Why Pelova can be Little's heir for Arsenal

4 months ago 126

"I think our supporters are going to love watching her in an Arsenal shirt."

Manager Jonas Eidevall was enthusiastic about Dutch midfielder Victoria Pelova after bringing her to the north London club from Ajax in the January transfer window, and Gunners fans are starting to see why.

The 24-year-old has shown supporters more than enough glimpses of her talent, but Sunday's thrashing of Leicester marked a new stage in her development at the club.

Pelova served up two assists and a goal on her way to a player of the match performance, in what was her first full 90 minutes of the season.

Even more encouraging for Arsenal was the way in which she stepped up to replace captain Kim Little, the club stalwart who missed the trip to Leicester through injury.

Natural heir?

Capable of playing in the number 10 role, as well as playing out from deep, Little has racked up close to 300 appearances for the Gunners, scoring more than 160 goals.

During this time she's won 14 trophies with Arsenal, including three FA cups and five league titles.

Most recently, Little lifted the 2022-23 Continental Cup after scoring a penalty and picking up a player of the match award as Arsenal ran out 3-1 winners against Chelsea in March.

It is Little who Arsenal fans have so often relied on to make game-defining contributions, but Pelova showed against Leicester that she has the skills and attributes to follow in the 33-year-old's footsteps.

Arsenal's Kim Little and Victoria Pelova battle for the ball in training.Pelova has described Little as 'probably the best player' she's seen in training

Pelova's versatility means she can play in multiple positions, turning out at wing-back for the Netherlands during the last international break, but against Leicester she came in for the injured Little in a deeper midfield position.

She squandered a glorious early chance to put Arsenal 1-0 up, when she opted to chip the onrushing keeper rather than squaring to either Alessia Russo or Caitlin Foord for a simple tap-in.

But she learned from this mistake, putting in a mature second-half display, epitomised by her intelligence and composure on the ball as Arsenal clawed themselves back from two goals down.

Pelova's hunger to get into the six-yard box and scoop in Arsenal's fourth goal of the night saw her run from deep in her own half to finish off a devastating Gunners' counter-attack.

Her first assist of the game came shortly after, when she demonstrated strength and balance to shrug off a Leicester defender and pick out team-mate Stina Blackstenius for an easy tap-in.

The way in which Pelova received the ball under pressure for Arsenal's sixth goal was reminiscent of Little at her very best.

After deftly turning her player, Pelova split Leicester's defence with a delightful through ball to Lina Hurtig, who sealed the dramatic comeback for Arsenal.

"She [Pelova] was the playmaker in that midfield, she ran everything through and she's a big reason as to why Arsenal won that game," Tottenham striker Bethany England told Sky Sports after the game.

450Minutes played328
0Goals1
0Assists3
2.8Aerial duels won0.55
7.4Duels won3.84
1Tackles won0.82
0.2Interceptions1.1

Little has yet to score or assist this season, but she does outperform Pelova on defensive metrics - winning almost double the amount of duels and five times as many aerial duels as her teammate.

But no player has more assists (3) since the start of the season than Pelova, who shares the accolade with Chelsea's Niamh Charles and Brighton's Maisie Symonds.

The Dutch midfielder also showed in Arsenal's late comeback win over Aston Villa in October that she can bring the fight when it matters.

With her side trailing 1-0 and 92 minutes on the clock, substitute Pelova brilliantly chased down and dispossessed Villa's Olivia McLoughlin to spark an Arsenal attack high up the pitch.

After receiving the ball back from Foord, Pelova slipped in the overlapping Katie McCabe, who rifled the ball into the roof of the net. A revived Arsenal scored again two minutes later to win the game 2-1.

"I think it's really beneficial for my development to be training against some of the very best players in the world," Pelova told club website Arsenal.comexternal-link, shortly after joining the club in January.

"Kim, for example, is so talented technically, but she's also such a physical player, I love her playing style," she said.

Little, a trophy-winning leader with more appearances for Arsenal than any other member of the current squad, is the perfect player for Pelova to learn from as she continues her development.

Eidevall, and all Arsenal fans, should be excited.

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