ANOTHER ONE BITES THE DUST
I'd be lying if I said the loss of Kim Little last month didn't hurt. Heck I'm still kind of torn up about it. However, as I live in the States I'll have an opportunity to see Little play first hand, so that helps soften the blow. Also, Little's move to Seattle wasn't entirely shocking. As soon as Laura Harvey took the head coaching job for the Reign, a lot of people started to piece together that the "Little Cannon" could be taking her talents to Northwest America. When the move was announced, I wasn't shocked. It was just an announcement of the inevitable. That too softened the blow.
After the trade, rumors were still flying about that more Arsenal Ladies could be on the move. Of course, this made sense. Finishing third in the league with a new coach, Champions League chances seemingly shrinking to a slight glimmer in the distance, things weren't looking good, and when that happens players can jump ship. This is pretty simple to do in the world of women's soccer, as if you're one of the top players in the world, there are going to be plenty of teams that want to take you. Add in the fact salary isn't really mind blowingly high and some rather confusing roster rules, and players can move about pretty freely.
There were several moves that would make sense. Its well known that several players on the Arsenal roster have played extensively with other squads across the world and have jumped back and forth between those teams and the Arsenal. A move from one of those players wouldn't have been too shocking, and there would be a good deal of hope they would return to the squad in a few years time. No biggie, nothing the Gunners haven't dealt with before.
Fast forward from Kim Little. The rumors of players moving about have died down a bit, and, of course, its easy to be lulled into a false sense of security. One minute you're thinking the best outside back of the 2012 Olympics is locked up to start for your team, the next you're scrolling through Twitter hoping to see a notification your classes are cancelled due to inclement weather and instead you see a subtweet about Man City stealing both Arsenal and Arsenal Ladies players and you start to connect the dots. Oh, just me? Regardless, Steph Houghton's move to the Blues was like being struck by lightning: shocking, unreal, highly unlikely, will never happen again, and painful.
Manchester City is joining the top flight of the FA WSL, the WSL1, this season for the first time ever. They'll be joining Arsenal, Liverpool, Birmingham City, Bristol Academy, Chelsea, Everton and Notts County (AKA Lincoln Ladies for those playing along at home). Those are all solid clubs, and for a team entering top flight for the first time they knew they needed to make some noise. And thus they have. Before signing Houghton, the Blues grabbed up forwards Jill Scott and Toni Duggan from Everton and goalkeeper Karen Bardsley from Lincoln Ladies.
Between those three players they have 122 caps for England, and both Bardsley and Scott played for Team Great Britain in the 2012 Olympics. It's clear that Houghton will be joining a squad with lots of star power. Houghton herself adds even more international experience to the team, and presents herself as a rarity: a defender with the ability to get forward and score...and score often.
WHERE DO WE GO FROM HERE
So while everything is coming up violets (Man City wouldn't want roses would they?) for the FA WSL newbies, things seem to be falling apart for what was the flagship club of the league. Two players out the door in less than a month, and yes, there are rumors circulating that it's not over yet. Meanwhile on the signing front....that would be crickets you hear, folks.
Sure, signing Nobbs and Carter to contract extensions was a great move, but that isn't enough. When you look at the squads Liverpool, Bristol Academy, Birmingham City, and now Manchester City have put together its hard to see where Arsenal Ladies fits into the picture.
The Gunners have a top five midfielder and a top five defender, and, no offense to the rest of the team, but there is no one on the roster to fill those sizable gaps. Like I said in the post about Kim Little, Emma Mitchell is a great player that will be looked to in order to help fill the holes this team has, but its hard to fill the shoes of such great players.
Thus begs the question, what happened and where do we go from here?
I think things began to break down with the loss of forward Jennifer Beattie, pictured above in perhaps the saddest picture in the world, who moved to Montpellier (she' s like the anti-Giroud). Sure, at the time it didn't seem like that big of a loss. Arsenal had two talented forwards, and at that point Beattie was mostly used off the bench. But, when you really look at it, the loss of Beattie was seen immediately. Heading into the 2013 FA WSL season, all the teams around Arsenal improved. They added solid players into key roles and beefed up the bench. Arsenal sat quietly, made no real moves, and never replaced Beattie. While she was a bench player, she was the first option off the bench. Depth was lacking for the team, and it showed.
There's nothing Arsenal Ladies can do about the past, so now they must figure out how to move forward. In other words: sign someone, please. Other teams in the FA WSL are continuing to push the envelope and sign players that, simply put, make their team better than Arsenal. The FA WSL is growing, and teams will continue to get better. It's no longer a one trick pony. Arsenal must continue to improve as the league improves, and that just doesn't seem to be happening.
Now I'm not saying that the Arsenal Ladies are just going to float off into oblivion never to be heard of again, or even that they'll be relegated next season. Those are both two ridiculous conclusions to jump to. It means that Arsenal will probably be a mid table team, and their Champions League streak will soon be titled "years since Arsenal made the Champions League" instead of "consecutive Champions League appearances."
THE MOST LOVABLE SUNDERLAND GUNNER
I figure this post should end on a high note, so let's take a fond walk down memory lane with Steph Houghton. After being acquired from Leeds, Houghton made an immediate impact on the club. Her defending was solid, but what made her stand out was her ability to get forward into the attack and finish. Houghton excelled at Arsenal, helping the club win back to back Super League titles in 2011 and 2012, two FA Cups, three Continental Cup titles and made three consecutive Champions League semi finals. Oh, and she won FA WSL goal of the week a few times along the way.
Internationally, Houghton began to feature regularly for England. If it wasn't for the massive soft spot in my heart for Alex Scott, I'd wager Houghton is the best back the England WNT has seen. Let's erase all memory of the recent EUROs from our mind, and focus on what is perhaps the crowning achievement of Houghton's career thus far. Representing Great Britain in the 2012 Olympics, a squad that was filled with almost all Gunners, in front of a packed Wembley Stadium and taking out one of the best teams in the world: Brazil.
Now, we could venture onto YouTube and look up fantastic Steph Houghton videos all day long, but I'll allow you to do that on your own time. For now, goodbye Steph. Thank you for everything you gave to this club, and as much as it pains me to say it, good luck with Manchester City. We'll see you next season.