What a day! The opening game of the season, at the Emirates, ends with a much-important win against the reigning champions.
Jonas Eidevall iconic celebration at the final whistle summed up what has been a special afternoon for him, his team and the 9’000 Gooners at the Emirates Stadium. Welcome, FAWSL 2021/22!
There is lots to talk about: the sustained pressure on the opponents; Katie McCabe position and what it meant for Frida Maanum; Lia Wälti’s brilliance; Beth Mead timely reminder to the coaching staff, the teammates and the fans and the end of the big-games voodoo.
In his post-match interview, the new head-coach told Sky Sports about his desire to see the team put pressure on Chelsea straight from the kick-off, which was beautifully translated to the pitch by a group of footballers who where undoubtedly up for it and gave their all throughout the game. We were all over Chelsea in the opening 30 minutes and we took a well-deserved lead through Vivianne Miedema, who raced through after a perfectly weighted pass from Katie McCab. The Irish full-back took a very advanced position from the start, with Frida Maanum dropping deep, which caused lots of problems to our opponents.
We should have doubled our lead when Beth Mead found Mana Iwabuchi in the box but the Japanese fired well over the bar, to everyone’s disappointment given the quality and composure she has, and were punished just before half-time by Erin Cuthbert, who rifled past Manuela Zinsberger from close range. It was coming, as Chelsea took control of our left-hand side and manage to create overloads time and time again. Katie McCabe, already on a yellow, didn’t have much help from Frida Maanum or Mana Iwabuchi, so Chelsea could enjoy a fifteen-minutes spell of dominance, resulting in the equaliser.
Speaking of Frida Maanum, she was caught off the pace at times, sleeping a bit on the ball or slowing down the tempo, but she had a solid debut alongside one of our standout performers – Lia Wälti. The Swiss midfielder might not catch the eye as much as some of her teammates but was again impressive in front of the defensive line, cutting those passing lines in the half-spaces that Chelsea loves and recycling the ball effectively. Yesterday was a masterclass from the former Wolfsburg player, who set the tempo throughout the game and dictated the play from her preferred area of the pitch.
It was Beth Mead who made the difference, though, with a wonderful brace: in a summer that saw two major signings in her role, the England international reminded everyone what she is capable of, first sprinting off the halfway line on a great through-ball from Vivianne Miedema and finishing her run with a wonderful strike to the far post (with her weaker foot) and then rounding Ann-Katrin Berger, sitting down Erin Cuthbert with a clever dummy and rolling the ball into the empty net. A brace and an overall excellent afternoon to remind everyone that Nikita Parris and Tobin Heath will have to earn their place in the team.
We had to suffer a bit in the closing minutes, especially during the stoppage-time, but we managed to protect our lead and get a very important win: it was too long since we came out on top against a direct rival (2019 v Manchester City) and even longer since we beat Chelsea in the league so this win felt like a liberation for many players on the pitch. A very welcome change of fortunes that hopefully will boost our confidence.
HIGHLIGHT OF THE GAME
Beth Mead’s second goal of the afternoon is my highlight of the game, mainly because of the dummy that sent Erin Cuthbert the wrong way. It requires great composure not to be sucked in the moment and shoot too quickly, especially after having rounded the goalkeeper, so kudos to English forward for keeping her cool and capping off a great afternoon with a superb goal. Was she offside when Mana Iwabuchi released her? I didn’t see the incident.
Special mention to Jonas Eidevall celebration at the final whistle, social media editors and managers out there say thank you.
TOP & FLOP
Hard to find any flop in such a great afternoon but I thought Steph Catley wasn’t at the top of her game when she came in to replace Katie McCabe. Although it’s always very complex to blend in such high-intensity games, she really struggled to hold on her flank and Chelsea create several chances from her side. Also, as mentioned, Frida Maanum looked a bit lost in the final stages of the first half but overall she had a good game.
The list of positives is much longer but I would like to salute Leah Williamson’s performance at the back: the centre-back made at least three key blocks to prevent Chelsea from scoring, with a last-ditch tackle on Ji being the pick of the bunch. Her and Jen Beattie were very good and so were Anna Patten and Lotten Wubben-Moy, when the came in.
WHAT IS NEXT
Next stop is Prague, on Thursday, to confirm the qualification to the UEFA Women’s Champions League group stage after the three-nil win at home. We finally see the light after what has been a long journey through one of the most complex route that UEFA ever imagined; we beat Okzheptes and PSV in a in-or-our mini tournament, now we play a proper two-legged Playoff tie and then we should be in – hopefully.
Thirty-something Italian, currently in Switzerland. Gooner since mid-ninties, when the Gunners defeated my hometown team, in Copenhagen. Twelve years ago I started my own blog (www.clockenditalia.com) after after some experiences with Italian websites and football magazines. Debate, don’t insult or you’re out.