Arsenal Women have steamrolled their way to their first league title since 2012. The wait shouldn’t have been this long, they have always had a competitive squad in this period capable of winning the title. In recent years they had turned into a cup team, scooping up three Conti Cups and three FA Cups since their last WSL triumph.
Winning the title so emphatically this season has been no mean feat given the competition- Manchester City and Chelsea are among Europe’s finest sides. Arsenal started quickly and led from the front throughout, considering they have a small squad that has been decimated by injuries to Jordan Nobbs, Dan Carter, Emma Mitchell, Lia Wälti and new signings Tabea Kemme and Viki Schnaderbeck (they also lost Kim Little for three months at one point), this has been an outstanding triumph.
Since Joe Montemurro arrived at the club in late 2017, Arsenal have looked like a consistently excellent team, as opposed to a talented side capable of beating anybody on their day. The Australian has re-energised the club and lots of players have improved under his tutelage. Here are the five main cornerstones of the girls’ success this season.
When Joe first arrived during the 2017-18, he first focused on stabilising the defence through consistency of selection. Leah Williamson and Louise Quinn, ably assisted by Dominique Bloodworth in front of the back four, provided a platform that saw the Gunners keep eight consecutive clean sheets during spring 2018.
The signing of Swiss international Lia Wälti in a deep lying midfield role meant Joe could move to a much more flexible approach. Bloodworth is a multi-functional player who can play in either full-back position, or at the centre of a back three, where her progressive passing is such a great weapon. The conversion of winger Lisa Evans into a full-back during the spring of 2018 also helped aid this renewed tactical flexibility.
— The FA Women's Super League (@FAWSL) February 7, 2019
With the likes of Evans, Bloodworth and McCabe capable of playing in midfield and defence, Arsenal have been able to doctor their approach, flitting between a back three and a back four. Danish winger Katrine Veje joined in January and she is also capable of playing in a wide midfield or full-back role.
Montemurro appointed compatriot Aaron D’Antino as assistant manager during the summer, D’Antino specialises in video analysis and Montemurro has been able to tailor his approach according to the opponent’s weaknesses. Having a changeable defence and midfield has enabled the forward line to remain fairly stable, with Miedema, Mead and van de Donk virtual ever presents.
Arsenal were robbed of new signings Tabea Kemme and Viki Schaderbeck to injury before the season even started. But Lia Wälti was a canny addition in midfield with her economic passing with both feet help to start attacks and she is virtually impossible to prize the ball from. But the improvement of several existing players has really made the difference in this campaign.
I cast my Player of the Season vote for Lisa Evans, whose forays from the right hand side are a constant nuisance to opponents. The Scottish international has a penchant for wriggling to the by-line after plundering the avenue between full-back and centre-half. Katie McCabe has become a very versatile threat too, operating on either flank or as part of a midfield three. Her left foot has become a rich source of goals from range.
— Amy Clancy (@amyclancy95) April 3, 2019
Danielle van de Donk is also enjoying a fine season, since the injury suffered by Jordan Nobbs, she has really stepped up in the goalscoring stakes. Her 13 goals this season have all come from inside the penalty area- most inside the six yard box. Vivianne Miedema occupies the minds and bodies of opposing defences for obvious reasons and DvD is excellent at running into the spaces Miedema’s movement provides.
🇳🇱 @DanielleDonk’s season so far…
And there’s plenty more to come 😉 pic.twitter.com/HxHlfDBOez
— Arsenal Women (@ArsenalWFC) March 29, 2019
MIEDEMA THE REEDEMER
You’re probably wondering why it took me so long to come to the contribution of Vivianne Miedema. I had to keep you reading somehow! The Dutch striker is a super clinical finisher, the likes of which Arsenal have missed for some years. In previous seasons, Arsenal had a tendency to dominate sides but struggled to convert their dominance into goals. No more.
Miedema doesn’t make Arsenal play, per se. She is not the focal point of the team technically. The likes of Williamson, Wälti, McCabe and Evans are far more involved in that respect. Though Viv often explains that she used to play as a number 10 and enjoys moving away from the front line to knit moves together. But what she does is make sure Arsenal’s build-up play has an end product.
To quote Leah Williamson back in February, “If you give her something, she’ll score. If you give her nothing, she will still score.” Miedema’s presence is an in-built one goal lead much of the time. After an injury ravaged 2017-18 season, she has been the clutch player. But she is no goal hanger.
Another week, another @VivianneMiedema hat-trick 🔥
1️⃣1️⃣ assists pic.twitter.com/009y9ffFZ6
— Arsenal Women (@ArsenalWFC) March 15, 2019
One of the most underrated facets of her game is her movement. Danielle van de Donk, Katie McCabe and Kim Little are also in double figures for goals this season and Jordan Nobbs would have comfortably hit the 15 goal mark at a minimum were it not for injury. Miedema is very good at moving into the channels to create space for the likes of Little and van de Donk.
This Arsenal team is an excellent unit with stars throughout, but Miedema is its X factor. Viv says she models her game on her childhood idol Robin van Persie (she grew up as a Feyenoord fan) and it is incredibly evident in her style. Miedema has two excellent feet and is an absolutely meticulous finisher. She simply doesn’t miss.
Arsenal WFC 4 : 0 Bristol City WFC
1.7 : 0.7 NPxG
xG: Miedema (ARS)
Progressions: Evans (ARS)
Defence: Kerkdijk (BSC)#xg #shotmap #passmap#FAWSL #BCLFC #AWFC@BristolCityWFC @ArsenalWFC@VivianneMiedema @LisaEvans_17 @daniquekerkdijk pic.twitter.com/jevnHZRi5n
— WomensFootyStat (@WomensFootyStat) March 20, 2019
AND BAD MISTAKES, WE’VE MADE SO FEW
In truth, the early season performances have tailed off since the winter and the loss of Jordan Nobbs to injury. Jordan is the sort of player you just don’t replace, you just have to try and find a different way. That took Arsenal some time, not least because Kim Little was recovering from injury when Jordan’s cruciate ligament cruelly ruptured in November. Arsenal’s high point came in October when they demolished defending champions Chelsea 5-0 on their own ground.
Arsenal lost away to Manchester City in December and at home to Chelsea in January when they could barely fill their bench with anything other than U-18 players. But those defeats didn’t carry the impact they might have because Arsenal have beaten every other team in the league. Twice. They haven’t dropped a single point they ought not to have, in contrast to Manchester City who, though undefeated, have drawn with the likes of Reading and twice with Bristol City, while both matches between Chelsea and Manchester City have been draws. Arsenal’s goal difference is in credit by almost 60 goals, which tells you the story of their season. They have pounded on the little guys.
At the end of last season, there was a sense that something was happening under Joe Montemurro. The squad looked revitalised, with a renewed hunger. Katie McCabe, Lisa Evans, Danielle van de Donk and Vivianne Miedema have all renewed terms this season and each has highlighted Montemurro’s presence as a principal reason for their loyalty. The manager himself put pen to paper on a new deal back in October.
— Leah Williamson (@leahcwilliamson) October 17, 2018
Players such as Leah Williamson, Emma Mitchell, Katie McCabe, Lisa Evans, Vivianne Miedema, Beth Mead and Danielle van de Donk are in that early to mid-20s age bracket. They all have experience and silverware to their names, but also have youth on their side. The squad has a very good blend in terms of age, Sari van Veenendaal, Kim Little and Louise Quinn are the oldest players, all of whom turn 29 this year. This Arsenal side has good automatisms, as Per Mertesacker would have it. They are thoroughly deserving champions.