Entering the season, Arsenal Women’s defense was in flux. With Leah Williamson sidelined by an ACL injury suffered in April and Rafaelle Souza departing at the end of last season, Arsenal had to rebuild their entire defense. It did not help matters that aside from Jen Beattie all of their central defenders, including new signings Laia Codina and Amanda Ilestedt were at the World Cup until the end of the tournament. It was this flux that was a major contributor to Arsenal crashing out of the Champions League to Paris FC, and contributed to the opening day defeat against Arsenal.
Since then, Arsenal are unbeaten. Arsenal have only kept two clean sheets, both in league action, but the defense has begun to tighten up, with Arsenal also getting some luck that had escaped them at the beginning of the season when nearly every single shot flew in. Part of the improvement has been a consistency in defence, and a step up from Lotte Wubben-Moy, who recently captained the side for the first time in the second half of the Gunners’ 3-0 win against Brighton.
For the first time in her Arsenal career, Wubben-Moy is an undisputed starter. She isn’t filling in for an injured player with a run in the side; she is starting, forming a partnership mostly with Amanda Ilestedt, having started once alongside Laia Codina. This is something Wubben-Moy can carry, not just for the rest of the season, but into the future. There is an open centre back spot even after Leah Williamson fully returns, and right now, Wubben-Moy has the inside track.
Since last season, Wubben-Moy progressive passing has increased by 40%, her passes into the final third have almost doubled, and she’s both tackling more and winning the ball more, from .5 per 90 to .74 (.22 to .59 won). But why is that? The reason for the increase in her passing is relatively straightforward: Wubben-Moy is replacing Rafaelle Souza, and as a result has to be more ball dominant. When starting last season along either Williamson or Rafaelle, there was a clear ball dominat player. That is not the case this season; with Arsenal more likely to play through the left hand side, Wubben-Moy passes more than Ilestedt, but also has taken on the progressive passing and longer passing, because it suits her game.
Defensively, too, Wubben-Moy has been the more aggressive defender of the pair. She’s followed strikers into midfield and looked to win the ball higher up the pitch, with Ilestedt covering behind and full backs tucking in if necessary. That’s reflected in the defensive actions: Ilestedt attempts about double the tackles of Wubben-Moy, but Lotte intercepts at double the rate: if possible, she’s seeking the ball and engaging the opposition forward, and Ilestedt is covering.
Wubben-Moy has done this against two of the WSL’s best so far this season in Daly and Bunny Shaw, but Chelsea, with Sam Kerr, will offer a different test. But Wubben-Moy’s assuredness has meant that the left side of Arsenal’s defence, with either Catley or McCabe at full back, has been more secure. The right hand side is still in flux, and in some sense, reflects the short term turnover that Arsenal will experience on that side, until Williamson and Laura Wienroither return from injury. Wubben-Moy’s progression is also a reminder that improvement isn’t always something that has to be sought externally. Players can develop at the club, and sometimes that can be the most beneficial long term, because relationships are already extant. In a sense, Wubben-Moy sums that up. Arsenal’s best centre back this season hasn’t been anyone that was added to the squad; rather, it’s a player who has been found again after a summer where she disappeared under radar.