After defeat in their last WSL fixture away at Chelsea, Arsenal responded with a 1-0 home victory over top of the table Manchester City. Tim Stillman chews over the main takeaways from a dominant performance and a vital 3 points.
It was a good time to play Manchester City….
Which sounds like a strange thing to say given that City had won all of their WSL games without conceding a goal so far this season. However, with Aoife Mannion injured and Kiera Walsh suspended, Nick Cushing was forced into some personnel changes. First of all, he played Jill Scott and Caroline Weir much further back than usual to offer some protection to the defence. He also had to play rookie Fidalgo at right-back to that Gemma Bonner could move into the centre of defence.
Usually Walsh patrols the area in front of the defence and distributes excellently to Scott and Weir ahead of her. With a far more defensive brief for Scott and Weir, City just could not support their forwards in any meaningful way. Allied to this, the fact that Ellen White- the archetypal counter attack striker, was only fit enough for the bench after a three month absence with a knee injury, while Georgia Stanway also wasn’t 100% fit. City didn’t create a chance of note and Arsenal were able to pen them in.
City might have been toothless in attack, but they always defend well…
You always know that a Nick Cushing side will be well organised and difficult to break down and Sunday was no different. Cushing’s team is rarely expansive but they really bunkered up against Arsenal, knowing that a draw suited them more than it did the home team. It was an understandable tactic, the issue for City was that they didn’t have a way to respond when Vivianne Miedema finally opened them up on the stroke of half-time.
How important could this goal be in the title race? pic.twitter.com/ukgOD2nPH9
— Barclays FA Women's Super League (@BarclaysFAWSL) October 27, 2019
Miedema told me on Thursday that she hadn’t really trained properly last week after picking up a knock on her calf against Charlton last weekend. Had the opponents been of a more modest stature I doubt she would have played. But once again she buried the opportunity that came her way, thanks again to her telepathic link-up with Kim Little, which has proved very fruitful on a number of occasions this season. City didn’t have a response to going 1-0 down because they were playing for 0-0.
Manchester City did their homework and set out their stall by man-marking Leah Williamson…
Leah, along with Lia Wälti, is Arsenal’s chief ball progressor from centre half. She always looks to break a line when the Gunners build attacks, feeding the midfield with cutting, penetrative passes. City knew this and detailed Janine Beckie to sit on Williamson and block up Arsenal’s exit strategy. It wasn’t lost on Joe Montemurro.
“They let Jen Beattie have the ball because she’s a right-footer playing on the left and they knew she would want to pass in-field,” he told the press after the game. However, the Arsenal manager had an answer. “Their midfield line was very deep and not coming out at all, so we moved Leah forward a little bit and that’s where the goal came from. We pushed her higher, than we were able to play out and break a line and from there we scored.” Montemurro’s ability to react in-game is a significant weapon in Arsenal’s arsenal.
Jordan Nobbs and Lia Wälti were close to their best again…
Jordan was voted player of the match, but Lia or even Kim Little could have just as easily won the accolade. City aimed to clog up the middle of the pitch but the mixture of Nobbs’ energy, Wälti’s ability in tight spaces and Little’s close control meant they were restricted to forming a barrier without ever being able to pose a threat of their own.
Wälti and Nobbs are still on the comeback trail from serious knee injuries, but today they looked closer to their natural level which, make no mistake, is world class in both respects. Little teed up Miedema for the game’s only goal with an excellent through ball, she saw the space to play into and gave the Dutch striker lots of space to wrap her body around the ball on her right foot. It was a thoughtful pass. Arsenal’s defence stood firm, their striker won the game, but it was the midfield where the battle was truly won.