Arsenal Women concluded their January transfer window with a fair amount of movement in and out of the club- far more than most WSL sides. That stands to reason with a new coach who is instilling a new style of play and with plenty of contracts set to expire at the end of the season.
The Gunners’ real headline signing was Swedish striker Stina Blackstenius from Hacken in Sweden. Blackstenius turns 26 next month and is about to enter her prime years. In defence, Eidevall added Brazilian centre-half Rafaelle Souza and Austrian full-back Laura Wientoither. Anna Patten and Viki Schnaderbeck left the club on loan.
Rafaelle has been bought as a bona fide starter in the centre of defence and the partner to Leah Williamson, who extended her contract this month. A 30-year-old Brazil international and a left-footer, Rafaelle will form the core of the Arsenal defence. She is, as Arsenal fans will have seen by now, physically strong, tall, strong in the air and has an excellent left foot. Her distribution maps more closely to Leah’s than the other centre-halves.
Here is what Jonas Eidevall told Arseblog News about the signing of Rafaelle, “For me it was big to find a left-footed central defender because it helps a lot with the angles building up…Rafa studied in the US and playing in the NWSL as well so her English is much better than mine is! So that was definitely not a problem and it helped, for me, that she has Swedish coaches in the Brazilian national team. The head coach (Pia Sundhage) and the assistant coaches are Swedish and they work with positional principles in defence that are very similar to the ones we have with Arsenal.”
It’s a piece that Arsenal very much needed for their starting eleven. Laura Wienroither has been brought in as a more natural rotation option with Noelle Maritz at right-back. Jonas Eidevall told me earlier this month, “I think it had been a limiting factor for us in the autumn that we had one natural right-back. We have lots of players that can play there but they play it a little bit different. I think that also didn’t bring out the best in Noelle Maritz because she had to pace herself during the tight schedule.”
Prior to this, centre-half Anna Patten, who has joined Aston Villa on loan until the end of the season, was the back-up right-back. Jonas told Arseblog News that the club and player have agreed that her future belongs at centre-half, “Here, we have so many centre-backs that she has been playing at right-back but I think we all agree that her best position is as a central defender and that’s the plan, that she’s going to play there at Aston Villa.”
Defence is really the area to keep an eye on for the summer transfer window. Leah Williamson and Rafaelle look like the de facto first choice partnership and I think Lotte Wubben-Moy is seen as someone who can rotate with either player. Viki Schnaderbeck’s loan move to Spurs spells the end of her Arsenal career with her contract expiring in the summer.
Jen Beattie’s contract also expires this summer. I am not entirely sure of the length of Simone Boye’s contract but given her injury history prior to joining the club I think there’s a good chance that she signed a one-year deal (possibly with an option for a further year). The way I see it, Arsenal have three centre-halves that they definitely see as part of the squad for next season.
Who the fourth choice berth goes to looks to be a shootout between Simone Boye, Jen Beattie and Anna Patten. If Patten impresses on loan at Villa, that could be enough to secure her a squad space as a centre-half next season with Beattie and Boye leaving, equally, either or both of the latter could impress enough between now and the end of the season to secure their futures.
Eidevall might consider that he needs five centre-halves of course, though 17-year-old Teyah Goldie is highly rated and is finishing the season on loan at Watford. Basically, there is a “survival of the fittest” situation in defence and the remainder of the season could determine the outcome there. Equally, Eidevall might not be sufficiently convinced by any of Boye, Beattie, Patten and Goldie and he could add someone else.
The signing of Blackstenius is, in my view, smart for two reasons. If Vivianne Miedema leaves, then Arsenal have effectively already replaced her (albeit Jonas Eidevall did tell us that he would buy another striker if Miedema does go when her contract expires in the summer). If not, Arsenal have two top class strikers of very different moulds and, if they do indeed have ambitions of winning the Champions League, that’s the sort of firepower you need.
Lyon weren’t shy about stockpiling their forward options with stellar talent and weren’t shy about sitting some of it on the bench. Chelsea aren’t either. There is also the prospect, on occasion, to play Miedema and Blackstenius together, especially if they need a goal late in a game. Hitherto, Caitlin Foord has been Miedema’s deputy in the centre-forward position and her Arsenal contract also expires this summer and we don’t yet know whether she will extend.
I am told clubs did approach for Foord during January but, clearly, those approaches were rebuffed, which suggests some inclination to keep her in North London. In a world where Miedema stays, she would be exclusively a wide option going forwards. Part of the attraction of signing her, from Joe Montemurro’s perspective, was to find good Miedema back-up who could also operate in a role on the flank that would see her get a greater share of minutes.
In the summer, Arsenal will have to address some key positions, how many depends on whether the likes of Miedema, Foord and Nobbs, whose deals expire this summer, renew. (I don’t know how long Tobin Heath’s contract is for). Eidevall’s squad is probably still light a natural defensive midfielder with Malin Gut’s departure now confirmed.
Lydia Williams’ contract expires and I would be surprised if that were renewed, if Arsenal sign another goalkeeper I would expect Fran Stenson to leave but maybe Eidevall puts faith in the 21-year-old as the new back-up next season. Simone Boye and Tobin Heath were the only signings from last summer that were entirely down to the Head Coach and how he begins to reshape this squad in the summer will be fascinating; a lot of that work already began in the January window.