By Andrew Crawshaw
February was something of a transitional month for Arsenal Women. New players bedding in, those away at the Asian tournament returning (but not necessarily ready to play immediately) and then a two week international break for European players.
It was a month where we only played three games, two draws in the WSL against Manchester United and Chelsea and had a comfortable 4 – 0 win against Liverpool in the 2022 edition of the FA Cup.
Sat 05 Feb WSL – Arsenal 1 v Manchester United 1
We made a positive start and looked the more likely to open the scoring until we conceded a corner from a soft free kick. The referee then further endeared herself to the Arsenal supporters by ignoring a foul on an Arsenal player as the ball was crossed in. It was headed out for a United corner. The ball was crossed to the far post where Russo was unmarked and her downwards header wasn’t cleared and ended up in the back of the net. One nil to United thanks to errors from both the referee and our defence.
Soon afterwards Miedema was most unlucky when a thunderous drive from distance came back off the crossbar, replays showed that it was in fact a fingertip save by the keeper to prevent the goal.
McCabe then picked up a yellow card for a poor challenge which was to prove costly later in the game when she received a second yellow and was sent off with 20 minutes to go.
United had a great chance to score a second but their player’s shot went wide to the crowd’s delight.
With 15 minutes to go Miedema picked up the ball outside our penalty area and played the pass of the season to release new signing Blackstenius who didn’t even have to make a significant adjustment in her run to collect the ball and finish past Earps in the United goal for 1 – 1 A battling draw in a game where I was resigned to a loss.
Fri 11 Feb WSL – Chelsea 0 v Arsenal 0
This was an even contest as you would expect from the top two teams in the league. There were opportunities at both ends but a combination of solid defending and some less than clinical finishing plus a plethora of not-given penalty appeals combined to see out a goal—less contest.
Catlin Ford was tripped early on but tried to keep her balance only to go down a step or two later. The referee really should have blown for the foul. There were a couple of shouts for handball by Chelsea but I would have been cross if they were given against our players so can’t get too annoyed about when not given against Chelsea. At the end of the match, Leah Williamson attempted a block in our area and had her arms high and wide. The ball hit her outstretched arm and the look on her face said she thought it was going to be given as a penalty. In this instance, we were lucky it wasn’t given. So really it should have been one penalty to each team.
For Arsenal, this was a vital contest not to lose as Chelsea started the game only two points behind us with a game in hand. For Chelsea, a loss would have handed back the numerical points advantage so probably both teams would have settled for a draw before kickoff.
Sun 27 Feb FA Cup – Liverpool 0 v Arsenal 4
Liverpool have been playing in the Championship for the last couple of years following a period of neglect and underinvestment in playing squad and facilities. They are leading the Championship by a distance this season though and look certainties for promotion back to the WSL at the end of the season. The match was therefore between the leaders of the top two divisions in Women’s football.
Arsenal started with a strange mixture of first choice and backup players. Reserve goalkeeper Lydia Williams got a rare start, first choice back four, Mana Iwabuchi joined Little and Wälti in midfield and Catlin Foord led the line flanked by Nikita Parris and Katie McCabe.
Beth Mead and Lotte Wubben-Moy were both rested recovering from minor knocks and Miedema and Blacksetnius were both on the bench.
Liverpool are known for their pressing and it took us a while to work out how best to counter this but with 19 minutes gone centre back Rafaelle found herself high up the pitch and played in Caitlin Foord with a pass any attacking midfielder would be proud of. She made no mistake shooting past Rachael Laws in the Liverpool goal.
We sealed the win with two world-class goals in the 31st and 33rd minutes. First came a corner on our lefthand side which Liverpool cleared (or thought they did), the ball came out to Katie McCabe just outside the penalty area and she struck it on the volley with an absolute rocket of a shot which gave Laws absolutely no chance making a save. Two minutes later and it was Caitlin Foord’s moment. She received the ball on the edge of the area got it out of her feet and struck unerringly into the top of the net. Earps never had a chance to move.
Three nil at halftime and we played a professional game in the second half never looking to be in any serious trouble Captain Kim Little added a fourth with 20 minutes to go as we played out the game keeping our clean sheet.
Our reward is a home tie against another Championship side Coventry in the Quarter finals on March 20.
At the end of February the current WSL league table was:-
- Arsenal – the “monster” Manchester City created (according to reports)
- Manchester City v Arsenal: The Big 7 Stats, and comparisons of the last 6 games
- Manchester City v Arsenal: surprising statistics and a result prediction
- Arsenal’s 25 man squad – is it already full?
- Yet another example of the way the media tries to put down Arsenal