Arsenal began their WSL title defence with a nervy 2-1 win at home to West Ham United on Sunday at Meadow Park. As part of a new feature for this season, Tim Stillman looks at the main talking points from the game.
Arsenal looked disjointed at times, but that shouldn’t come as a surprise…
The Gunners fielded four new signings and had Vivianne Miedema and Lia Walti on the treatment table, with Jordan Nobbs still feeling her way back into action via substitute cameos. That’s a lot of change in the spine of the team and so some adjustment time is to be expected. Joe Montemurro picked Leah Williamson at the base of the midfield and rotated the number 9 and wide left spot between Danielle van de Donk and Beth Mead.
It actually worked pretty well in the first half, with Kim Little and Jill Roord providing good supporting runs from midfield, ensuring the number 9 spot was always filled. Beth Mead scored from the edge of the box from a central position, Jill Roord doubled the lead with a trademark run from midfield and Danielle van de Donk really ought to have made it 3-0 at the beginning of the second half when she lifted the ball over from 5 yards.
But the Gunners missed Miedema in the second half….
However, once West Ham reduced the arrears in the second half and began to build pressure, the lack of a dedicated number 9 hindered Arsenal and allowed West Ham to pin them back. Montemurro’s side carries plenty of goal threat without Miedema, but they don’t have another player that can act as a release valve and hold the ball up when they come under pressure.
That and tired legs meant Arsenal were pinned back more than they would have liked in the second half and they ended up hanging onto the result. Miedema’s omission is thought to be cautionary and she ought to be ready to play in Thursday’s game in Florence. Joe’s biggest challenge this season is going to be choice. Last season, injuries and a small squad meant he had very little of it and the team benefitted with a cohesion and rhythm built up over the season, this year he will have to rotate without upsetting squad harmony. It’s a delicate balance as today’s game showed.
? Strange @ArsenalWFC wall…
? Incredible save from @Manu_Zinsberger!
We're here for it! pic.twitter.com/SwGACdDomk
— Barclays FA Women's Super League (@BarclaysFAWSL) September 8, 2019
The defending though…
Leah Williamson did a commendable enough job in front of the back four, a role she has played many times before. Given the amount of change in the spine of the team and the injury to Katrine Veje at left-back, I found the decision to start Viki Schnaderbeck at the heart of defence strange. Louise Quinn seemed a more natural choice and she has at least spent some time playing alongside Jen Beattie in pre-season.
Playing Schnaderbeck added greater unfamiliarity to a defence already disrupted by injury and it showed with Schnaderbeck and Leonie Maier picking up yellow cards inside the first fifteen minutes. Viki was comprehensively outjumped for West Ham’s goal and it’s difficult to believe Louise Quinn would have allowed the same outcome in that scenario. It strikes me that Schnaderbeck is more a defensive midfielder than a central defender at this stage of her career.
Lisa Evans continues to quietly impress…
Evans was one of Arsenal’s most effective players last season with her constant raids down the right hand side. She always manages to power her way to the by-line for cutbacks, whether played at right-back or the right-wing. On Sunday, she linked up well with Leonie Maier at right-back to excellent effect too, with an understanding already developing between the two.
Glorious debut goal for Jill Roord! ?
Arsenal 2-0 West Ham pic.twitter.com/fzHfUgcPHT
— Women's Football News (@WFRumour) September 8, 2019
Lisa helped herself to an assist for Beth Mead’s opener and played a crucial part in Jill Roord’s goal too, feeding another excellent low ball into the box for Mead to unselfishly tee up Roord. Lisa continues to excel for Arsenal below the radar as one of the Gunners’ most effective and consistent performers. Be it at right-wing or right-back, you always get the same high octane performance from the Scot.