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Vivianne Miedema: the WSL’s record-setter

Arsenal Women v Tottenham Hotspur Women - Barclays FA Women’s Super League Photo by Catherine Ivill/Getty Images

With typical modesty, Vivianne Miedema allowed herself not only a goal celebration, but acknowledged what she had just done. “Here’s to 50 more goals,” she wrote on Instagram and Twitter. Earlier, Arsenal’s record-setting striker had downplayed setting the WSL record in goals, saying, “it’s still open.” For Miedema, the focus was, as ever, on the performance—not of herself, but of her team.

The statistics are amazing. 50 WSL games; 52 WSL goals. Nikita Parris, who held the record until about 2:38 PM GMT on Sunday, it had taken 110 games to score 49 goals. Ellen White has taken 105 to score 48. After she drew level with Parris last week, there was never any doubt that Miedema was going to set the record on Sunday, and then go about her business. Miedema has now scored 10 goals in 5 WSL games, and what’s funny is that of Arsenal’s early season performers, Miedema has barely come up: plaudits have gone to Jill Roord, to Kim Little, Jordan Nobbs, and others, but not Miedema, because we expect otherworldly brilliance.

The statistics, though, don’t get close to defining the player. Sure, one could mention the assists: 21, the most in the WSL, since she joined, to go along with her 52 goals; a goal and a half per game (and it should be 22; Miedema has not been credited with the assist for Jill Roord’s 3rd goal against West Ham, confused for Jordan Nobbs). But even listing the assists don’t fully capture the player.

Most players who score a goal a game are fairly selfish. That isn’t to say they prioritize their success over their team’s, but that they see themselves as integral to that, that their goal-scoring is the way the team is successful. That, though, is not Miedema.

A year ago, Miedema told Tim Stillman, “I know I have my goalscoring qualities, but I like setting people up. I like to drop and pick up the ball and see if I can send someone through on goal.” When Miedema scored 6 and assisted 4 against Bristol City, she was famously happier about the 4 assists.

Only a quarter of Miedema’s touches per game are in the penalty box. Over a third are in the zone designated as the middle third, which speaks to Miedema’s own self-assessment, of dropping and picking up the ball. For comparison, Sam Kerr, who is more of a traditional striker who plays on the shoulder of a defence has had three fewer touches for Chelsea in the attacking penalty box than she has in the middle third. Miedema is unique in that respect.

Yet, while watching Arsenal or analysis of Arsenal, a lot of commentary will discuss how Miedema can, “not be doing much” and then “score a goal.” In reality, that couldn’t be further from the truth. Beyond Miedema’s general involvement in build up play, her movement is always about creating space, either for herself, or for her teammates.

A feature of Arsenal’s play is the goals being shared, especially from central areas. While this is in part because of the capabilities of Arsenal’s attacking players, such as Jill Roord, Kim Little, Jordan Nobbs, and Caitlin Foord, it’s also because of Miedema, and how each of those players has fashioned a partnership with Miedema.

An example of this is Caitlin Foord’s first goal against Spurs. Miedema doesn’t have a touch, but her movement is purposeful and deliberate, geared towards creating space. After a period of possession in their own third, Leah Williamson has possession. At this point, Miedema comes short, attracting the Spurs left-sided centre back, Shelina Zadorsky, and the left back, Kerys Harrop. This creates space for Foord, an area for Williamson to play the ball, and a fairly simple goal—one that Miedema’s selflessness helped create. As Joe Montemurro said post-match, “She’s got players around her that create space for her and she creates space for others too.”

It is, of course, Miedema’s goals that mean she is the WSL’s record goal-scorer—and there are a lot of goals: 34 with her right foot, 14 with her left foot, 4 headers, and many crucial ones. Yet goals alone cannot describe Vivianne Miedema, who is the ultimate team player, who is rather elite at scoring goals.