Arsenal’s long 2019-20 season will end without a trophy, as the Gunners lost to Manchester City 2-1. Jordan Nobbs second incredible lob in as many games cancelled out Steph Houghton’s opener, but a minute later the impressive Sam Mewis took advantage of a collective breakdown in Arsenal’s defence and deep midfield to score what would end up being the winning goal.
Arsenal were poor throughout—they could barely get Vivianne Miedema involved—and were second best for the first hour. After an hour, they began to take control of the match, with Mewis less of a factor in midfield. City left a lot of space behind their defensive line, but only Caitlin Foord looked to play passes that would stretch their back four, much to Miedema’s anger. Thus, even in control, Arsenal gave Ellie Roebuck very little to do until the 90th minute, when Roebuck got fingertips onto a cross that was heading for Miedema’s head.
This is Arsenal’s third straight Cup defeat that has ended 2-1—the Continental Cup final in February, the Champions League quarter-final in August, and now today. Each game was different, of course, but there are a number of issues that have cropped up:
- Arsenal’s susceptibility to low crosses. It was how Chelsea won the Continental Cup, PSG the Champions League tie, and how Manchester City won today. Today’s goal features a breakdown in midfield: Danïelle van de Donk, who had a poor game, was beaten too easily by Mewis, then failed to track her run into the penalty box. The cross should’ve been cut out by Viki Schnaderbeck, but wasn’t, and then Leah Williamson had to be stronger against Ellen White.
Here's Mewis goal. But, give it a second look and watch Van de Donk first complaining and losing Mewis and then complaining again when Mewis scored. It was yours, Danielle pic.twitter.com/1aCYzdn0oo— NWSL Analitica (@NwslAnalitica) October 1, 2020
- Of course, goals usually don’t feature one player at fault. The bigger issue around Mewis’ goal was the failure to contain Mewis. That, of course, is a tough challenge: Mewis is one of the best midfielders in the world, who is technically superb and incredibly powerful. There are only a few midfielders in the world who can match the blend of technique and power, with one being Mewis’ international teammate, Lindsey Horan. Mewis easily had the better of Van de Donk, who was often Arsenal’s deepest midfielder—which didn’t work out well for Arsenal. Once Lia Wälti came on, Arsenal were able to better control City’s midfield, and better control Mewis.
- Wälti, though, only came on because Kim Little had a hamstring problem. Indeed, Wälti wasn’t fit enough to play a full 90 minutes. And, Arsenal were already without Steph Catley, Jill Roord, and Lisa Evans. Arsenal only made one change from the team on Saturday, and one sub today, and looked leggy, whereas City were able to utilize their bench and squad.
- The biggest predictor of future injury is past injury, which is why some concerns about the size of Montemurro’s squad are valid. There are some key players—Kim Little, Jen Beattie, Lia Wälti—who have had injury concerns in successive seasons. But Arsenal have a deeper squad this season, but haven’t yet utilized some of it: Leonie Maier, Malin Gut, and Lotte Wubben-Moy, who only joined up in training last week, have yet to make an appearance. That could change this weekend.
- Manchester City are also very good at home, and the difference between the two teams was again small. But there are one or two negative patterns popping up in big games for Arsenal, and it’s on the coaching staff to find solutions.