FA WSL Preview – Arsenal

The 2020/21 FA Women’s Super League kicks off on the weekend of the 5th / 6th September. D2B is here to preview all twelve teams in the title race and assess their chances. Last year we went alphabetical in presenting the teams, but this year we’ve plumped for reverse order of where each club was placed when the league was finally abandoned due to the COVID-19 crisis. Having looked at Manchester United in the previous article now we turn our attention to Arsenal who last year were unable to make a successful defence of their 2018/19 title…

Arsenal Women Football Club

Arsenal Manager Joe Montemurro – wants his team to play the right way and likes two sugars in his tea…

Last Season: 3rd of 12

Nickname: The Gunners

Founded: 1987 as Arsenal Ladies

Home Ground: Meadow Park (capacity 4,502, 1,700 seated)

“We try to play our style of football, we try to make sure we represent the club in the best way possible and give our fans the joy they deserve and football the standard it deserves. I’m pretty clear with the direction and what I want to recruit for what we need. I’ve probably been pretty lucky that most of the players we’ve been able to target within the means that we’ve got have come on board. Obviously when you see the big names that are coming, and are probably going to come over the next week, you think ‘OK they are obviously an organisation that can work within those means’ and you have to accept it.”

Joe Montemurro, Manager, via SkySports.com 01/09/2020

Arsenal were the only WSL team that didn’t draw a league match last season, which in itself isn’t that interesting, but if they’d been able to grind out a point from each of their encounters with, say, Chelsea they’d be enjoying Champions League status in 2020/21.

That outcome then had to be accomplished by winning the 2019 competition outright after it was suspended and then resumed in August as a last eight knockout tournament in the Basque country.

It didn’t go to plan for Joe Montemurro’s side and they were despatched at the quarter final stage by Paris Saint-Germain. They can at least console themselves with the knowledge that Arsenal remains the only British club to have won the European Cup. For now…

You’d be hard pushed to find a team easier on the eye than Arsenal, but Chelsea and PSG hinted at an issue that has similarly plagued their men’s team for some years: as an attacking force the personnel and the playing style are there, but they lack defensive resilience to edge the really tough matches (the Gunners also lost the Continental Cup Final to Chelsea.)

Louise Quinn can’t convert her header in last season’s Continental Cup Final versus Chelsea. The Blues beat the Gunners three times during the campaign.

This could be considered a convenient and somewhat simplistic narrative. They beat Manchester City at Meadow Park last year, for instance, and had that title winning resilience just a season earlier.  Did the players that moved on following that title win (e.g.: Sari van Veenendaal, Dominique Bloodworth and Janni Arnth) make that much difference? Were Chelsea and Manchester City just that bit stronger after investing in squad improvement? Or was it simply that COVID-19 ended the season too early for anyone (the FA included) to declare definitively which of the ‘big three’ clubs was the best? 

Certainly some of the goals Arsenal conceded in the big games would have disappointed manager Joe Montemurro, but he has held his nerve and not thrown the proverbial ‘baby out with the bath water’. There have been four new arrivals to replace six departing players.

Of those leaving, it was somewhat sad to see striker Danielle Carter depart but two ACL injuries in as many seasons had unfortunately made her dispensable in the bigger picture, while it emerged that full-back Emma Mitchell was fighting inner demons of another kind and ended up on loan at Spurs before being released. Both have now signed for Reading, who the Gunners host on opening day. Irish centre-back Louise Quinn has also moved on, signing with Fiorentina.

Coming in are two of Montemurro’s Australian compatriots in marauding left-back Steph Catley and goalkeeper Lydia Williams, both of whom were part of Melbourne City’s W-League title winning side earlier this year. Unfortunately, Williams will miss the opening weeks of the season as she injured her ankle quite badly recently and has had to undergo surgery.  There is still the possibility of two Aussies making the opening day, however, as wing/forward Caitlin Foord was already on the books. While Foord didn’t get much game time pre-Coronavirus, early signs suggest that she’ll fit right in.

Steph Catley – The attacking left-back is one of three Australians to join Arsenal in 2020.

“I had already decided that this was the year that I would like to head to Europe and I looked at a few different options, but when it came down to making a decision [working with Joe Montemurro] was definitely a factor. Mostly because I know how he likes to play, and I know the way I play fits in with that. It is a very enjoyable style, lots of possession, very attacking yet disciplined at the same time.”

Steph Catley, Arsenal, via FIFA website

Swiss internationals Malin Gut and Noëlle Maritz have also been drafted into the club.  Maritz, who made over a hundred starts for Wolfsburg is a composed and technical defender who enjoys a one-on-one duel but equally enjoys pushing forward. Gut, at first glance, looks like one for the future. She’s recently turned 20, but already has 8 caps for her country and has made 78 senior appearances for FC Zürich and Grasshopper scoring 21 times, which is an impressive conversion rate.

There are few things better in the WSL for the neutral to watch than Arsenal carving holes in their opponents, working the ball from one end of the pitch to the other. Montemurro’s side play a quick and technical brand of football that hinges on fluid movement and rotation of the midfield players, making them very difficult to track. It’s effective and suits key players like Kim Little, Jordan Nobbs and Daniëlle van de Donk.

Putting in the miles: goal-scoring midfielder Jordan Nobbs – Pass. Move. Show for it. And repeat… She’s relentless. (Photo by James Chance)

Little is now fully recovered from surgery she had earlier in the year, while Nobbs put her heart-breaking 2018/19 season-ending ACL injury behind her with a decent campaign that delivered 5 goals from midfield (plus 2 assists) and put her 10th on the Golden Boot list.

At the top of that list, again, was the Gunners’ prolific striker Vivianne Miedema. The 24-year old Dutch international is the very definition of a clinical markswoman racking up 29 goals in 22 appearances last season, and picking up six of her 16 league goals in one match versus Bristol City.

“I had surgery in February and I’ve obviously been rehabbing most of the time during the pandemic. I came back into pre-season ready to go with the team, so I’ve just been progressing my fitness and getting back to the team training, the football aspect and the contact. I’m in a good place and I’m ready to go. We had quite a few injuries just before the pandemic. The squad was a little bit limited in terms of numbers but now obviously with that time away from football, we’ve all been able to recover well and come back into training to be ready to play.”

Kim Little, Arsenal Captain, via Club website

Even though the chasing pack are all strengthening, it’s virtually unthinkable that Arsenal will end up outside the top three – such is the depth of talent. The Gunners matched Chelsea’s twelve wins for the season last year but were beaten by the Blues three times in the League and Cup. The margins are small, but Arsenal have developed an innate ability to dispatch the teams below them. It’s the head-to-head record with City and Chelsea, then, that needs improvement. It’s certainly not beyond them. Defensively, they’ll need to be more resilient and perhaps the manager will need to consider some tactical adjustments as replicating their 2019 approach to the big games will see them fall short again.

Departures

  • Pauline Peyraud-Magnin, Goalkeeper
  • Katrine Veje, Midfielder
  • Danielle Carter, Forward
  • Emma Mitchell, Defender
  • Louise Quinn, Defender
  • Ruby Grant, Midfielder

Arrivals          

  • Steph Catley, Defender
  • Malin Gut, Midfielder
  • Lydia Williams, Goalkeeper
  • Noëlle Maritz, Defender

Earlier this year, we charted on the Feedspot Top 40 list of Women’s football blogs. No one was more surprised than us here at D2B Towers; there’s so much other good stuff out there. Anyhoo, check out the link above, there’s a heap of great blogs and websites written by people who really know their stuff and have an infectious passion for the women’s game…

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