The Arsenal Women Journal – Is the title gone for good? [LIV 0-2 ARS, WHU 2-1 ARS]

Good morning, Arsenal Women aficionados!

Well, well – this wasn’t meant to be a double episode of the Arsenal Women Journal, but I caught a big cold that kept me in bed for a week. The moment I take my eyes off the team, we unexpectedly lose to West Ham and basically throw away the league. A coincidence? I don’t think so 🙂

Viv 2

Viv celebrates first goal since her return

Let’s go back to the Liverpool game, first, because it felt like a big corner being turned – especially for Vivianne Miedema. Her first goal in a year helped ease the nerve of her teammates, of all of us who were watching the game and hers, of course: I don’t believe she ever went a whole year without scoring a goal, so seeing the ball hitting the back of the net must have been a relief – especially if you compare Vivianne’s comeback to Beth Mead’s, who really hit the ground running from day one. The undoing of a very resilient Liverpool team was extremely important to keep up with Chelsea and Manchester City, and I must admit that I wasn’t expecting any of the two big events that happened after the two-nil win at Prenton Park – Jen Beattie leaving the club and the team falling apart against a pretty desperate West Ham team.

Jen Beattie 1920x1080 v2

Vivianne Miedema’s goal, the arrival of experienced goalkeeper Sarah Bouhaddi, the return to full fitness of Leah Williamson and the excellent integration of Emily Fox – who got a nomination for the WSL Player of the Month award – were all meant to propel the team to new heights, push everyone forward and build the momentum further, only to result in a damning defeat by the hands of a team that, up to last weekend, only recorded 2 wins in 12 league games.

The defeat away at West Ham is another one to add to the list of the inexplicable ones, because the hosts saw very little of the ball and were quite happy to sit back and wait, yet they managed to knock us down with the only two shots on target they were able to manufacture.


Besides the usual wastefulness in front of goal, the capital sin at the Chigwell Construction Stadium was not to show enough intent, enough incisiveness with the ball: on multiple occasions, in fact, our players chose the easy pass instead of attempting a through-ball or driving forward to break West Ham defensive shape. In Vivianne Miedema, Alessia Russo, Beth Mead and Caitlin Foord, plus Victoria Pelova in midfield and two very offensive full-backs, we had enough quality and intelligence to work our way around their defence, or through it, but we were never truly eager to take a risky pass.

Also, the partnership between Alessia Russo and Vivianne Miedema didn’t work as effectively as in recent weeks, with both players dropping into midfield and no one taking a more advanced position. Although they combined beautifully to setup two big chances in the first half, they looked out of sync with each other, leaving big gaps in and around the penalty area. In hindsight, Stina Blackstenius would have been a better choice to keep the back-three busy, not to mention her aerial threat and ability to run through at the first opportunity.


Stina might have been a better choice v Hammers

Also, the most important refereeing decisions went against us – which is very unfortunate: West Ham was awarded a penalty for a foul that looked to have happened on the edge of the box, rather than inside, while Cloé Lacasse was denied a spot kick late in the game, which could have at least salvaged a point. That said, the referee wasn’t the reason we lost this game and potentially the title: our unusually conservative approach was, as well as our inability to make the field tilt and ball dominance count.

This loss leaves us in third place, six points behind Chelsea and three points behind Manchester City, with nine games remaining. The future doesn’t look particularly bright, although the top-of-the-table clash between the Blues and the Citizens might provide us a slim chance to get back in the race – in the unlikely event that Manchester City wins at Kingsmeadow and that we see out Manchester United at the Emirates Stadium.

Before that, though, we play the London City Lionesses in the Conti Cup quarter-finals, before hosting Manchester City in the FA Cup, on Sunday.

Jonas Eidevall will surely use these two cup games to rotate his players and make sure that everyone is sharp and ready for the run-in. While the league might well be gone already, we need to push to get to the second place and avoid a repeat of the preliminary rounds to qualify for the Champions League group stage and we only have nine games to catch Manchester City, knowing that we will play them in the penultimate game of the season, away from home. Ideally speaking, we should get there with the second place already secured and avoid any nerve-wrenching face-off.


Refection and rotation for Jonas

We have the quality, experience, and squad depth to push Manchester City and possibly Chelsea (assuming the slip up, at some point) all the way and give them both a run for their money, but we need to stop giving away silly goals and – most importantly – convert all those chances. Mikel Arteta once said that the greatest teams are often the most efficient ones in both penalty areas, but unfortunately, we are far from being as tight as we should be at the back and as prolific as we could be upfront. Our attack is the worst of the best with only 29 goals scored, compared to Chelsea’s 41, City’s 35 and United’s 30, while our defence let in 13 goals – 1 more than Chelsea and 5 more than Manchester City.

It would be naïve to believe that we can mount a legit title challenge with these numbers, but it would be silly to believe that this is the best that our players can do – at both ends of the pitch. It might well be too late now, but I would love to see the team become more ruthless and show the kind of resilience and bravery we displayed last year, when injuries hit hard and the squad was severely depleted. If they manage to dig deep in their hearts and minds, these players can find again that never-say-die spirit that brought us minutes away from a Champions League final.

I might be too optimistic, but if we find that ruthlessness then there is no way Manchester City can cope with what we will bring upon them. Neither could Chelsea, by the way.

We will talk again after the Conti Cup and FA Cup duties, hoping that both games will bring a feeling of renaissance and build new momentum.

Speak to you soon!

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