Selim Ben Hmida
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Stephanie Catley is an international Australian player who has just moved to play for Arsenal as a left-back after she played for Melbourne Victory, Portland Thorns, Melbourne City, Orlando Pride, OL Reign. Her twelve-year-long career has just allowed her to make another big step towards being one of the best Left-backs in the world since she is now going to play for one of the most successful European teams when it comes to Women’s football. It is fair to ask though, will Catley be as successful at Arsenal as when she was at her previous teams? And will her arrival enable Arsenal to bridge the slight gap that exists between them and teams like Chelsea and Manchester City in the next season?

The answer to this question and to how Catley can be a very effective signing for Arsenal in the FA Women’s Super League will be provided in this tactical analysis in the form of a scout report, while also the main characteristics of this player will be analysed and stressed upon.

Also, when carrying an analysis on Catley, one should also consider Arsenal’s tactics to be able to assess both the team’s playing style and philosophy and the player’s attitude on the pitch, tactical flexibility and awareness.

Catley in Arsenal’s lineup

The Australian player will surely be of a great importance to Arsenal since the team will certainly need an experienced player like Catley to contribute to the team’s build-up, defensive organisation and also attacking play.

The fact of being more experienced than the actual left-back, Katie McCabe, will not only make Catley become an added value to the whole team on the field and even in the dressing room, but will also help McCabe gain more experience and learn some valuable things from Catley.

Moreover, Catley’s tactical awareness and flexibility which was developed over the years after playing in various big teams will help Arsenal especially in the attacking phase since Catley’s passes, crosses and accelerations on the left flank will help the team to have more effective scoring opportunities.

Joe Montemurro, the Australian Arsenal coach, knows Catley very well and will certainly work on creating some tactical combinations on the left side that involve Catley in order to get the most of her penetration skills. And for the defensive phase, the Australian defender will not have any problems of adaptability since she is used to playing in a four defenders lineup and will surely make that left flank harder to surpass for her opponents.

Catley can also be employed as a left-wing, with McCabe playing as a left-back, since Catley is very effective and accurate in attack. And this attacking tendency is very clear in this territorial coverage map that shows how Catley is equally performant in defense and in the opponent’s own third as well since she covers both parts extensively during games.

Stephanie Catley at Arsenal - Scout report - tactical analysis tactics

Defensive capacities 

In addition to playing in the left flank, Catley can also play as a centre-back. It may sound simple but in fact, only few players have been able to play in three different positions without problems, especially when these positions are winger, left-back and centre-back. And this means that Arsenal are getting one of the most tactically flexible defenders in the world.

In this game with the Matildas against Brasil during the 2019 FIFA World Cup, Catley played as a centre-back effectively throughout the game, forming a four-defender line as shown in this picture and contributing to her national team’s win.

Stephanie Catley at Arsenal - Scout report - tactical analysis tactics

Moreover, during the 2019/2020 season, Catley played as a left-winger for Melbourne City during many games especially in this semi-final against Western Sydney Wanderers in which the captain shined both in the defensive and in the attacking phase. When the team was not in possession of the ball, Catley pressured her direct opponent high on their own third, making their build-up play more difficult and limiting their passing options as you can see in this picture.

Stephanie Catley at Arsenal - Scout report - tactical analysis tactics

In fact, she knew in this case that the opponent will take some time to reach the non-accurate pass of her teammate. And therefore Catley used her pace to press on her before reaching the ball to give her extra pressure and less time to think about a way-out, knowing that the other surrounding players were also marked by Catley’s teammates who were pressuring high on Sydney’s defenders and midfielders. This action was repeated throughout the game and made Western Sydney Wanderers’ build-up play less efficient.

Pass accuracy and attacking contribution

The fact of having a percentage of 89.9% in simple-pass accuracy and 76.2% in long-pass accuracy tells a lot about Catley as a passer and as a very tactical and smart player. The 26-year old player is therefore not only a good defender but also a very effective player on the left flank when it comes to supporting forwards and midfielders.

It is true that she does not score goals so often, with nine goals in her career, but that’s understandable given her position on the field. However, she excells at running past opponents when having the ball and knows when to accelerate and when exactly to serve her teammates.

In this regard, the movements and combinations that Catley does with her teammates are worth highlighting since these movements reflect her tactical awareness and sense of positioning. For instance, you can see in this example how she passes the ball to her teammate and immediately starts running forward towards the empty space in order to be placed in a perfect crossing position and receive the ball.

This action would not have been accomplished and would not have created danger without the smart movement of Catley. And this effective movement without the ball is certainly in line with Arsenal’s philosophy which relies heavily on tactical flexibility and continuous movement to give players additionial passing options and get rid of pressure.

Stephanie Catley at Arsenal - Scout report - tactical analysis tactics

As mentioned above, Catley does also know when to accelerate and when to run slowly to economise energy. Nevertheless, she runs a lot during games and covers all the field, including the right flank at times. In this goal action, Catley started running from Melbourne City’s own third until reaching the opponent’s penalty area.

Since she believed in the possibility of receiving the ball in an empty place behind the last defender, she kept on running fast until she was noticed by her teammate who passed the ball to her. Catley waited for someone to appear in the box and crossed the ball directly to her, enabling her to score a well-played goal eminating from a counter-attacking action.  Actions like these, prove how Catley’s percentage of 91% key pass accuracy are so important for any team since these key passes help a lot at scoring goals and in making the ball reach forwards in a suitable scoring position.

Stephanie Catley at Arsenal - Scout report - tactical analysis tactics

Final third passes and especially crosses are fundamental in football, and not all wingers have the capability of crossing accurately while reading the game in a smart manner and predicting where the teammate and the ball should “meet” without making that meeting point be closer to the defender than to the receiver of the ball.

And this is one of Catley’s powerful skills. As you can see in this picture when Catley used to play for Orlando Pride, and when she noticed that Alex Morgan had the possibility of running past the opposing centre-back, Catley immediately crossed the ball in a way that made Morgan get the ball while excluding her marker just with an accurate long-pass, allowing her to score a goal afterwards.

Stephanie Catley at Arsenal - Scout report - tactical analysis tactics

Conclusion

It is worth admitting that Arsenal have made a very important recruitment this year by signing Catley. And if she plays like she did in the previous years, this player will uplift the performance of the team both in defense and attack since she has the whole package of experience, talent, skills and discipline.

Added to that, the encouragement of her coach, the enthusiam and the willingness to do well in a new competitive league and environment will help Catley in doing well at this new challenge as it will her work even harder to help her team and achieve more positive collective and individual results.