Arsenal and Chelsea played out a 1-1 draw at the Emirates Stadium as the second half of the WSL season got underway. Arsenal took the lead through a Kim Little penalty, but Sam Kerr equalized in the 89th minute to leave Arsenal in third, level on points with Manchester United and 3 points behind Chelsea with a game in hand.
Arsenal excel off the ball
Arsenal had only beaten Chelsea once in seven WSL games entering the match, conceding 14 goals in the 7 games. Among good results there have been genuine blow outs: 4-1 at Meadow Park in 2020, 3-0 at Kingsmeadow in the winter of 2021. Even the sole victory, under Jonas Eidevall at the Emirates, saw Arsenal concede two goals. So, in a positive twist, Arsenal conceded only two shots on target; unfortunately, Sam Kerr scored with one. But, this was probably Arsenal’s most convincing performance off the ball against Chelsea in several years.
Arsenal pressed well, forcing Chelsea to go long. There, Arsenal were excellent in winning first and second balls, before playing out of Chelsea pressure—often by being more direct themselves. Arsenal’s pressing cut the supply line to Kerr, and Chelsea’s biggest threat was Lauren James, who could carry the ball directly from point A to point B.
Indeed, Arsenal’s off the ball dominance and their comfort at progressing the ball up the pitch gave Arsenal an air of dominance. Yet, it was dominance without putting Musovic under huge pressure. Most of her saves were from long range shots—only Hurtig’s header and Catley’s cross causing her big issues. Arsenal did create good openings: in the first half, Hurtig shot tamely with her left foot when played in, and shot into the side netting when she could’ve crossed to Foord, and then her header in the second half, which was straight at Musovic. With the former, it was hard not to compare to Beth Mead, who surely would’ve scored from that position.
It took Arsenal a penalty to go in front, but from there, they squandered openings. Foord should’ve made it two but couldn’t convert. Arsenal have players, in Foord and Blackstenius, who are capable of upping their scoring contributions. They’ll have to if Arsenal are to be successful this season.
Let’s talk about subs
Arsenal dropped off; from about 75 minutes on, Chelsea had 75% possession, and Arsenal weren’t even threatening on the counter, but just getting the ball away from the penalty area. The front four, who put in a big physical shift, definitely tired, but Eidevall only made one sub, bringing McCabe on for Hurtig. Afterwards, he explained that new signings Victoria Pelova and Kathrine Kühl, and Gio Queiroz, who returned from loan, hadn’t trained enough with Arsenal to have an impact. While that’s fair, the game-state also called for Eidevall to do something: Arsenal could barely mount a counter, and were dropping deep. He could’ve acknowledged that Arsenal needed more defensive bodies and brought on a third centre back, with Jen Beattie and Lotte Wubben-Moy both available. Or, one of those could’ve come on and Leah Williamson could’ve pushed on to midfield. In any event, while the timing of the match, one of the biggest of the season and the first after the winter break, was unfortunate, Eidevall could’ve done more, and it might’ve meant Arsenal saw out the end of the match—not least because Chelsea scored from a cross.