This weekend, Jordan Nobbs made her long-awaited return from an anterior cruciate ligament injury. Jordan cruelly fell victim to the injury while playing arguably the best football of her career. She had just danced her way through the Everton defence to score during the Gunners’ 4-0 rout of Everton Ladies. Nobbs had also provided an assist for Miedema.
Half-way through the second half, Nobbs fell awkwardly after an innocuous collision in midfield, the kind that happens a dozen times a game. It was clear that this was no ordinary collision though. Sat in the press box I was hovering slightly above the incident. We didn’t need to wait for the MRI scans and the Arsenal press release to know what had happened.
She thumped the turf in pain, “Nooooo! Ahhhh fuck, no!” she shouted again and again as the shock gripped her. Jordan says now that her mind immediately turned to the World Cup in that moment, she knew what the injury was and what it meant. She was stretchered from the pitch having scored her 9th WSL goal of the season, it was November 18th. She wouldn’t kick a ball again in the WSL that season, but that total was enough to be the 5th top scorer in the division at the season’s end.
Arsenal went onto win the title, but they took time to adjust to losing their taliswoman. Because more than probably any other player, Nobbs is the heartbeat of the Arsenal team. A week after that Everton match, the Gunners fell behind at home to lowly Brighton before dusting themselves off to win the game. They lost to Manchester City, however, as they struggled to adapt without Nobbs’ metronomic performances.
Montemurro’s side adjusted eventually. Danielle van de Donk went on a scoring run in the New Year, Katie McCabe and Beth Mead began to chip in with goals and with Kim Little in midfield, Arsenal hardly lacked technical security. Vivianne Miedema might have played a small role in ensuring that results didn’t suffer too much either.
Jordan Nobbs ⚡️ pic.twitter.com/sBc8An55r7
— Women Soccer Lovers™ (@WomenSoccer24) June 26, 2017
But the truth is, the early season swagger, that saw the Gunners positively thrash teams in the autumn wasn’t quite there after Nobbs was injured. This is because Jordan is essentially three players in one. She has an excellent passing range and is comfortable receiving the ball from defenders and spreading the play left and right.
She both judges and sets the temperature of the game. Watching her midfield performances is, frankly, exhausting. Her preference is always to act quickly, whether that entails spinning and hitting a forty-yard cross field pass, or else playing a lightning quick one-two to pass out of pressure. She is Arsenal’s electrical charge in midfield. She is also a leader and a cajoler- when you watch her play, you will hear her as often as you see her!
🗓 Back in Nov 2018, @JordanNobbs8 ruptured her ACL and spent the remainder of our title-winning season on the sidelines…
281 days later, she’s back on the scoresheet with her first shot at goal 🤯
We’re so proud of you, Jordan ♥️ pic.twitter.com/RwInNM17eF
— Arsenal Women (@ArsenalWFC) August 25, 2019
Jordan is not only comfortable kickstarting the play, however. She is just as likely to pop up in the penalty area with a first-time finish-as she did against Spurs on Sunday- or else smash the ball past a forlorn goalkeeper from 30 yards. The Stockton-born midfielder is a playmaker, a creator and a finisher. You can sit her at the base of the midfield and let her dictate through possession or you can ask her to ravenously close down defenders.
After scoring twice in the 5-0 demolition of Chelsea last October, Jordan was used in exactly this manner, as she told me after the game, “We’ve got myself and DvD (Danielle van de Donk) and a lot of fit players who can really press, so we wanted to put their players under pressure and then it was about being in the position to score goals like we managed to today.”
With Jordan, everything is high-speed but somehow never rushed. She is also excellent at regaining possession, never shy of a tackle when needed, but she also has a good sense of when to burgle a ball from an opponent’s possession and nip away. In short, there are lots of players in women’s football that have some of Jordan’s attributes, but few have such a spread of them. She is difficult to define, she is not really a 4, a 6, an 8 or a 10 but all of those things at the same time.
One of the first times I interviewed her, back in 2013, I asked Jordan which areas she had prioritised to improve upon. “Passing, shooting, movement. My dad says my movement has really improved.” Jordan’s father Keith is something of a legend at Hartlepool United for his performances at centre-half for the club. Nowadays, he serves as Jordan’s mentor and personal coach!
7. Jordan Nobbs for Arsenal pic.twitter.com/QfRrddeVkn
— h (@hopesheath) March 5, 2017
Her post-match routine always involves a debrief with her dad about her performance, what she did well, what she didn’t do so well. “He’s been a massive influence on my career and he always will be,” she explained in that same interview six years ago. “Even now when he watches me, he gives me advice, tells me what to watch out for, he’s always talking to me about the timing of my runs. I know he’ll always tell me the truth too, whether I’ve had a good game or a bad game.”
For opponents, it is difficult to know how you shackle her influence. For a start, you have to match her for energy, which is difficult enough. If you back off, she will either take you on or shoot at goal, if you close her down, she will pass it around you. Jordan has an innate ability to read the temperature of a game, more often than not, she speeds it up- but she knows when to slow it down too. She has a great appreciation of space and as games draw on and a tendency to lean into the half-spaces and to pick up positions that hurt opponents.
Despite her Stockton roots, Jordan is very much a dyed in the wool Arsenal girl. She joined the club close to a decade ago now and has taken Arsenal to her heart. “I love this club and I love pulling this shirt on,” she told me shortly after extending her Arsenal contract in May 2018. “My aim is always to stay at Arsenal.” Arsenal’s aim is always to keep her and it’s not difficult to understand why. Patience is required as she continues her comeback, but Arsenal is never quite Arsenal without Jordan.
🗣 "It's literally the best badge in the world" ☺️
— Arsenal Women (@ArsenalWFC) August 25, 2019
With thanks to @humansofthearsenal for the main article image.