Four is a magic number!
Arsenal scored four goals for the third time in a row and defeated Birmingham City at home, to open an eight-points gap at the top with Chelsea. Emma Hayes’ team, who suffered a defeat in the Conti Cup final against Manchester City, will play West Ham on Thursday and will have another two games in hand, which puts them virtually at the top of the Women’s Super League table. If they win their games.
Give me points instead of games in hand, any day.
We dominated the visitors for well over one hour, scoring three through Gabrielle, Vivianne Miedema and Beth Mead, yet the win looked all but confirmed with three minutes to go: although being unable to really trouble Manu Zinsberger, Birmingham found two goals in quick succession and suddenly the game was very much on the edge. How did we end up there? Complacency, some bad luck and a pinch of poor aim resulted in the most unexpected and unforeseen comeback you could imagine.
For the largest part of the game, the team was very effective in pressuring Birmingham into easy turnovers, a situation from which we scored the second goal of the day, and keeping them away from our final third, then it looked like the players relaxed a bit too early and became sloppy, both on and off the ball.
Vivienne becomes the first player in the WSL to have contributed to 150 goals – Scored of assisted
Rafaelle, especially, took some unnecessary risks and looked far more hesitant and way less aggressive than usual, which proved costly for both Birmingham’s goals: for Smith’s first, she misjudged a long ball coming into the box from deep and found herself ahead of it; for the second, scored by Lucy Quinn, she waited too long before kicking a ball coming in from Laure Weinroither’s throw-in and invited some unnecessary pressure, eventually losing the ball on the edge of her box.
Suddenly, the game became nervy and so did the players – all bar one: Lia Wälti.
The Swiss midfielder looked the more composed, calm and tidy player on the pitch and had a very good influence on her teammates, then took it on herself to seal the win with a fantastic pass that released Caitilin Foord through on goal. The Australian’s run was perfectly timed and executed but Lia’s vision, touch and her trademark body feint to disguise the pass were sublime.
At first, it was difficult to notice the light tactical tweak made by Jonas Eidevall on Lia Wälti’s role, with all the eyes on Vivianne Miedema’s big switch from centre-forward to number ten, but the more you watch (and re-watch) the games, the more you see the Swiss regista playing in a more advanced role, carrying the ball more frequently and add her exquisite touch and vision in more dangerous zones. Instead of “simply” being the anchor in front of the back-four and playing the sort of quarterback role, she moved further forward and allowed the whole team to take a few steps towards the opponents’ goal: having Leah Williamson back helped the transition and so did the arrival of Rafaelle, whose technical qualities allow a better, quick and more incisive build-up through the left half-space, hence the team became less dependent on the contribution of the former Wolfsburg midfielder in the early stages of the build-up.
It’s a few yards but it makes a significant impact on how the team plays out from the back and press their opponents, another recurring theme from the last handful of games. It cannot be a coincidence that we look much more aggressive and are showing a real intent to close down our opponents but, at the same time, we are not left exposed like we did in the FA Cup final against Chelsea, for example. Jonas Eidevall seems to have struck a nice balance between aggression and defensive structure and Lia Wälti’s immense performances of late surely play a big part in that.
Next up is Brighton away, next Sunday, to keep running away from Chelsea and consolidate our place at the top.
As I said, give me points over games in hand, any day!
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.