Arsenal Women have started the defence of their league title with a nervy 2-1 win over West Ham. Having led by two goals at half time, Arsenal allowed West Ham to get back into the match, and in the end were somewhat lucky, as West Ham hit the woodwork twice in the second half.
With Fiorentina in the Champions League on Thursday, Joe Montemurro was cautious in his lineup. Vivianne Miedema, who missed the Netherlands’ second qualifier with a tight hamstring was held out, meaning Beth Mead was the nominal centre forward, though Danielle van de Donk and Jill Roord all popped up in advanced positions. Leah Williamson started in midfield, meaning Arsenal’s back four was a combination that had never played together before: new signings Leonie Maier and Jen Beattie, with Beattie partnering Viki Schanderbeck in defence, and Katie McCabe playing at left back, with Katrine Veje out with injury and Emma Mitchell on the bench.
It took little time for Arsenal’s back four to be tested, as Schnaderbeck was booked in the first minute. She’d later be joined by Maier, and Arsenal were tested by the West Ham attack, particularly new signing Martha Thomas.
Arsenal, though, got the first goal, and it came from a typical source. Lisa Evans, playing as a right winger, got forward, and played the ball into Beth Mead, who arrowed a shot into the bottom left corner from about 20 yards.
Mead and Evans were involved in the second goal, on 41 minutes: Evans, again, got down the right-hand side, as she did the whole afternoon, and played a cross into Mead, who held the ball up for the on-rushing Jill Roord, who buried the shot from 12-yards to make it 2-0.
In the second half, though, West Ham came into the game. They almost stole a goal when Martha Thomas took advantage of lackadaisical play by goalkeeper Manuela Zinsberger, who lost the ball while trying to dribble it into the box to pick it up. From an acute angle, Thomas’ shot flew over the bar. Thomas, though, would soon score, right before the hour mark: Thomas got ahead of Schnaderbeck, and nodded in Erin Simon’s superb cross. West Ham had begun to target Schnaderbeck, and she was soon replaced by the returning Jordan Nobbs, with Williamson moving to centre back in the reshuffle. Williamson almost restored the two-goal lead, but her header from a corner was parried by West Ham keeper Courtney Brosnan.
Arsenal struggled to exert calm despite the introduction of Nobbs, and West Ham came close to equalizing, both times from Kenza Dali. The first time, her free kick was deflected onto the post, with Zinsberger stranded. The second time, shortly before time, her indirect back-pass was tipped onto the bar by Zinsberger, who made up for picking up a backpass.
Arsenal saw out injury time without much of a scare, but were, on the whole, somewhat fortunate to get three points. With Fiorentina in the Champions League on Thursday and Manchester United in the FA WSL next Monday, Montemurro will want to see an improvement in performance. Today, though, it was enough to get over the line.