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AWFC Journal: A new beginning as Tobin Heath grabs a last gasp point for Arsenal in important City clash

Tobin-Heath

I’ll get to the referee later, promised.
Tobin Heath stoppage-time equaliser is all I think about, at the moment.

When the ball went in, I could not help thinking that justice was finally delivered because it would have been fairly hugely unfair to lose the game after that opener. Football isn’t fair, generally speaking, another reason why that goal could make an incredible difference in our quest for the first title since 2019.
Anyone who played football, no matter the level, knows how galvanising it feels to score a last-minute goal, whether it is a winner or an equalizer; the later, the better as the more deep into stoppage time you are, the more unlikley it looks, the more satisfying it becomes, when you finally score. This doesn’t mean that all our problems disappeared but surely a loss like this, on the back of the defeat against Birmingham and the failure to take advantage of Chelsea’s draw against Brighton could have burdened the players with the feeling of inevitabile, irreversible capitulation. It’s the moving sand syndrome, or snowball effect.

Emotions aside, the game was a very interesting one: although we didn’t create that much, I felt that we were in good control of the game and our opponent and overall much more aggressive, committed and organized, compared to the games against Birmingham and Manchester United. They had their moments, we had ours but we were up for it, way more proactive then reactive.

Individually, some of our players were much closer to their standards: Beth Mead was her usual electric, aggressive self; Lotte Wubben-Moy was alert throughout the game; Katie McCabe was quicker and sharper and so on. The re-introduction of Leah Williamson in the starting XI helped greatly in trasmitting confidence and composure when building up the play, as much as having Kim Little as the first hub in midfield, in the role usually played by Lia Wälti. Jonas Eidevall expressed some concerns about not having the captain further up on the field but the move surely paid off, as our passing game improved vastly – especially if we compare it to the last league game, against Birmingham.

There is reason for hope after two very poor showings.

tobin-shoots

There is also a lot of work to do, because we are still very reliant on overloading the flanks, especially the left-hand side, and that makes our attacking patterns more and more predictable. Unless we find new ways to attack centrally, opponents will quickly figure us out and shut us down. I suspect that Tobin Heath featuring more regularly will be huge boost, with Beth Mead moving across the pitch to “her” right forward slot hence a more natural flow in our attacking play, and so will be the deployment of Rafaelle alongside Leah Williamson, to open new channels through the first and second line of pressing.
As mentioned by Jonas Eidevall himself after the game, the Brazilian is the only left-footed centre-back we have in our squad and that, coupled with the fact that she is extremely good at short-range and medium-range passes, will make our initial build-up much more incisive and less predictable.

Speaking of Rafaelle, she had a solid debut in a complicated game, showed good composure and athleticism although she should have done much better for City’s opener, as I felt she lost track of her attacker.
All things considered (little time to train, long break…) she did well, the more she plays and the better she will get – and the team with her. I have little doubt she will form an amazing pair with Leah Williamson, both defensively and offensively, so I am not confident about our defensive record improving rapidly pretty soon.

Up next is Brighton at home on Thursday night (7.30pm), the second of a four-games, season-defining streak that will see us face Manchester United and Chelsea. We are very much into our recovery process, still, so it is going to be interesting to check whether this was a first step in the right direction, the first move in our complete “healing”, or something else. If it leads to better performances and better results, not losing to Manchester City in spite of the aberration from the referee could become the cornerstone of our season, the one result that gave a deflated team the lift it needed so badly. Not stopping the play and restart it with a dead-ball is quite a mistake but it’s neither the first, nor the last one that a Women’s Super League referee is going to make. It is much bigger than the referee herself, it’s a systemic issue that is affecting football across the country and is holding women’s football back.

We can’t influence it, players cannot influence it, coaches cannot influence it. Let’s focus on what we can control, for our own sanity.

I’ll be there with the new feature on Friday, be on time. Until then, take care Gooners!

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