When does a blip become an actual trend? Arsenal Women are finding out, with the Gunners suffering their fourth defeat in their last five games. Although it is only Arsenal’s first loss in the WSL this season, and although Arsenal still have a 4 point lead over Chelsea—albeit with Chelsea having a game in hand—it’s hard not to feel that this particular defeat is terminal for Arsenal’s league hopes.
Birmingham City did not win a league game in the calendar year 2021. Birmingham, prior to today, had led for a grand total of 11 minutes in the WSL. They led for 87 minutes here, as Libby Smith, played through by Lucy Quinn, outran Simone Bøye and Jen Beattie, and slotted past an off-balanced Manuela Zinsberger.
Arsenal’s response will be one of concern. It has become increasingly obvious in recent weeks that Eidevall’s side struggles against teams that sit in and clog up the middle. Whereas once Arsenal’s more direct, wide approach caught teams off-guard, the league has caught up to Arsenal’s strategy to vacate the midfield and utilize creative players to recycle the ball wide to cross. This strategy doesn’t really get the best of Arsenal’s attacking players, and it’s no surprise their best moments came when Arsenal played through the middle—Frida Maanum’s through ball for Miedema allowed her to set up Jordan Nobbs, who shot over, while Arsenal’s sole shot on target came when Miedema collected possession and tamely shot at Emily Ramsey.
Birmingham, though, would score again, with Viki Sarri taking advantage of some truly dreadful individual defending, and Birmingham as a whole taking advantage of structural issues. Simply put, with Arsenal not pressing as intensely as they did earlier this season, the deficiencies and gaps between midfield and defence have been heightened.
Arsenal had a chance to pull a goal back in the second half, when Miedema intercepted a back pass, but Little’s shot was blocked. Jordan Nobbs threatened with a forward run, and was found by Katie McCabe, but Zinsberger was the busier goalkeeper, as Birmingham outshot Arsenal 13-11.
Arsenal have now won just one game out of five—the home league win against Leicester. Eidevall needs to stop this blip fast; otherwise, this stretch, as opposed to the exciting start of the season, will end up defining his first campaign at Arsenal. Yet, off the back of a performance like this, against a team that did not win in 2021, and with flat performances becoming more of a norm, it is fair to begin wondering if Eidevall’s tactical demands are suited for the task at hand.
Arsenal: Zinsberger; Maritz, Bøye (Wubben-Moy 60’), Beattie, McCabe; Maanum; Mead, Little, Nobbs, Iwabuchi; Miedema
Substitutes not used: Stenson, Wälti, Schnaderbeck, Goldie