, having to run and be alert throughout the game – no small feat.
She was Arsenal’s standout player in the sensational 5-1 win over the Champions League holders, and that’s before we even get to the attacking stats – she scored the Gunners’ second and picked up an assist for Beth Mead’s fifth.
Maanum’s determination also did not waver against Liverpool, again scoring the second goal in a 2-0 victory. Both of his goals also came in the 22nd minute – a chilling coincidence ahead of the Halloween weekend.
While some may have questioned Miedema for such a big away game against Lyon – described as Arsenal’s ‘biggest challenge yet’ by Caitlin Foord ahead of the draw – it turned out be an inspired change.
Explaining a bit more why he chose Maanum over Miedema in France, Eidevall said Arsenal.com after the victory: “Frida is also one of our players with the greatest running ability.
“I think she played that role which required extreme running because you basically have to defend two players all the time.
“I think she was brilliant – both off the ball and on. It was a great performance from her and she should be really proud and happy.”
Of course, there’s another element to this story – Stina Blackstenius took over that No.9 role and Miedema started to slip back when the Sweden international joined the club in January.
The two have bonded well since playing together, with Blackstenius’ movement, runs and ability to slide defenders out of position already proving fruitful. She plays as a more traditional striker, rather than between two positions as Miedema is known to do.
And there’s no denying that it was quite extraordinary for a player of Miedema’s caliber to be left out of successive starting XIs, especially in a big Champions League game. However, she made her return to the squad against Zurich on Thursday night.
Miedema was never going to be absent for long. Rotation is essential for any team competing on multiple fronts and its class means it will always be important to Arsenal.
Let’s not forget that just a few weeks ago she was among the nominees for the Ballon d’Or and many have pointed to her new contract this summer as the best business Arsenal could do, Miedema would have been courted by Barcelona .
But Eidevall, blessed with a wealth of wealth, has a balance in his hands.
Blackstenius is undoubtedly No 9, Foord and Beth Mead are both in sensational form on both wings with Lia Walti and Kim Little – who make up that midfield three, albeit in different positions – he is also unlikely that they will be ousted anytime soon. That leaves Maanum and Miedema fighting for that No. 10 spot, or more likely, turning there.
That being said, neither played as a No.10 against Zurich in midweek as Eidevall made seven changes, showing just how much he can tinker with his side. Miedema has returned in the No.9 role – the first time she has started up front for Arsenal since February 5 – and has replaced Blackstenius in the middle in the last two games.
Let’s also not forget Lina Hurting, Jordan Nobbs Mana Iwabuchi – both former Champions League goalscorers on Thursday – who can also play in those attacking roles.
Discovering a new dimension to Maanum’s game which has proven to be devastatingly effective, giving Arsenal another attacking option. Expect to see her back in that position sooner rather than later – possibly against West Ham this weekend in the WSL, live on Sky sports.
Arsenal are practically jam-packed going forward and now they have to translate that into silverware. They haven’t won a trophy since the 2018/19 season when they were crowned WSL champions. For a club of this caliber with the players at their disposal, there is no excuse not to win a trophy this season.
They have started well again, winning every game in every competition so far and they are yet to concede a goal in the WSL. However, consistency is the key to any triumph and they must maintain that over the next few months as they hopefully reach the final stages of several competitions.
It also underlines how Eidevall continues to develop his squad and players, while using rotation and tactics to keep Arsenal competitive. While Maanum and Miedema may be the focal point at the moment – and to some extent Blackstenius – expect there to be more as the season progresses.