Arsenal Women 2021/22 Review Part 4: Player of the Season and where do we go from here

by Andrew Crawshaw

In my Player reviews, I identified four contenders for Player of the Season, Leah Williamson, Kim Little, Beth Mead and Vivianne Miedema.  Here I want to examine their claims in more detail and one of them gets my vote.  You may well disagree with my choice, if so please add a reasoned counterargument in the comments.

Leah Williamson

Quite simply the best English defender around.  Her performances have earned her the England captaincy although the England manager insists on playing her as a midfielder rather than a Centre Back.  In truth, there is a degree of merit in this positional change as her athleticism means that she can easily cope further up the pitch and her passing ability and range indicate that a move forwards may be her best position at the moment.  The one period where we produced our worst performances coincided with her absence through injury and the games needed to get her back to full match speed.  When she has been available she has been a starter.  Her four goals have been useful as well.

Kim Little

Our club captain and one of our older players.  She retired from international football in order to prolong her club career and her performances this season have certainly vindicated that decision.  She started in 38 of the 42 matches we played this season and rarely put a foot wrong in any of them.  Small in stature but at times the ball seems to be an extension of her feet as she has the ability to dribble her way out of a phone box filled with opposition forwards.  Quite breathtaking at times.  She is the second-highest goalscorer in Arsenal history scoring her 150th and 151st in the 4 – 0 win over Aston Villa in October.  Still a way to go to reach Jane Ludlow’s all-time record of 211 but still comfortably ahead of Vivianne Miedema.  Her captaincy skills are excellent, normally our penalty taker she allowed Nikita Parris to take one to get her 50th WSL goal which she had been trying to get all season.  Hopefully, with that Albatross off her shoulder, Nikita will be more relaxed in front of goal next season.

Beth Mead

Our right-sided wide forward had an excellent season, 14 goals in all competitions and now the leading Assist Queen in the WSL.  Few of her goals have been tap-ins and she has regularly featured in Arsenal’s goal of the month competition.  She was stung by not being chosen to go to the Summer Olympics but channelled her anger into her performances this season to the extent that she has not only regained her place in the England squad but is now one of the first names on the team sheet.

Vivianne Miedema

Effectively we have seen two Vivs this season, she started in her traditional No9 position but for the second half of the season has moved to a more classic No10 role where she has become as much a provider of goals as a scorer.  In previous seasons I have been somewhat critical of Viv’s attitude in games where she has seemed to me to coast through games only really coming to life when she scented a goal opportunity.  This season that certainly hasn’t been the case as she has popped up all over the pitch frequently leading our ball recovery press.  She has led our goal scoring this season with 23 in all competitions and has just signed a new contract so she will be with the club at least for next season.  Beyond that will depend and I really think we need to Win the WSL and at least reach the semi-final of the Champions League for her to stay longer.

So which one of the four contender gets my vote for player of the season?

For me it’s our Captain  – Kim Little.  She has been the glue that has held the team together, has led by example and always puts in 100% effort even when things haven’t been going our way.  Not always spectacular but rarely not in the right position at the right time.

Where do we go from here?

We have to get ourselves into the mindset of being the masters of Chelsea and also the top European teams.  We played Chelsea four times this year, had a win and a draw in the League but two terrible defeats in the FA Cups where we never really turned up.  We played Barcelona twice in the Champions League and lost both even more conclusively conceding four goals both at home and away.  We also conceded four times in our away group match against Hoffenheim only going through by virtue of a solitary away goal.  The CL quarter-final against Wolfsburg whilst much closer was still a salutary lesson for us.

We have struggled with physicality in our games, we are not masters at overcoming teams who are overtly physical or skilled in a high-intensity press and we need to be better able to cope with this.  I know our Coach Jonas Eidevall has spoken to Per Mertesacker and the two of them are planning to involve the boys academy player (possibly the U16s or maybe the U18s) in some of the training sessions next season to get the Women more used to the physicality that we lack.  It might also knock out some of the cockiness that the boys have and make them realise that some of their tricks aren’t necessarily the best way to progress on the pitch.

I watched the Women’s Champions League Final between Barcelona and Lyon.  I think everyone had Barcelona as odds on favourites after a season where they had triumphed in their domestic league by a massive 24 points winning every game and having a goal difference of +148.  Up till the final their only loss all season was in the Semi-final second leg where they lost 2 – 0 against Wolfsburg but progressed having won the first leg 5 – 1. 

Lyon who have been the powerhouse of Women’s football for the last decade had a relatively poor season in 2020/21 but have been back to form this last season with a P20, W19, D1 record in the French league and a goal difference of +58.

The game started at the fastest tempo and the highest intensity I have overseen in a Women’s game and Lyon absolutely blew Barcelona away.  The Barca players never had more than a second or two on the ball and were completely unable to play in their usual precise manner playing with pretty triangles.  Every time they had the ball a Lyon player or two were immediately in their face forcing them into untypical errors.  Lyon were three goals up in 33 minutes.  Although Barcelona got a goal back before halftime, the game was completely beyond them.  Lyon then strangled the life out of the game in the second half with a masterful display of the black arts of time-wasting missing no opportunity to interrupt the rhythm of the game.  It wasn’t pretty to watch and Tony Pulis would have been proud.  It is certainly something I would like Jonas to use as an example of game management for our team before nest season.

As a team we tend to be too nice, only Katie McCabe is known for her spikiness and was the leading recipient of cards with the only red and 8 yellows.  The team need to sort out spreading the fouls out more evenly and less noticeably.

The final area where we need to look at is our recruitment.  We are a relatively small and lightweight team compared with some of the others in the League and I would like to see us bringing in larger players without compromising on their skill levels.  Leah Williamson could well move into midfield from CB but that would require at least one new addition at the back.  Viv is also likely to move into the No 10 role next season which will again add some height to midfield but again that would require a new addition up front.  I think Leah will eventually take over from Kim Little as club captain

In terms of player retention, I am tired of us losing our 17 and 18-year-olds, either to pursue academic studies in America or looking for playing time at second or third-tier teams in the UK.  There has to be a way of keeping them in the Arsenal fold whilst they mature to full international level which seems to be required for our first team.  It must be possible to set up a scholarship arrangement with Universities in this country to enable them to have adequate time to both study and continue football at a competitive level. 

For those not seeking that path, I would like to see the club pushing for academy teams to be allowed to play in either the Championship or possibly the third tier of Women’s football.  There aren’t that many teams in the leagues at the moment so I don’t believe that fixture congestion would become an issue.  The WSL comprises 12 teams, The Championship also has 12.  Below that there are two further levels in the Women’s National League, four Regional Leagues ferrying into ‘Premier Leagues’.  Expansion is limited by the FA, supposedly to ensure that teams applying for membership meet the FA requirements.  We shouldn’t forget however that it was the FA who effectively banned women’s football for 50 years for being ‘unladylike’.  The silly bunch of male chauvinistic idiots.

Above all else in order for the Women’s game to continue to grow it needs you the ordinary Arsenal supporters to actively go to the matches.  There will be a minimum of six games at the Emirates next year, the London Derbys against Chelsea and Spurs and either West Ham or one of the two Manchester teams in the WSL and any Champions League matches that require VAR.  Our other home games take place at Meadow Park Borehamwood, a 15-minute walk from Elstree and Borehamwood Network Rail station.  None of the games are expensive and there is always a good atmosphere.  They are an ideal way of introducing top-class football to youngsters and there is usually an opportunity for photos and autographs with the players after the game (COVID protocols permitting).  

One Reply to “Arsenal Women 2021/22 Review Part 4: Player of the Season and where do we go from here”

  1. for me, Leah is the POTS and yes i can see her as our future captain. the match against Wolfsburg in the CL qf (both leg), also the match that was really disappointing for the team. we look nervous and didn’t play our usual football in the 1st leg match while they easily nullify our attack and we also conceded the goals so cheaply but on the flip side, we can use that mistakes as a learning curve for next season. i also hope that Caitlin Foord will stay with us for another season and lastly, i completely agree with your point about the idea of how the club can collaborate with local Uni to offer scholarship for young players who want to complete their studies first

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