In signing Tobin Heath, Arsenal are choosing to strengthen an already formidable part of their squad. Looking at Arsenal’s squad, one could be forgiven for thinking that central midfield is an area of necessity. The Gunners only have one natural holder in Lia Wälti, and with the Swiss only playing her first minutes of the season last Tuesday, her job has been shared between Frida Maanum and Kim Little, who are both more naturally attacking players. Leah Williamson can also deputise there, but is also Arsenal’s first choice centre back.
Unlike central midfield, Arsenal are well-stocked in wide positions. Arsenal signed Nikita Parris this summer, and Steph Catley’s return to fitness has enabled Katie McCabe to push further forward. Mana Iwabuchi, who has played at number 10 in Jonas Eidevall’s 4-2-3-1, can play on the left, Caitlin Foord played on the left hand side for most of last season, and Beth Mead, Parris, and Foord can all play on the right. Indeed, Arsenal loaned out Lisa Evans to West Ham.
Tobin Heath, naturally right-footed, is a genuine two-footed player who can play on the left or right. She predominantly plays on the right for the USWNT, and played on the right for Manchester United last season, where she scored 4 goals and assisted 2 in 575 minutes—missing a majority of the season with an injury that required rehabilitation in the United States.
A strong dribbler, Heath’s two-footedness allows her to get out of pressure and get away from defenders. Because of her comfort on either foot, she can go on the outside or drive inside from wide positions, before getting into position to shoot or cross. Heath is a direct player. Heath’s skill and her ability to utilize tricks means she is good in one versus one positions, though she can sometimes be guilty of over elaboration.
In that sense, she brings something different to Arsenal’s wide players, especially if Mana Iwabuchi is going to be utilized more as a number 10. Nikita Parris is a wide forward, while Beth Mead is more of a classic winger than creative wide player. Caitlin Foord can be a powerful wide forward, but she is more of a runner with the ball than dribbler. Heath brings a different skillset, as well as comfort in central spaces. Indeed, while both were at Portland, Heath and Foord struck up a good understanding, with the latter dropping into wider positions for the former to get into central, scoring positions, something that Heath could very much do with Vivianne Miedema.
Having had a good half-season with Manchester United, Heath, like most of the USWNT, struggled at the Olympics. Heath only had one assist in six games (four starts), in the 6-1 win over New Zealand. Heath is also 33, and coming off of a long-term injury. While one may expect her to start regularly for Arsenal, that may not be the case to begin with, especially given the physical demands Jonas Eidevall has placed on his team off the ball, with a heavy pressing style.
After signing, Heath is the only USWNT player that remains in the WSL after last season’s influx. Last season, it was the team, Chelsea, that didn’t sign any USWNT player that saw the most success, and Manchester City will suffer without Sam Mewis and Abby Dahlkemper. But whereas City built much of their team around Mewis, and Manchester United built most of their team around Heath, Arsenal are in a position of strength to deal with the uncertainty that surrounds US players that play outside of the NWSL, because Heath is adding to a position of strength. She may be a game changer for Arsenal, but she’s an addition to an already star-studded front line, rather than the main piece.