Thursday, June 13, 2024

Arsenal Ladies Season Review 2015

When writing or even talking casually about women’s football, I always try to avoid direct comparisons with the men’s game. The women’s game encompasses a slightly different style of football, for a start. Besides which, it’s hardly fair to compare what is still effectively a semi-professional sport in its relative infancy (women’s football was banned in England until the 1970s) with the men’s iteration of the game, with well over a century of development behind it and the financial spoils that has brought at the top level at its back.

But in constructing this season review for Arsenal Ladies, it is impossible not to be struck by the similarities with their male counterparts. The girls finished 3rd in the league, having finished 4th in 2014, behind financial superpowers Manchester City and Chelsea. Their league campaign left a slew of questions as a string of injuries decimated the squad in the middle of the season, but they assuaged that disappointment by finishing the season with a domestic trophy. Stop me if you think that you’ve heard this one before.

Arsenal Ladies’ standing in the women’s game is eerily similar to the men’s side. They can be expected to challenge for the title, but with the ceaseless investment at City and Chelsea, it is foolhardy to expect or demand for them to win the league. They need a clean bill of health fitness wise and for circumstances to fall for them to prosper. However, there is the promise of new investment on the horizon to help close the gap on the top 2. There are even whispers of a new stadium, with Ivan Gazidis mentioning “a dedicated playing facility” for the girls at the recent Arsenal AGM. Let’s just hope that Catalonian central midfielder Vicky Losada, signed from Barcelona earlier this year, doesn’t get homesick any time soon …

Arsenal featured in the title race this season, which is a significant improvement on last season’s showing, where they were rooted to the bottom of the table at the halfway point of the campaign. Pedro Losa’s appointment last August coincided with an upturn in fortunes after Shelley Kerr resigned and the Gunners salvaged that campaign somewhat with an F.A. Cup win and a 4th place finish. Arsenal stayed on Chelsea’s coat tails for most of the campaign this time around and looked a sure fire bet for the top 2 at least. However, Chelsea’s quality and a late season surge from Manchester City meant that they finished outside the Champions League places.

When the WSL broke for the World Cup in June, Arsenal were two points behind Chelsea at the top of the table, having played the leaders away from home, grinding out a creditable 0-0 draw. The emotional and physical effort of the tournament in Canada had a big effect on the league. Salary caps in the WSL mean that the spread of England international talent is fairly even, relegated Bristol Academy aside. However, clubs like Chelsea and Manchester City have professionalised rapidly through increased investment, culminating in superior training regimes. It was that physical advantage that really told as the campaign entered its final furlong.

Newly promoted Sunderland went toe to toe with Arsenal and Chelsea, before falling away in the latter stages. Manchester City, a new club and a new team still in the process of chrysalis, have the most professional setup of all the clubs in England. They started the season slowly, in 5th place as the season broke for the World Cup. Upon their return from Canada, City were able to put together an incredible run, winning 8 and drawing 1 of their 9 league matches post World Cup. This was enough to catapult them into the Champions League at Arsenal’s expense. Though the Gunners have professionalised this season, hiring a full time goalkeeping coach and strength and conditioning coach for the first ever time, the mid-season international tournament took more of a toll on them physically.

Immediately after their sojourn to Canada, Jordan Nobbs, Alex Scott and Vicky Losada were all injured. Losa made some wise reinforcements, which helped to smooth over the injury turmoil. The Spaniard travelled to Canada on a scouting mission and came home with Dutch midfielder Dominique Janssen, Spanish midfielder Marta Corredera and Dutch goalkeeper Sari van Veenendaal. The versatility of Janssen and Corredera was especially useful as injuries took hold. The Gunners were without their first choice midfield three of Leah Williamson, Vicky Losada and Jordan Nobbs for a significant chunk of the season.

With his midfield decimated, Losa switched to a back three and deployed Corredera and Rachel Yankey as wing backs. It took some time to adapt, but the team’s strength is definitely its pace in wide areas, with the likes of Yankey, Chiomu Ubogagu, Corredera and Dani Carter possessing plenty of speed and power, not to mention the gazelle like overlap sprints of Alex Scott from full-back. However, injuries were not the sole reason that Arsenal failed to land a Champions League spot. The most concerning shortcoming for Losa will be the team’s home form. Away from home, the girls finished the whole campaign unbeaten in all competitions.

Pacey winger Ubogagu managed an impressive seven goals outside of North London (6 in away matches and one in the Conti Cup Final against Notts County), as her pace on the counter attack became Losa’s very own lethal weapon. However, the Texan didn’t manage a goal at Borehamwood, used as she was mainly as an impact sub and that neatly emphasises Arsenal’s troubles at home. They went out of the F.A. Cup to Chelsea at Borehamwood and lost comfortably to Chelsea, Manchester City and Liverpool at home in the WSL. Without the likes of Nobbs, Losada and Williamson, they struggled to control matches on home turf. They were much more comfortable soaking up pressure and breaking at speed on the road.

The home results improved notably when Losada and Nobbs returned. The girls won all of their last three home matches, including a memorable Conti Cup win over Manchester City, which really created optimism that a full strength Arsenal are a match for any team. They also beat Chelsea away in the same competition in August. The Continental Cup, their 4th in the 5 years since the tournament replaced the League Cup, was a just reward for their efforts, having beaten the top two sides in the league en route to victory.

The defenders have also become notably more comfortable with Losa’s fetishisation of possession football, centre halves are expected to collect the ball on the ground from their goalkeeper and play out from the back. It took some time for the defenders to adapt, but Losa’s persistence has paid off and the players look much more comfortable with the ball at feet. The beautiful one touch move that led to Jordan Nobbs’ opener in the Conti Cup Final was an apt vindication of the coach’s philosophy.

Sari van Veenendaal replaced Emma Byrne in goal half way through the campaign due to her comfort with the ball at her feet. It has to be said that Arsenal’s central defence has been the most impressive facet of the team in 2015. Jemma Rose and Casey Stoney offer a perfectly symmetrical partnership, the latter deservedly scooping up the Supporters’ Club Player of the Year award. Crucially, Stoney and Rose stayed fit, starting every WSL match together. Stoney’s experience has proved crucial, finally replacing the loss of expertise Arsenal endured in 2012 when Faye White and Jayne Ludlow retired.

It’s to her huge credit that, having also travelled to Canada with England, the 33 year old was able to preserve her fitness. Casey’s seniority has provided the bedrock for the improvement of young players such as Jemma Rose, Leah Williamson, Dani Carter and Carla Humphrey. Stoney, along with Byrne, Scott, Williamson and Humphrey, penned new deals this season, which signals further cause for excitement. It’s going to be another difficult battle with City and Chelsea in 2016, but all the signs suggest that Arsenal are finally rearming themselves for it.

Follow me on Twitter @Stillberto

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rex

kept on confusing the Arsenal men for the Arsenal ladies for periods of this insightful piece……. wonder why……….!

wengerball

It was a tough old season but much better than last. I think things are looking up but we need more investment otherwise it’s 3rd again (although the ContiCup shows we can beat City/Chelsea). We’re a long way from the good old days when we won everything, but that’s not a bad thing for the league as a whole.

Do we get to keep the ContiCup if we win it next year? Or 1 more time?

Nez

Ii is *Chioma*not Chiomu!

Tobi

Comment:Casey Stoney, sounds like an heavenly match to be Casey Stoner’s wife. MotoGP anyone? Lols

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