Arsenal Women’s season concluded on Saturday with a home 2-0 loss to Aston Villa. Despite the loss, Arsenal sealed third place, and a spot in the qualification rounds of next season’s Champions League, having beaten Manchester City on goal difference.
What went well:
Arsenal won a trophy, and progressed to the semi-finals of the Champions League, setting and breaking attendance records along the way. Yet even that doesn’t fully capture the context of the season: when Arsenal won a trophy, the Continental Cup, they came back from being 1-0 down against Chelsea to win 3-1. The trophy win, then, was not just about winning a trophy: it was about beating a big team in a must-win game. And even that doesn’t explain the full context, with Arsenal having to reinvent their attack after they lost Beth Mead and Vivianne Miedema to ACL injuries in November and December.
Having won the Conti Cup, Arsenal went on a tear of form, beating Manchester City and Bayern Munich. Having beaten Bayern, Arsenal then lost first Kim Little, to a season ending hamstring injury, and Leah Williamson, to an ACL injury. Arsenal then went toe to toe with Wolfsburg, switching to a new system—another thing that went well—before losing in heartbreaking style.
Yet what Jonas Eidevall’s side showed in the final three months of the season was remarkable. There was a never say die spirit from the players who weren’t injured, and a group that became close-knit, but also very adaptable, able to switch between playing a back four and a back three. They also had the experience of winning big games—something that will only serve them better next season.
What didn’t go well:
Broadly speaking, devastating ACL injuries. Arsenal lost the aforementioned three, and Laura Wienroither. With 4 ACL injuries, the club have to look at patterns, to see if there’s anything that they can improve on in terms of training and recovery. The summer and January transfer window didn’t help; Arsenal were left short after both windows, with the club resorting to signing the free agent Jodie Taylor in March. Taylor didn’t score for Arsenal in her return to the club.
There were individual moments that could, of course, be improved. Arsenal gave away a lead at home to Manchester United in November, with a late 2-1 lead turning into a 3-2 loss. And, perhaps the most recent set back is the loss of centre back Rafaelle Souza, who is leaving the club at the end of her contract for personal reasons. Rafaelle has been a big difference when fit: exceptionally good in the air, and so good at stepping out and intercepting the ball. Furthermore, her play with the ball is a major part of how Arsenal build, and that entire package will be incredibly hard to replace. Essentially, with Rafaelle leaving and Leah Williamson out until after Christmas, Arsenal will have to build a new centre back pairing, with Lotte Wubben-Moy part of that conversation.
Who played well:
Frida Maanum won the supporter’s player of the award for the season. Between the Champions League and WSL, Frida scored 14 goals and assisted 7, and made the #10 spot hers to lose. Her 14 goals did come from 8.5 xG, but part of that is Maanum is an outstanding long shooter. Frida also scored BIG goals—goals against Manchester City and Bayern Munich in the run-in.
Caitlin Foord was excellent on the left of Arsenal’s attack: a strong dribbler, hard to knock off the ball, and always stretching defences, Foord ended with 10 goals and 8 assists between the Champions League and WSL.
Stina Blackstenius recovered from a poor patch mid-season to score crucial goals against Chelsea in the Conti Cup final, Bayern Munich and Wolfsburg in the Champions League, and Manchester City in the Conti Cup semi-final.
Katie McCabe stepped into the captaincy after Little and Williamson went down with injury, and led by example, while also playing three or four positions to a high level. And, as ever, Lia Wälti was excellent, and her renewal in May is crucial for the club. Noelle Maritz, Laura Wienroither, Lotte Wubben-Moy, and Victoria Pelova also had strong periods of the season, and Kim Little was excellent until injury struck.
Also, the fans who went week in and week out to Meadow Park, the Emirates, Germany, France, Crawley, and Leicester were exceptional. The atmosphere, as I had the privilege of experiencing in April, is truly special, and organic. We cannot look at the incredible amount of belief Arsenal showed in the spring and not see the relationship, however symbiotic, with the Arsenal fans.
Lina Hurtig was Arsenal’s only outfield summer signing, but never really got going, with a nagging foot and hamstring injury. She ended up playing 471 minutes in the Champions League and WSL. And, unfortunately, Arsenal didn’t see the best of Vivianne Miedema; Viv was exhausted after contracting covid during last summer’s Euros and playing shortly after recovering, and took an extended break in the middle of the season. After returning from that break, she was back to some of her best form, and then ruptured her ACL. Her return will be a welcome addition to Arsenal’s attack.
The transfer window gets underway in earnest. Arsenal will likely target multiple defenders, a striker, and a wide attacker. Look for Arsenal to sign players who can play multiple roles and allow Eidevall to switch between a back four and a back three, especially as Williamson and Wienroither are longer term absences.