Beth Mead’s next Arsenal appearance will be her 100th for the club. Beth has undergone a transformation since signing in 2017, first of all she has switched from the WSL’s most prolific striker to one of the division’s most creative wide players. To win the Golden Boot at a club like Sunderland, as she did in 2015, was an extraordinary achievement.
Arriving just before her 22nd birthday, Mead was the hottest young English talent. So much so that Arsenal tried to sign her in 2016. Speaking exclusively to Arseblog News the day after the 1-1 draw with Chelsea, Mead takes up the story. “Arsenal wanted to sign me the season before when Sunderland had just been promoted to the top-flight. I knew Arsenal had a good team but I wanted some more experience in the top league and I knew I would play a lot of minutes with Sunderland.
“At the time I thought it would be better for me to stay at Sunderland, play regularly in the WSL and see how I got on. I had a good season in the end.” (Beth won the Golden Boot). Mead admits her decision to abstain on the move for 12 months was a risky one. “I might not have had a good season and then Arsenal might not have come back. Pedro (Losa, the Arsenal manager at the time) called me the next season and at that point it was a no-brainer to join Arsenal. I had interest from Chelsea and Manchester City but I just felt Arsenal were the team that suited me most as a player and the team I always wanted to play for growing up.”
— Barclays FA Women's Super League (@BarclaysFAWSL) August 25, 2015
The Whitby-born forward says she initially found the move from the Northeast difficult, “I had my own house in Newcastle and lived on my own when I played for Sunderland and I was only ever an hour and a half away from home if I felt like driving back. Initially when I came to Arsenal I lived in a house with three other teammates and they all already had their own routines.
“I came to the club injured which made things harder because I didn’t have that outlet in training to help me to settle and I wasn’t able to switch off on the pitch. Being brutally honest I struggled in my first month and I wasn’t sure if I could hack it. But I had some really good teammates, especially Jordan (Nobbs) who had already been through the same thing after moving from Sunderland and Danielle van de Donk and they made me feel at home.
“But once I got fit and back on the pitch that really helped. Now I hardly ever go home and that’s not because I don’t miss my family but because London feels like home now. It’s weird because me and my mum would come to London for the weekend as tourists as a kid and wouldn’t have a clue where we were going but now I know the tube and everything else like the back of my hand.”
Having overcome home sickness and a change in routine, Mead was soon faced with another significant obstacle. Six months after signing the primary young English striking talent, Arsenal went out and signed Europe’s foremost young striker- Vivianne Miedema. Given that the Gunners only played with one striker, Mead admits that she feared for her prospects when Miedema joined in the summer of 2017.
“It was a weird one for me, Pedro rated me as a player and he tried hard to get me and then we signed Viv. Don’t get me wrong, when it’s possible to sign a player like Viv you’re going to do it. At that point I had only ever played as a number nine and I thought, ‘I will work as hard as I can to compete for my place but she’s going to be difficult to compete with!’
“It was difficult because I sat on the bench for a few games when she came which had never really happened to me before. But I got a chance on the wing and now I love playing there. I’ve developed my game differently, I like being on the ball and running at people, whereas at Sunderland I was a pure number nine who liked running in behind and getting on the end of things.”
— Vitality Women's FA Cup (@VitalityWFACup) June 6, 2020
Beth admits that she initially thought her sojourn on the wing would be short-term. “I was on the pitch after a few games on the bench and I was thankful for that. I would have played at centre-back at that point! I can’t actually remember the first time I was asked to play there or talking about it much, it’s not clear in my mind. But at the time Dan Carter and Heather O’Reilly were at Arsenal as well as Lisa Evans, so there was plenty of competition on the wing too. I was secretly hoping that I would end up playing in a front two with Viv.
“I was in denial, I was a nine playing out of position but I was happy because I was playing. It took me about a month to really enjoy the role. I got into the swing of things and adapted my game.” Beth says her grounding as a penalty box striker (she scored 77 goals in 78 games at Sunderland) gave her a head start as a more creative player.
“The advantage for me was that I know what a number nine likes so I worked on my crossing a lot. Viv put the cross in for my goal against Chelsea and you see the same thing- Viv is a nine so she knows exactly how I wanted the cross. Positionally though, it took me some time to get used to where I had to be and when I had to press. Then I got an opportunity with England and I thought, ‘right, this is my position now.’”
— Lionesses (@Lionesses) November 15, 2020
While Beth won the Golden Boot in her first WSL season with Sunderland, during the Gunners’ 2018-19 title win she broke the WSL record for assists in a season with 12. She admits that nowadays she sets assist targets, illustrating her psychological shift from scorer to creator. “Breaking that record really put it in my mind. So far this season, me, Katie and Caitlin are all on five assists and I want to be on top of that ladder at the end of the season.
“However, I should be scoring more goals, especially given my history as a nine. But I do look at that assists tally from that season and think that I want to beat it. I don’t put a precise number on it per se I just want to get more than 12. I want to improve in scoring and providing but I think assists are the biggest one in my mind now.”
The psychological shift from centre-forward to winger came quickly and naturally to Beth, though the 25-year old says she often has a tendency to overthink things. “I know one of my strengths as a winger as getting at people one versus one and being aggressive. But before the Chelsea game it’s something I don’t think I’ve done enough of this season,” she says frankly. “I spoke to Phil (Neville) because I did it well at the World Cup last year and I spoke to Joe about it too.
— Barclays FA Women's Super League (@BarclaysFAWSL) May 30, 2020
“I think I am a confidence player and, I don’t want to use excuses, but I had some issues at home with family and I think I just stressed myself out about it on the pitch.” Beth admits she can have a tendency to focus on errors. “Against Chelsea I kicked the ball out of play late on because I misplaced a pass and I thought about that more than I thought about my goal. I frustrate myself and I overthink things sometimes. At half-time against Chelsea I had a word with myself and just said, ‘why not get at them more? Just do it,’ and it paid off. Taking players on is something I am good at but I need to do more of it.”
Beth’s team responsibilities have changed as a wide player; not least because she has become the principal set-piece taker in the team with Katie McCabe. Beth strikes through the ball with her laces when she takes a corner or free-kick. Though she says she works a lot on her delivery in training, her method of striking through the ball is not something she over thought, “Lisa Evans says she really likes my style of taking set-pieces but it’s not something I thought about a lot.
“I prefer to drill a ball into the area but sometimes when I’m deeper or taking a free-kick near the touch line I like to whip the ball in. It’s funny I was talking to Jordan (Nobbs) about her goal against Manchester City a few weeks ago and I can’t get my head around how she did that or why she struck the ball like she did and neither could she, it’s just her natural technique.”
— Architect of my Kodokushi (@PaulUK82) January 26, 2020
Competition has increased for Beth’s place in the Arsenal team in 2020 with the arrival of Australian international wide forward Caitlin Foord. Prior to this, Danielle Carter played a similar position to Beth but could only play a handful of games in 2018-19 and none in 2019-20 due to a pair of ACL injuries. Mead admits that her place is under a lot more pressure in this campaign with Foord on board.
“Yes and it’s not just Caitlin, we brought a pair of full-backs in this summer in Noelle (Maritz) and Steph (Catley) so Lisa Evans and Katie McCabe can push forward as wingers. Now we’ve got five players now fighting for two positions. Over the summer and the beginning of this season we were all training our arses off to get our place. It pushed me to another level and I got my rewards by starting the first two games against Reading and West Ham. That’s what players want, to compete and it made me a better player even just in those couple of months.”
This is very satisfying.
— Lionesses (@Lionesses) September 12, 2020
Another aspect of her game that she has had to adapt is her pressing. Last season Beth made 19.13 pressures per 90- a figure only bettered by Jill Roord and Danielle van de Donk. She also made 4.82 regains per 90, only Lia Wälti managed more. (A ‘regain’ is defined as a player winning the ball back within 5 seconds of applying pressure). Mead says Arsenal work on pressing but again, the concept of not overthinking rears its head again.
“We try not to overthink our pressing, Joe usually does one or two sessions on it towards the end of the week so it’s fresh in our minds. Myself and Daan (van de Donk) would maybe do some extra high-speed runs at the end of training so we could replicate that in games. Last season we had injuries in those positions so Dan and I knew we would have to do it again and again. A press is only good if everyone is committed to it and you train your body to do it so we focused more on that aspect.”
Like many of Beth’s generation, she grew up idolising Gunners legend Kelly Smith, part of the reason she describes Arsenal as “the team I always wanted to play for.” Currently poised on 99 Arsenal appearances, Mead admits she never thought she would manage 100 games in red and white. At least, not in this particular red and white strip.
“It’s funny because I played at Sunderland for five seasons and played 78 games, I’ve just started my fourth season here and now I am about to hit 100 which just shows you how many more cup games you play at a team like Arsenal. When I hit that 100 I will be extremely honoured, I’ve been blessed to play for a club like this.”