Tuesday, May 24, 2022

Arsenal ladies: mid-season review

After the mid-season glitz of the Women’s World Cup, Arsenal Ladies are back to the domestic grindstone this weekend, as they face defending champions Liverpool Ladies at Borehamwood on Sunday evening. (The game is live in BT Sport). For the girls themselves, 5 of whom were involved in England’s third place playoff in Edmonton last Saturday evening, the schedule is unforgiving. For the good of women’s football, the instant resumption of the WSL helps the league to cultivate the momentum of the showpiece tournament, which earned impressive viewing figures. On Thursday evening, The Arsenal Ladies ticketing staff are reporting that they have sold 5 times the number of tickets compared to their sales average 72 hours prior to a fixture.

For Arsenal, and indeed all WSL clubs, the challenge is to retune to the environment of their club teams. The girls all trained together for the first time in nearly 6 weeks on Thursday evening, after a month in the bubble of their national sides in Canada. They will need to quickly reanimate old club bonds and reacclimatise to Pedro Losa’s tactical demands. For the England girls, Alex Scott, Jordan Nobbs and Casey Stoney (Siobhan Chamberlain joined Notts County on loan this week and Lianne Sanderson has not returned with the squad), the test will be to glide gently back down to earth after their bronze medal procuring heroics.

The England squad were welcomed home as heroes; on Thursday they ate breakfast with Prince William and were chauffeured to Wimbledon with complimentary centre court seats in the Royal Box. Come Sunday, they will have to grapple with defending champions Liverpool, desperate for points after a tumultuous start to the season. Arsenal have four games before the end of July (three are at home) before meeting Manchester City in early August. The next four weeks will offer a gruelling mental and physical examination for them.

Including new signing Marta Corredera, the Gunners had three players in the Spain squad at the World Cup. The Spaniards endured a miserable tournament, they were eliminated in the group stage, after which, the squad released a joint statement petitioning for the removal of their manager. Arsenal midfielder Vicky Losada gave a very outspoken interview in which she accused Spain boss Ignacio Quereda of underpreparing the squad and in some cases, bullying the players in training. Meanwhile, Gunners striker Natalia Pablos was singled out for special criticism by Vicente Temprado, head of the Spanish Women’s Football Federation. The Spanish girls will need to pick themselves up after a torrid summer.

Pedro Martinez Losa
Pedro Martinez Losa

Arsenal however, arrived at the mid-season break in good condition. They sit 2nd in the WSL table, just two points behind leaders Chelsea having played them away from home already, where they toughed out a 0-0 draw. Manager Pedro Martinez Losa has been perched in the top seat for ten months now and his identity is slowly beginning to imprint itself onto the team. The squad has been refreshed during the break with the additions of midfielder Marta Corredera and young Dutch defender Dominique Janssen. Corredera’s arrival paved the way for young Scottish midfielder Caroline Weir to join Bristol Academy, whilst goalkeeper Siobhan Chamberlain joins Notts County on loan in search of regular football.

Weir and Chamberlain represent losses to the squad. To my mind, Chamberlain is a far superior goalkeeper to current first choice Emma Byrne. Meanwhile, Caroline Weir, still only 21, is a classy, deep lying playmaker with a rasping shot. Weir’s departure suggests that Pedro sees versatile young prodigy Leah Williamson as his go to defensive midfielder for now. Williamson generally teams up with Jordan Nobbs and Vicky Losada in the engine room, it’s a very energetic combination and Weir’s more graceful style perhaps doesn’t fit into Losa’s midfield strategy. Arsenal will likely be without Kelly Smith for the remainder of the season too.

Kelly’s body will only allow her to play occasionally nowadays in any case (her knee cartilage was surgically removed some years ago and replaced by the achilles of a biker that died in a road accident). But a particularly poor challenge by Sunderland’s Abby Holmes left Smith needing surgery on her ankle yet again in April. Kelly was incredibly forthright in her assessment of the ‘tackle’ and Holmes’ abilities. The diatribe read like pretty much every sensible thinkpiece you read about the Shawcross, Taylor and Smith incidents, but it still earned her censure from the F.A. Holmes is seeking legal advice about the comments. It seems hurt feelings are deemed more serious than smashed ankles in the women’s game too.

Arsenal are still finding chemistry under Losa after the turbulence of Shelley Kerr’s reign. Jemma Rose has settled in nicely alongside Casey Stoney at the heart of the defence, the experienced Stoney is the brains of that operation, with 23 year old Rose providing the legs. It’s a symbiotic partnership that has seen them concede only 3 goals in their first 6 games in the league. Janssen provides much needed back up, the Gunners only had 5 specialist defenders in their squad prior to her arrival. In attack, Arsenal are still adjusting. Natalia Pablos is acclimatising to her teammates, whilst Lianne Sanderson has also yet to carve her niche out in the team. It’s not really clear what Lianne’s best position is, having served time as a number 10, a number 8 and a number 9 at various points in the first half of the season. At time of writing, she has not returned to London with the team and her squad number has been reallocated, which looks fairly ominous.

Vicky Losada has proved to be an astute purchase from Barcelona and she adds goal threat and physical presence in midfield. However, Jordan Nobbs’ failure to find the net so far this season suggests the two attacking midfielders are still working out their partnership. Nobbs has suffered with injury in the first half of the season and it was apparent at the World Cup that she is still struggling with injury. It will be interesting to see how much football she plays in the next month. Her loss would be felt keenly but would offer an instant opportunity for Corredera to impress. Perhaps the presence of a pair of international teammates will help Natalia settle and become the focal point that you feel Arsenal needs.

Arsenal have made some gains in the forward line however. Carla Humphrey has emerged from the club’s vaunted academy to provide a goal threat from the right hand side. But new signing Chiom Ubogagu has been something of a revelation since arriving from Stanford University. Direct players tend to be very effective in the WSL, whether through pace or physicality. Childhood Arsenal fan Ubogagu is effectively the heir apparent to Rachel Yankey, whose role has been reduced under Losa. The jet heeled Texan has wasted little time in filling Yankey’s sizeable boots, scoring three WSL goals already, including the winner at Manchester City in April. Ubogagu’s goals have been directly responsible for 5 of Arsenal’s 12 league points to date. She scored a fulminating late equaliser on her debut at Notts County only days after touching down in England.

Despite exiting the F.A. Cup, there is still a very real sense that Arsenal are making steady progress under Losa. They are very much engaged in a title fight with Chelsea, though the league is still very tight at this stage. They remain underdogs in this particular scrap, Chelsea again flexed their superior financial muscle by paying a British record fee for Reading’s Fran Kirby during the transfer window. Losa’s short term assignment is to regroup his team after the World Cup hiatus and hit the ground running with a tough schedule in July. Often in the past, Arsenal have relied on their cadre of experienced players to guide a talented crop of youngsters. On this occasion, the likes of Humphrey, Williamson, Rose and Carter are refreshed from their mid-season break and have been training at London Colney for the last week. Losa may have to rely on younger legs and clearer heads to carry his international stars through the weeks ahead.

Follow me on Twitter @Stillberto

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CB

Welcome this, thanks. It is easy to look down your nose at women’s sport (I have at times), but I have a daughter doing well in tennis and volleyball and can see all the advantages it brings. It is slower than the men’s game but that often makes it more skilful and interesting. I enjoyed the Women’s World Cup a lot, glad England did well and other girls are encouraged to play.

CB

But the World Cup in the middle of the season!!

Who could have thought of that, would never happen in the men’s game…

Stillberto

It does for South American teams! But most European leagues don’t play during the summer, it’s something WSL introduced in 2011 to get crowds up.

Arsenal's Legend

Seriously women football is being treated with disdain if not why should senior women world cup should be played in the middle of season.

one thing l love in women football is their pacey wingers.

PS: I saw that number 19 and I feel that must be Rose Carzola.

CB

Qatar?

Stillberto

In fairness, England is pretty much the only European league that runs through the summer. Also worth remembering that the men’s World Cup is mid season for South American teams.

CB

All good points, thanks.

ACN is mid our season too so at the end of other seasons.

Eissek

Glad to see the ticket sales have gone. I guess the world cup inspired a few people to check out more games.

Maxibon

Love the article Tim – many thanks for giving us this. If there’s one thing I’d raise, it would be to defend Emma Byrne a bit. It’s not just how she commands the box, but the impact she has on the back line. Anyone reading this who’s going to Meadow Park for the first time this Sunday, I recommend being close to pitchside and listening to her talk…… In my opinion, our defence play better when she’s behind them. I like Chamberlain, think she’s technically very sound, but that isn’t always enough. Look at the issues the men’s team have… Read more »

Stillberto

I just think she’s declined quite sharply in the last year. I stood behind the goal when Siobhan played in goal for Bristol Academy against Arsenal in 2013 and they got a 0-0. Siobhan never stopped talking.

Maxibon

Fair point. Certainly Emma’s career is nearer the end than the beginning, and there’s few keepers out there I’d rather see take over than Chamberlain when the time comes (which is why I’m glad it’s only a loan). I guess Losa is just of the opinion that time isn’t yet, and Emma’s positives still outweigh any declines – which I’d agree with. I remember that Bristol game in 2013 – that was the one when Cherie Rowlands stood in for Byrne, which spooked the hell out of Flaherty and Houghton (and me, my mum, my girlfriend and most of the… Read more »

Maxibon

Yeah….. Sod’s Law she’d have a stinker today after I went into bat for her….. Be interesting to see if Losa decides to give Van Veenendaal a run sooner than later.

Great to see such a bumper crowd though. Hopefully the second-half performance should bring them back.

Clock-End Mike

Thanks fir the informed analysis. I haven’t managed to see a single Ladies’ game yet this season (and I don’t subscribe to BT Sport), so I’ve been relying on commentaries and reviews.

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