Arsenal drew 0-0 with West Ham on Sunday in the WSL, leaving the Gunners in 3rd. Arsenal are now 5 points behind Chelsea and 3 points behind Manchester United, with a game in hand on both. Here are three talking points.
Title challenge over
Arsenal are not going to win the Women’s Super League this season. In retrospect, that was perhaps true the day Arsenal lost Vivianne Miedema to a ruptured ACL, having already lost Beth Mead to the same injury. But, aside from Katie McCabe, who scored the 4th in Arsenal’s 4-1 win against Aston Villa in December, an Arsenal forward hasn’t scored in the league since early November, when Stina Blackstenius and Caitlin Foord scored against Leicester. And that is the fundamental problem: Arsenal cannot score. It took a Kim Little penalty to score against Chelsea; here, Arsenal didn’t get the penalty. The build up play, structure and chance creation is fairly good, but Arsenal’s attackers are badly out of form. Some may return to form—Foord and Blackstenius are capable of far better output than what they are providing right now—but the gap with Chelsea is too far, now. It means Arsenal are in a race for the Champions League with Manchester United and Manchester City. Both Manchester teams are flawed, but both have goal scorers.
Arsenal paying for poor recruitment
Arsenal needed attacking reinforcements in January. The club, though, led by Head of Women’s Football Clare Wheatley, failed to sign an attacking player. The window was fine in terms of the long-term future of the club, with Kathrine Kühl looking a shrewd, creative addition in midfield. It was, however, a complete failure for the short team. Arsenal signed Victoria Pelova and recalled Gio; Gio has yet to play 90 minutes this season, and was coming back from injury while on loan at Everton. Pelova is another good signing for the long term, but is really a midfielder, and not an attacker, having only scored 3 goals in 8 games in the Eredivisie this season, and 6 in 24 last season. Arsenal also failed to sign another attacking player in the summer after losing Tobin Heath and Nikita Parris and only bringing in Lina Hurtig. Eidevall was quite circumspect about the lack of attacking signings saying:
I think I was clear in the window that we needed another forward. We identified targets, I know the club worked hard, but it was very difficult transfer window, not to find players to want to join Arsenal but to find clubs that want to sell quality players in this window.
The bottom line is the process at Arsenal means that Eidevall is not directly involved in transfers, much like with the men’s team. But while there seems to be unity surrounding the squad building process with the men’s team, that’s been lacking with the women’s team: Nikita Parris and Mana Iwabuchi were not players that fit Eidevall’s style, while Hurtig is a poorer duplicate of qualities Arsenal already had.
Balance of attack is wrong
While Eidevall is not directly responsible for Arsenal’s failures in the transfer market, he does choose Arsenal’s starting lineup, and the balance is off with Arsenal’s attack. Broadly speaking, the problem is that all of Arsenal’s front four are runners, off the ball, and with the ball. Frida Maanum is a very good deep passer, but her prowess in attack comes from driving with the ball into the penalty box. Stina Blackstenius makes runs off the ball, and Caitlin Foord and Lina Hurtig are both ball carriers. Indeed, the most creativity came from Leah Williamson, playing in central midfield, especially as both Foord and Hurtig looked to go on the outside rather than inside. Eidevall may be limited in his attacking options—Gio is likely not fit enough to start a WSL game—but he does have Katie McCabe, who can either provide natural width on the left, or look to come inside from the right. Eidevall could also shift the shape of Arsenal’s attack, and add more creativity to midfield. It may not be his preferred system, but his preferred system simply won’t work without changing some of the profiles of his attacking four.
There were further imbalances: Arsenal improved in the second half, when Laura Wienroither replaced Noëlle Maritz, because Wienroither is a direct full back, rather than someone who plays much in terms of build-up; she gave Arsenal’s right flank someone who ran in behind, rather than a player who wanted the ball to feet.
Arsenal: Zinsberger; Maritz (Wienroither 68’), Wubben-Moy, Rafaelle, Catley (McCabe 68’); Williamson, Little; Foord, L. Maanum, Hurtig (Pelova 68’); Blackstenius (Gio 78’)
Substitutes not used: D’Angelo, Marckese, Beattie, Kühl, Agyemang