Beth Mead arrived at Arsenal two and a half years ago with a reputation as England’s finest young striker. Her goals shot Sunderland up two divisions and into the WSL before her teens were behind her. At the age of 20, Mead finished as the top goal scorer in the top-flight with a Sunderland side whose resources were far in arrears compared to the division’s heavyweights.
Highlights included a hat-trick against league leaders Chelsea. She scored twice in a win over Bristol Academy less than a week after rolling her car three times when swerving to avoid a deer. She won the PFA Young Player of the Year award in 2016. Arsenal made several approaches for Beth before they finally won her signature in early 2017 (she resolved to finish her university degree in the northeast before committing to move to the capital).
At the time Arsenal had Jodie Taylor on their books, but this was only ever intended as a short-term stint as she waited for her green card papers to be finalised. Mead was the future. Yet in the summer of 2017, the Gunners moved for Vivianne Miedema from Bayern Munich, the world’s foremost young striking talent. It potentially left Beth at a crossroads before her Arsenal career had got going.
Arsenal operated with a 4-3-3 and Mead was moved into a wide forward position to play off Miedema. It took her some time to adjust, she broke her arm shortly after arriving at the club and by the time she returned, Miedema was on board. “It’s been different for me, I’ve had to adapt to different roles at times because I’ve pretty much always played as a number 9,” she told me back in November 2017.
🎥 Take a closer look at Beth Mead's second penalty of the night v London Bees ⚽️Was she aiming for us? 🤔 😅
Posted by Arsenal Women on Friday, 13 October 2017
The arrival of Joe Momtemurro in November 2017 helped Beth, as it did many players. She was still adopted in a wide forward role, but Montemurro’s total football style gives wide players far more freedom to move inside and swap flanks. Mead began to adjust, but she truly cemented her place at the beginning of the 2018-19 season. Dan Carter plays a very similar, wide forward centre forward hybrid role, but a cruciate ligament injury sustained on the final day of the 2017-18 season ruled her out for 10 months.
Beth Mead makes it 3-0 to @ArsenalWFC in the last of the action from the first half 🎯
— The FA Women's Super League (@FAWSL) October 21, 2018
Heather O’Reilly left the club during the same summer, while Jess Samuelsson’s continuing injury woes meant right winger Lisa Evans was required at right-back. The coast was clear for Mead to play regularly on the left-hand side of the attack. Miedema often moves away from the front line to knit moves together and Mead began to use her striking instincts to pull onto the shoulder of the opposing right-back.
Beth has developed other skills on the training ground to better suit the role too. She has always been blessed with the bursts of pace that natural goal scorers tend to have over short distances. Mead has worked hard to develop this skill with the ball at her feet too, so she can manoeuvre her way past opposing full-backs. Arsenal operate with players that circulate the ball well from deep positions and they are not shy about hitting the channels where Mead can stretch her legs in the space between centre-halves and full-backs.
The Whitby born forward developed an altruistic streak, last season she set a record for WSL assists with 12 and she created more chances than any other player in the division with 54. She combined with Vivianne Miedema for nine goals, making it the most fruitful combination in the division. Many of her assists came from set-pieces. Mead worked very hard to develop her corner and free-kick taking technique.
It’s actually similar to her technique for striking the ball at goal, where she hits through the ball with her laces. In the 4-2 victory over West Ham in January, she set up three Gunners goals- two from corners. However, while Mead’s creative game flourished, her goal scoring dried up. By late February, she had still only scored 3 goals in the WSL and uncharacteristically missed a few gilt-edged chances in the 3-0 FA Cup defeat to Chelsea.
Things changed for Beth in late February when she broke her scoring duck in a 3-0 victory over Yeovil. It reinvigorated her. Following her goal, Yeovil kicked off, Mead immediately wrestled the ball back and went on a jinking 40-yard run into the Yeovil area, before she was brought down for an Arsenal penalty. The goal transformed her season.
“It’s important for Beth, on Sunday [against Chelsea] she had some good chances which fell to her which she wasn’t able to take,” Joe Montemurro told me after the Yeovil game. “She just needed that bit of confidence in front of goal and she got a great goal tonight, but she’s been playing well anyway so I’ve not been too worried.”
A week later she went to the SheBelieves Cup with England and she shot to fame with her cross shot in the 2-1 victory over Brazil in Pennsylvania. She was on the score sheet again in the 3-0 final victory over Japan. Mead returned to Arsenal and scored twice in a 5-1 victory over Liverpool and repeated her now patented ‘crot’ at Prenton Park. (Though she insisted this one was an accident, unlike her effort against Brazil).
England and Arsenal's Beth Mead is the master of the cross-shot – or CROT for short 😍
— Goal (@goal) March 25, 2019
Mead scored the winner again for her country in a 1-0 friendly victory over Spain in April and set the seal on the Gunners’ title clinching win at Brighton with an outstanding long-range strike. The desire to force her way, not just into the England squad, but the England starting XI proved to be a huge boon for her season. England manager Phil Neville admits to having some harsh words with Mead and he got a reaction from her at the She Believes.
“She’d scored against Brazil, this unbelievable goal, and she expected to play in the next game. I got her in and said: ‘You’re not playing; be ready to come in’ and she stormed out of the room, angry. And I thought: ‘Job done; she’s ready now.” The competition is fierce in the Lionesses side in the wide forward spots, with Toni Duggan, Rachel Daly, Karen Carney and Nikita Parris all vying with Beth for two places.
Mead’s feats at club level were also helped by the arrival of Katrine Veje in January. The Dane regularly played at left-back after some chopping and changing in the position due to the unavailability of first choice Emma Mitchell. Veje is a converted left winger and her energy helps her to consistently overlap Beth on the left. The Dane has her part in Beth’s goalscoring resurgence.
Mead scored 77 goals in 78 appearances for Sunderland in her teens and early 20s. It’s difficult to reconcile that pure goal scorer with the wide forward she has become. She has rediscovered her scoring instincts but has worked hard on her creative game- especially her delivery. I have always had a theory that strikers make the best crossers because they understand exactly how and where a centre-forward wants the ball. Mead’s development has been a big plus for England and hopefully, will remain so in the red and white of Arsenal.