by Andrew Crawshaw
On Sunday Lunchtime Arsenal Women played the reverse fixture against the only team to have beaten them this season. No not Chelsea or Man City who were busy elsewhere but bottom of the table Birmingham.
The early 12:00 kickoff was in order to show the match live on BBC2 and meant an especially early start from me as trains from South-east London were few, far between and not connecting very well. All of which meant that I missed the first few minutes of the game and certainly had no opportunity to get anything to eat or drink before I sat down.
Arsenal’s starting 11 was
Steph Catley, Rafaelle Souza, Leah Williamson, Laura Wienrother
Lia Wälti, Vivianne Miedema, Kim Little
Beth Mead, Stina Blacksenius, Katie McCabe
Subs – Lydia Williams, Lotte Wubben-Moy, Jen Beattie, Noelle Matitz, Kaitlin Foord (60 for Blackstenius), Frida Maanum (72 for Kim Little), Tobin Heath (72 for Steph Catley), Mana Iwabuchi (72 for Viv Miedema), Jordan Nobbs (90+3 for Beth Mead)
As I arrived Arsenal were in full attack which was the pattern for the entire first half. I had barely taken my seat when Rafaelle scored her first goal for the club – a towering downward header from a corner which bounced into the roof of the net.
Fifteen minutes later we were two up as Viv Miedema set WSL history again with her 70th goal and 100th goal contribution as she has 30 assists. Blacksetnius was causing havoc among the Birmingham defenders and the ball came back to Viv who does what she does best and put the ball into the net. 100 goals and assists in only 83 league appearances. We definitely want you to stay!
We attacked solidly for the rest of the half but somehow there was always a Birmingham body in the way and their deep 5 – 4 formation gave us little space to work with. On the few occasions when Birmingham did break forward, Rafaelle and Leah were always in the right place to intercept and return possession to our more advanced players.
A word at this point about the referee and, for once, it isn’t a moan. Robert Massey-Ellis (the husband of Sian who is an Assistant referee in the PL) was excellent. He got the major calls right, was consistent in his interpretation of the rules and it was a pleasure to see someone in the centre doing his job properly. Well done Robert – come back soon (but not too often).
Birmingham showed more attacking intent from the start of the second half. My seat is in the half we were defending and I didn’t expect to see much of the play but was getting to see more than I really wanted to. I thought that we needed a third goal which came mid way through the half courtesy of Beth Mead with her 50th in all competitions foe the club (a fine record for a wide forward).
We then made a triple change involving a full rejig of our midfield and seemed to lose focus for a while as Birmingham scored two goals in the following 10 minutes. For a while we looked rattled and uncertain in defence until our normal composure was re-asserted. The two goals looked almost surreal to me as we failed to deal with what looked like elementary attacks. Birmingham have only scored 11 goals all season and four have been against us.
In injury time Caitlin Foord got the ball on the right following a superb pass from Lia Wälti (who was excellent all game) and had an easy pass to a well-placed player on the left of the penalty area but thought to herself “No I’ve got this” and rifled the pall in at the near post to restore a degree of normality to the scoreline.
With a minute to go Jordan Nobbs was introduced for her two hundred and fiftieth club appearance. Needless to sat she got a great reception.
So a day of milestones for Arsenal as we pressed our claims to be the WSL champions. Chelsea in second place do have three games in hand which, if they win them all, would see them overtake us but at this stage we have the points on the board which increases the pressure on the Russian Oligarch’s team just a little more.
With only 6 more games to play Birmingham look doomed to relegation. They are 8 points adrift of Leicester and realistically need to win a minimum of four games to stand any chance of remaining in the top flight. Their only chance to me seems to be to abandon the deep lying 5-4 1 formation and commit more players up field for much longer in the remaining games. They have shown against us that they are capable of scoring but can’t afford to wait until they go three goals down before venturing out of their own defensive third.
Man City have finally seemed to have turned their season around and, although behind both United and Spurs in the table, I would probably make them favourites for third place and the final Champions League place along with Chelsea and ourselves.
Here is the current table
|7||Brighton and Hove||16||7||1||8||18||23||-5||22|
|8||West Ham Utd||14||5||5||4||18||18||0||20|
Next up for us is a WSL fixture away against Brighton next Sunday That game kicks off at 18:45 and will be live on Sky Sports. I have another engagement and am not in a position to do any kind of match report so over to you if anyone fancies committing your thoughts to the site.
If you do please email Tony@schools.co.uk so we know.