At half-time of Arsenal’s WSL encounter with Aston Villa, Jonas Eidevall sent Mana Iwabuchi on. The move, adding another creative midfielder, immediately paid off as Iwabuchi’s positioning increased Arsenal’s ball movement, and within five minutes, Kim Little had scored to put Arsenal 1-0 up. From then on, Arsenal’s lead was never in doubt, but only after a first half of frustration.
Pre-match, Carla Ward had said that Villa’s goal would be to frustrate Arsenal, and they pulled a surprise on Arsenal, switching to an incredibly compact 5-4-1 system. Arsenal found it hard to break the lines down, and too often went wide, leading to crosses where Vivianne Miedema was surrounded by Villa defenders. From one of these crosses, from Beth Mead on the left, Miedema almost scored, getting her toe to the ball, but Hannah Hampton saved.
In the second half, Arsenal began to play more quickly through the thirds, and threaten with passes behind the Villa defence. That forced Aston Villa to drop that little bit deeper, and gave Arsenal more space. So when Lotte Wubben-Moy fired a pass into Kim Little, she was one versus one against a Villa defender, and thus able to turn and get her shot away, beating Hampton to give Arsenal a 1-0 lead, her 150th goal for the club.
Arsenal would threaten, with Miedema having a shot blocked by Hampton after strong work by Nikita Parris, but Aston Villa kept the Gunners in check until late on. By then, Arsenal’s refreshed attack clicked into gear. First, Tobin Heath beat Meghan Sargeant, and pulled the ball back for Iwabuchi to deftly finish.
Katie McCabe, on as a substitute, made it three with a superb individual effort. McCabe anticipated Hannah Hampton’s mishit clearance, and with Hampton off her line, McCabe lobbed her from over 35 yards out.
Kim Little completed the rout in injury time with her shot taking a deflection and looping over Hampton. While the result was perhaps harsh on Villa, it also highlighted Arsenal’s strength in depth. With Arsenal playing twice a week nearly every week until December, it will be crucial to maintain that depth if the Gunners are to keep up the pace that they’ve set so far under Jonas Eidevall.
Arsenal (4-2-3-1): Zinsberger; Maritz, Wubben-Moy (Williamson 74’), Beattie, Catley; Wälti, Maanum (Iwabuchi 45’); Parris (Heath 63’), Little, Mead (McCabe 74’); Miedema (Foord 63’)
Substitues not used: Williams, Patten, Nobbs, Schnaderbeck
Goals: Little 51’, 90+2’, Iwabuchi 80’, McCabe 83’