Wednesday started off as a good day for Arsenal Women. The club confirmed the signing of Mana Iwabuchi after the expiration of her short term contract with Aston Villa. Iwabuchi very much fits your definition of an Arsenal player, as she’s an extremely technical, creative, and short attacking midfielder. Iwabuchi is also 28, so comes ready-made; she won’t need to adapt to England or the WSL, which will be useful as she goes a very long way to replacing Jill Roord, who has already left Arsenal, and Danïelle van de Donk, who is strongly linked with a move to Olympique Lyon. Iwabuchi, a World Cup winner with Japan in 2011 and a runner up in the 2012 Olympics and 2015 World Cup, is an excellent signing, and a good friend of Vivianne Miedema, with whom she played with at Bayern Munich, and she should link well with Miedema—if Miedema is still at the club when the new campaign kicks off.
Later on Wednesday, Suzy Wrack of the Guardian reported that Arsenal and Lyon were engaged in talks for a swap deal of Miedema and Nikita Parris, the England international striker who has scored the third most goals in WSL history. Miedema, of course, has one year left on her contract, and according to Wrack, “Arsenal would be loth to lose Miedema as a free agent next summer and there is interest in her from Lyon.”
Miedema has been a long-term target of Lyon and has rejected their advances before. There is reason to believe she would do so again, and if that is the case, the move won’t come about. In any event, Arsenal would retain interest in bringing Parris back to the WSL. But attempting to swap Miedema for Parris shows an alarming lack of innovation and ambition.
It is not necessarily illogical that Arsenal want to get ahead of Miedema leaving on a free contract. While large fees are not yet the norm in women’s football, losing Miedema for nothing may be damaging. Yet in this move, Arsenal would lose an elite player without getting an elite player in as a replacement, either at centre forward, or elsewhere in the team, such as in a number 10 position or in central midfield.
This is not the way to close the gap on Chelsea and Manchester City, nor make Arsenal a threat to make it into the latter stages of the Champions League. To do that, Arsenal have to keep their world class players, and sign more. Nikita Parris, for example, is a good striker. She could add pace to the team’s attack, which Arsenal currently lack, and has the ability to play through the middle or play wide on the right.
Parris has averaged .8 non-penalty goals per 90 minutes over the last three seasons, a return that, of Arsenal’s attacking players, only Miedema has bettered. If Arsenal want to improve, they should get an attacking player like Nikita Parris in addition to Miedema, not instead of Miedema, and indeed, such types of moves would make Miedema, who reportedly wants to see more ambition from the club, more likely to sign a contract extension.
But swapping the two would be a lazy, short-term fix of a problem of Arsenal’s own creation. In that sense, it mirrors a number of moves from the men’s first team, and with Arsenal lacking a manager at the moment, transfers are more likely to be overseen by a combination of Clare Wheatley, the women’s first team general manager, and the dynamic duo of Edu and Vinai Venketesham, who have extremely little experience or knowledge of women’s football.
Arsenal gained Champions League football in the 2020-21 season. But with Joe Montemurro departing, and the contracts of several key players either up this summer or expiring next summer, the club is at somewhat of a crossroads. But with competition increasing, in the WSL and across the world, that requires innovation and creativity to go along with ambition. The worry is that the summer’s first big move is one borne out of ease and laziness rather than trying to progress forward.