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Big Wednesday ahead for Arsenal’s injury-riddled Ladies: why are they struggling?

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Twelve games, seven wins, forty goals scored, eleven conceded. Good numbers – or not?

Fourth place in the table, nine behind Chelsea and Manchester United at the top of the table, seems to suggest not.

Of course, we have one game less than Chelsea and Manchester City and two games less than Manchester United, but the league table does not seem to tell the whole truth: something is not working as it should – in fact several things are not working as they should.

Challenges at the top

Our record against the top teams is simply disastrous: our last victory against one of the rivals was over a year ago, on 29 January 2020, when we defeated Manchester City.
Since then, only disappointments.

Taking into account the last three seasons, including the current one, we have played 10 times against Manchester City, losing 5 times and winning only on 2 occasions; against Chelsea we have done even worse, losing 7 of the last 9 challenges and winning only once, on 14 October 2018 (!)

It’s slightly better in the clashes with Manchester United, a team that, however, has never been too competitive until this year: 3 games, 2 wins and 1 defeat.

In total, then, we have faced a direct competitor on 22 occasions and lost 13 times, drawing twice and winning only 6 times – including twice against a Manchester United team not even a distant relative of the current one.

With the defeat two days ago at the hands of Manchester City, our winless streak against a direct rival has now reached eight games – an enormity.

There’s a huge elephant in the room that we seem to want to ignore….

WSL TableJordan Nobbs – dejected and injured. 

Injuries

Just hours before the kick-off of the match against Manchester City, Arsenal’s official website reported that Jordan Nobbs, Kim Little and Jen Beattie would miss the game due to muscular problems. What a surprise…
In the first half of this season alone, we have already had to do without Jordan Nobbs, Steph Catley, Kim Little, Jen Beattie, Jill Roord and Daniëlle van de Donk due to soft-tissues problems, which is indicating a structural problem.

Interviewed on the matter by Tim Stillman, Joe Montemurro said that the club has conducted an internal investigation to understand the origin of so many muscle problems and that the first results indicate two determining factors: the irregularity of the schedule, with the team unable to work on the classic weekly program, and the monitoring carried out on the physical condition of the girls – not meticulous enough according to the Italian-Australian coach.

It is difficult to get out of such a vicious circle, if to make up for the absences of some players you are forced to squeeze the rest – which brings me to the next point: the turnover.

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The turnover

There are tactical changes, depending on the opponent and the game situations; there are changes forced by suspensions and injuries and there are changes dictated by the need to rest one or the other starter, so as not to ask too much from the squad.

Joe Montemurro seems to know perfectly well the first scenario, since he often alternates Manuela Zinsberger and Lydia Williams between the sticks, he knows too well the second one but he seems to know less well the third one, the one that could save him some headaches and frustrations.
Elite players such as Leah Williamson, Lia Wälti and Vivianne Miedema are always in the starting line-up, as expected, but managing the rest of the troops to perfection is vital.

Numerically, the squad built by Arsenal (22 players) is similar to that of Manchester City (23) and Chelsea (22) but the difference lies in the way the teams have been assembled: in our squad, we have a long list of players who play multiple roles and who therefore have fewer opportunities to rest.

If versatility is a great advantage because it allows more flexibility to the coach, it is difficult to forge understanding between the units if the interpreters are always changing and it is difficult for the players themselves to learn a song if they have to constantly change instruments.

The feeling, from the outside, is that Arsenal have been found unprepared for the sudden growth of a league that is becoming exponentially more competitive. At the start of the season, I told myself that a place in the top three was guaranteed and that the team would continue to do very well against the small-medium sides, as expected. I told myself that if we won all of them against the remaining nine teams in the Super League, we would have a good chance of staying in the title race, hoping that Manchester City and Chelsea would trip each other up. After all, that’s exactly what we did last season – before Covid-19 – when we won all 11 games against teams other than Chelsea or Manchester City.

Unfortunately, it’s not enough anymore and the “others” are much more combative than in the past: Manchester United is fighting for the top spots, Brighton stopped both us and Chelsea and Reading beat the Red Devils.
Everything is much less obvious and more difficult.

The future is now but Joe Montemurro and the club still don’t seem to have taken the hint, stuck in a model that is now at risk of extinction. It is no coincidence that the negotiations for the renewal of Vivianne Miedema and Leah Williamson have stalled, perhaps Arsenal are no longer seen as a top team.

Tomorrow, against Chelsea, we have the perfect opportunity to send an unequivocal signal to everyone – inside and outside of the club: the Arsenal are there, the Arsenal are still there to fight for the title and to participate in the Champions League and the Arsenal is not afraid to play against the best teams in England and Europe.

Tomorrow, at Kingsmeadow Park, Arsenal play for the present and the future. There’s a big Wednesday ahead.

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