Arsenal Women: 2020-21 half-term report

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With the WSL season at the halfway stage, what better time for a mid-season review for Arsenal Women? The team currently sit in 2nd place in the table having played a game more than Manchester City and Chelsea directly below them. The Gunners were eliminated from the Conti Cup in the group stages, clearing their calendar a touch for the remainder of the season.

Last season’s Champions League and FA Cup campaigns were concluded earlier in this season and both ended in disappointment for Montemurro’s side, losing in the Champions League quarter-finals to Paris Saint Germain and the FA Cup semi-final against Manchester City. Here, we look back on the highs, lows and points of improvement going into the second half of the season.

THE GOOD

Reducing the reliance on Vivianne Miedema in front of goal
Arsenal have become a more diverse attacking force this season scoring 38 goals in the WSL so far. The next highest scorers in the league are Manchester United with 27. Montemurro’s side have put six past Spurs and Reading, five past Brighton, four past Everton and nine past West Ham in the first half of the league season.

A lot of this is due to the arrival of Caitlin Foord (whose impact I analysed in-depth here). The Australian can play as a wide forward or as a striker and in reality she does both in various phases of the game. Her ability to fill space in the centre has kept Arsenal’s approach fresh, with Vivianne Miedema often moving to the left wing to drag defenders out of position. Miedema set up goals for Beth Mead against Chelsea and for Lotte Wubben-Moy against Brighton from the sorts of positions you would associate with a left-winger.

Arsenal have always had a diversity of attacking threat; but Beth Mead and Jill Roord have raised their game in front of goal this season, Caitlin Foord has added goals and assists to the mix while Jordan Nobbs is getting back to her best with four assists and two goals in her four WSL starts this season. Left-back Katie McCabe leads the WSL for assists with seven so far. Arsenal have added an attacking string to their bow in 2020-21.

Jen Beattie
In October, Gunners centre-half Jennifer Beattie was diagnosed with breast cancer. Just three days after her diagnosis, she played and scored in the 5-0 victory over Brighton & Hove Albion. The celebrations and subsequent social media posts from her teammates told you that the goal had a significance only known to her colleagues at the time.

Recently, Jen went public on her diagnosis in an attempt to raise awareness of the importance of getting checked regularly. The Scottish international also wears pink boots in aid of Breast Cancer Awareness. Beattie is one of the quieter characters in the squad and doesn’t give many interviews- the spotlight is not something she seeks.

It took an enormous amount of bravery to be so vulnerable so publicly so soon after her diagnosis but she decided to use her platform to illustrate the importance of early diagnosis. Thankfully, her diagnosis came early enough that the cancer didn’t spread and she has no need for chemotherapy. That she has managed to play at an elite level while receiving treatment is doubly incredible.

THE BAD

The big away games
In 2020, Arsenal have lost to Chelsea three times, Manchester City away three times, PSG and Manchester United away. They haven’t taken a point away at Chelsea or City since October 2018 and haven’t beaten Chelsea in that time either. They came mightily close to defeating Emma Hayes’ side at Boreham Wood in November and showed an improved tactical acumen in that game.

However, their recent defeat at Manchester City illustrated familiar failings. Montemurro was critical of his players and their execution of the game plan in each of those defeats but a coach can’t keep blaming the players forever, at some point, a leader has to reflect on their role in this recurring flaw. Arsenal have to find an answer when the big teams press them high and force them back towards their own goal. They simply won’t be able to win any silverware without improving their record in these games.

The injuries
Arsenal made their squad considerably bigger in the summer with the arrivals of Noelle Maritz, Steph Catley, Lotte Wubben-Moy, Malin Gut and Lydia Williams to complement the winter procurement of Caitlin Foord. Players who had suffered significant knee injuries and were, through no fault of their own, unable to contribute for the best part of two seasons moved on. Montemurro was no longer playing with a small, tight squad.

Yet this season the team has been decimated by injuries. What is unusual is that these have mostly been muscular injuries, which haven’t been a feature of Montemurro’s reign until now. The Gunners squad had previously been decimated by knee injuries suffered on impact. So far this season, Jen Beattie, Jordan Nobbs, Kim Little, Steph Catley, Lisa Evans and Lydia Williams have all missed games due to muscle injuries.

Worryingly, Steph Catley and Jen Beattie suffered recurrences while Lisa Evans and Jordan Nobbs’ injuries turned out to be worse than first feared. The Arsenal boss revealed to Arseblog News in October that the club were reviewing their training programme as a result of the autumn injury crisis.

THE CHALLENGE AHEAD
There are four teams fighting it out for the three Champions League qualifying spots in Arsenal, Chelsea, Manchester United and Manchester City. The first objective for Arsenal is to get into the top three, after that, it is to try to win the league. They are four points behind Manchester United at the top but Casey Stoney’s side have to play Chelsea, City and Arsenal away in the second half of the campaign.

City and Chelsea will offer stiff competition, the former appear to be over their early season funk as they integrated lots of new players and a new coach. Chelsea haven’t entirely clicked as a unit yet having added Pernille Harder to an already star-studded attack. They lack balance but they have so much individual talent that it essentially doesn’t matter.

Chelsea and City play one another in the Conti Cup both had to contend with WSL postponements and both are still in the Champions League. Arsenal have no such distraction in Europe and effectively wrote off the Conti Cup this season. They will have a much kinder schedule than their challengers in 2021. If they cannot win the league, adding a 15th FA Cup is also a priority.

With no other cup competitions to worry about, Montemurro will want to be sure not to go a second successive season trophyless. Champions League qualification and an FA Cup win would amount to an acceptable season given the club’s standards and the quality of the competition. Winning the league again has to be the ultimate target and to do that, the Gunners will need a cleaner bill of health and they are going to have to find a way not to lose away at Chelsea in February.

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trugun

Tim, most of this piece is comforting eye candy but, then we come to the bad bit and it is bad, Frankly I do not see the situation changing unless Joe is replaced he does not have the football nous to defeat Chelsea, Man City and now Man United let alone top teams on the continent. Arsenal must find another manager, Jill Ellis comes to mind, who will take this team of talent on to lead the WSL. You seem to have an inside track to the Women’s team how do they view their track record with the top teams… Read more »

trugun

Tim, sorry you object to my “eye candy” reference I just call it as I see it. I would have expected two things to be of priority in that report, first is the ridiculous team selection we have had this season Jordan one of if not the best midfielder in England, out on the left wing ,DVD for the most part not in the team. Second you sit down with Joe how about taking him to task about his own performance, most of the time when we play the top two we look like a team that hasn’t a clue,… Read more »

Tim Stillman

I’ll repeat my answer to the other poster, this was intended to be relatively brief and factual. I think highlighting performances in big games does that, reflecting your personal grievances with the starting line ups doesn’t. That’s what the comments section is for, to give your views on those things. I can’t reflect the individual grievances of every reader.

We do ask Joe those questions. All the time. Again, I can’t help you if you don’t like the answers but your issue is with Joe Montemurro, not me.

trugun

“Given my view”, that’s what I’ve done Tim, it has absolutely nothing to do with grievance. Looking at this blog and lots of others all have lots of supporters of the women’s team that are alarmed at the inability of Joe getting to grips with the top teams. I’m just amazed that your pieces do not reflect and comment more on his inability to make any progress against City and Chelsea.

Armchair

Nobbs is not good enough defensively, or physical enough, to be “the best midfielder” in England. Should she have played more? It’s an argument to be made–and the same is true of Van de Donk. Monte has been enamored of Roord, understandable, and Gut–not so understandable. Joe has got to make the right selections in the big games, though it must also be said that losing Walti and Evans for a longish stretch was a problem. Arsenal are the most injury-prone team in women’s football. For me Evans should play in big games–but Arsenal have a lot of good players… Read more »

trugun

“Nobbs is not good enough defensively, or physical enough, to be “the best midfielder” in England.” Funny that, when Jordan is one of the first names selected for the national team, who do we have that’s better.
I agree about Lisa Evans she should play every time but that’s down to Joe who seems intent on changing players and tactics as much as possible when it comes to the big teams

Marieke

I think the focus should be with getting at least the title or the FA cup. If we can’t do either, we have to get back into Champions League but it’ll be dissapointing nonetheless. One of the most important reasons is that we will lose players if we don’t. I think players like Daan, Viv, Lisa, Beth and Lia are (still) ambitious enough to want to play for the best and only the best. Daan is no longer the biggest star she once was at Arsenal. She’ll either accept that she’s an impact sub, but she might want to play… Read more »

Johnny 4 Hats

As someone who is embarrassingly ignorant about the Arsenal women, how well do the Kroenke’s support the ladies team, both vocally and financially?

Are we able to sign good players or, like the men’s team, do we hang around the bargain bin looking for 32 year olds?

Armchair

Well-supported–but I’d assert not as well-supported as ManCity, Chelsea or even ManU, I would think–and so in that sense perhaps much like the men’s team, though one would actually have to look at the budgets to be sure.

Tim Stillman

Chelsea’s spend has pulled away in the last year, City only spend slightly more. Arsenal spend more than United.

Marieke

I do think Viv will sign though. I just don’t see any other team that’s more attractive to her right now. I don’t think she’s the type that wants to win the Champions League just to win it. She wants to challenge herself and she has said she knows the WSL is the best league out there. She admires the other teams and the progress it’s made. Arsenal also gives her a style of football and life that suits her. Even at Holland she’s not given as much space and freedom on the pitch as Arsenal give her. So whenever… Read more »

Xuan

I hope if Viv goes, she leaves the WSL.. it will be a big slap in our face if she joins Chelsea, City or Utd. I wont rule that out if we cant prove our ambition.

Outside of the WSL, i am not sure if she will return to the bundesliga. OL just extended Ada Hegerberg, so PSG might come calling?

Tim Stillman

Barca are a powerhouse too now.

Xuan

Forgot about Barca- they were really good in the UWCL. The prospect of linking up with Lieke Martens certainly would be interesting for Viv

Armchair

Yes, but they already have Oshoala. They’d have to part with her to sign Miedema. I could see that happening–while Oshoala is an electric athlete who can and does score–Miedema is better and certainly fits Barca’s style. She’d be guaranteed CL play with Barca and maybe, too, PSG. Those are the only two half-way viable options, it seems. There simply aren’t very many clubs that can afford world-class players, and those few who can (Chelsea, ManCity, Lyon) already have them. ManU might be another possibility if Press and Heath leave. Miedema likes Arsenal and its style of play, so I’ll… Read more »

Peter Story Teller

Devil’s advocate do you think Viv would leave us if Lisa stays?

Falooda

Exactly. This weird brushing off of Joe’s incompetence ignores the fact that we’re likely to lose the good players we do have with Joe’s incompetence at the helm.

Falooda

Nice summary Tim but I don’t think you went far enough with criticism of Joe in the “Bad” section. I know this is more of a report than your actual opinion but the repeated chalking off of Joe’s sheer inability to compete against any top side at all is a little grating. Especially in the context of Joe’s response to these results (its always the players fault, his own culpability rarely gets more than a passing mention). For someone who’s very fond of calling the players mentality into question against bigger sides (throwing the players under the bus after United,… Read more »

Armchair

Joe’s best defense against criticism of the team’s performance against our top rivals the last two years is that the squad is never fully healthy. In recent (last two years or more) games against ManCity, Chelsea and Manu, the team was missing at least two starters–and maybe more.

Eeleen

I enjoyed the piece Tim, but I would very respectfully disagree that our attack is better and less reliant on Viv. It is probably true concerning games against lesser opposition, but in big games our attack is much worse for me. Against Chelsea and ManC it was Viv’s individual quality that gave us the goals. I love Caitlin, think that she is great signing, but I know who I would prefer in big game. For me this statistic about goals is little misleading because one out of norm game in both season. It contains Bristol’s game last season, there Viv… Read more »

Eeleen

I agree with everything here. I didn’t mention Jordan, because besides PSG she hasn’t really been available, but Jordan on the wing is for me most concerning sign about Joe running out of ideas what to do. It it too clever by half. We don’t need to reinvent one of the best CMs in the league just because. I would like to have Caitlin/Beth on one wing, Lisa/Katie on other and rotate them. But if Katie and Lisa are needed at fullback playing Dvd there shouldn’t be disregarded. At moment even if Jord and Dvd are both on the field,… Read more »

Lunga

Why are you guys acting like Nobbs only plays on the left side of the pitch when she’s always running in field and McCabe covers the wing. As Joe said, ‘formations are for journalists’. Against Everton, I don’t really remember Jill in the six yard areas but Nobbs was there countless times. She even scored from inside the six yard line. Jill’s touches inside the box are very rare.

Xuan

Hope we would be able to play steph and noelle at fullback for the big games. Then at least we have options to unleash katie and lisa on the flanks to run at opposition defenders.

I think Jordan-Kim-Lia remains our best midfield. Still in 2 minds re Jill. I think she lacks abit of intensity and tactical discipline in the big games. I think the injury broke up the momentum of her form and progress though.

Tim Stillman

Yes it is a big frustration that we have been denied those full-backs in the big games- that’s exactly what they were bought for. I guess the upside of an autumn injury crisis is that you get fresh players in the spring- assuming the injury crisis doesn’t just repeat itself!

Armchair

There are observers of the Dutch national team who have argued in the past that Roord should be playing instead of Van de Donk. Roord is an attacking talent, and she’s got size and ball skills, but she doesn’t have DvD’s work rate and isn’t as tenacious defensively (and neither is Nobbs). A big and somewhat overlooked reason the Dutch have been good is that DvD and Groenen are very good at challenging the ball all over the field–winning challenges–and the Dutch and Arsenal have won a lot of games, including big games, with DvD on the field. And the… Read more »

Goonersince55

I always enjoy your articles, Tim, intelligent analysis and certainly thought provoking. Sometimes I support Joe but at other times I think he over-complicates things and causes confusion. I’d be interested to know what others think about the way women’s football is changing. I’ve noticed that over the past couple of years it has become more athletic and physical. The USA’s World Cup victory really highlighted this. In the final, the Dutch never really got into it and, I’m afraid, Viv and Daan were pretty anonymous. If I could choose one player to be in my team it would be… Read more »

Tim Stillman

There is certainly a problem when these bigger teams peg us back. Catley and Maritz were bought to help with this because they are physically superior to some of our players but alas they haven’t been available. I think maybe we’ve tried to overcompensate on that front by playing Foord and Roord together in these games when really I think we should swap one out for a more technical player (Jordan in midfield for Roord seems the most obvious fit to me). On the changes in women’s football, interesting observation. In the interim period between USA winning the World Cup… Read more »

Armchair

Yes, the idea that we /should/ beat ManCity, to name one rival, isn’t right. We should be more competitive than we’ve been lately, yes–but in Mewis and Bronze they’ve got two players from the off who are going to have us–and most any team–on the back foot.

Chin

Just wonder does Joe and the managerial team read arseblog.news? Tim’s articles have invited numerous, diverse discussions and communications that hit the nail on the head…fans are vocal because they love “Arsenal”!!

Of course, Joe and the rest could be, I mean could be, oblivious to all the exchanges here thinking that fans are not equipped with the professional knowledge to deal with on and off pitch issues….

But please remember : Lookers-on see most of the game!!

To Joe : Less is more (ideas, tactics), or you will get caught in the web you weave to smokescreen!!

JohnnyCash

Half of our team are players with great technique, style and imagination but they just cant fight for the ball and cant survive intensive pressing. We are standing at the crossroads and must choose – beautiful wins against weak sides but losses against Chelsea, MC and other contenders, or we are about to sacrifice some of our style to win big matches. DvD is the first step in that direction. But we must move further. Our first minutes in game against MC – this is our future football.