Arsenal’s chances of retaining the WSL title are surely over after losing 2-1 at the Academy Stadium to Manchester City. With the loss, Arsenal’s second straight in the league, the Gunners are now in third place, outside of the Champions League places, two points behind Chelsea. It was a defeat they could ill afford.
Arsenal were without Kim Little and Lia Wälti, with neither on the bench. Officially, Little is not injured, but having missed two straight games, there will be obvious questions about that line. Wälti’s absence was damaging. Without their usual #6, Arsenal’s ability to play through midfield when City stepped up pressure was hindered. Indeed, towards the end of the match, in an effort to get Arsenal to better play through City, Leah Williamson ended up as the deepest player in midfield, sitting in front of what was a de facto back three, as Arsenal chased the game.
That Arsenal were chasing the game was of their own making. On Wednesday, City took advantage of lax marking on set pieces to score, and they did so again today. The Gunners had a warning from a short City corner, which resulted in pinball in the penalty box. From a later set piece, Arsenal couldn’t clear their lines, and Pauline Bremer, via the aid of a Katie McCabe deflection, gave City the lead.
Arsenal have not come from behind this season, having only been behind in three games, and their chances were not helped early in the second half. There was no pressure applied to Keira Walsh, who was free to play in a cross, from which Lauren Hemp sent a free header over Manuela Zinsberger, with Leonie Maier no where in sight.
Arsenal pulled a goal back: Vivianne Miedema’s excellent cross saw Beth Mead’s shot saved by Ellie Roebuck, but Danïelle van de Donk put the rebound away. Van de Donk was denied an equalizer: Miedemea’s low cross was met by Van de Donk from two yards out, but a combination of Roebuck and Demi Stokes blocked the shot on the goal line. From the ensuing corner, Miedema’s shot was saved by Roebuck, and that was it from the Gunners, as they couldn’t effectively move the ball from back to front.
A damaging defeat, then, and one that means the title is unlikely, as City and Chelsea would have to drop too many points. Chelsea play Manchester City later this month, which could leave an opening for Arsenal to regain a Champions League place, but it will take some slip up from the top two to give Arsenal a chance of retaining the league title.