Arsenal’s chances of winning the FA WSL are surely over after a 1-1 draw at the Madejski Stadium. Arsenal, who probably had to win every single game against teams outside of the top 4 to have a chance at winning the league have now dropped the most points of the top 4 clubs in the WSL, putting the Gunners in a battle to finish in the top 3, let alone winning the title.
Arsenal made a number of changes to the team that last played nearly a month ago, on December 20. Notably, Arsenal started with a back three of Anna Patten, Lotte Wubben-Moy, and Katie McCabe, nominally a winger. None of the Arsenal players who scored in the 4-0 win over Everton started, with Arsenal playing a forward line of Lisa Evans, Vivianne Miedema, and Danïelle van de Donk.
Arsenal started brightly, but Patten, playing her first game since starting for the University of South Carolina on November 19, clumsily lost the ball and then fouled Emma Mitchell. Mitchell took the free kick, and Lauren Bruton sidefooted into Arsenal’s net, with Manuela Zinsberger beaten at her near post.
Down 1-0 after five minutes, Arsenal struggled to get back into the game. When Arsenal worked the ball into areas where they could create space by switching the ball, players took an extra touch or an extra pass, allowing Reading to regain possession.
Finally, Arsenal began to get around Reading’s defence, and when Jill Roord’s header was saved, Miedema was there to put away the rebound—the only real time when Arsenal worked the ball quickly into space.
Arsenal made a triple change at half time, an admittance from Joe Montemurro that the starting lineup and tactical system didn’t work. Leah Williamson, Jen Beattie, and Beth Mead replaced Patten, Wubben-Moy, and Malin Gut, as Arsenal switched to a 4-3-3. Arsenal started the half brightly, with Mead a threat on the right hand side, but again, the final ball was lacking, and it was Reading who could’ve taken the lead. Bruton had a shot cleared off the line after Jill Roord cheaply lost possession, and Zinsberger completely flapped at an Emma Mitchell corner.
Arsenal had chances to find the winner: Miedema, perhaps being pulled down, shot over from Mead’s cross, and Caitlin Foord, on as a substitute, created a half-chance for Jill Roord that Grace Maloney saved. There was a significant chunk of stoppage time, with 9 minutes added on after a head injury for Fishlock, and a leg injury for Reading’s Kristine Leine, but Arsenal could not create the telling chance that would win the game and keep them in the title race.
After much deliberation about Arsenal’s players traveling to Dubai over the winter break, there is now, a focus on something else. Unfortunately for Arsenal, it’s a focus on their failings, with Joe Montemurro now surely under pressure after a run of six games that have seen the Gunners take 8 points.