FAWSL Preview 2021/22: Arsenal

The 2020/21 FA Women’s Super League kicks off on the weekend of the 3rd – 5th September. D2B is here to preview all twelve teams in the title race and assess their chances. We’re going back to an alphabetical approach and start with Arsenal, who grabbed themselves the newly created third Champions League spot last season, but finished a lot further behind the division’s top two than they would have wished…

Japanese attacking maestro Mana Iwabuchi signed from Aston Villa over the summer.

Full name: Arsenal Women Football Club

Nickname(s): The Gunners

Founded: 1987; 34 years ago as Arsenal Ladies

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

Last Season, FAWSL: 3rd place

WSL Pedigree / Club History

Going back to the early nineties Arsenal has been one of the country’s top women’s football clubs with twelve league titles pre-WSL. The pinnacle of that period was winning the UEFA Women’s Champions League in 2007.

They won the inaugural Women’s Super League in summer 2011, retained that title in 2012, but then had to wait until the 2018/19 winter season to claim their third. 

Last Season

Last season the Gunners finished in 3rd spot which was good enough for a Champions League qualifying berth, but they ended the campaign nine points adrift from champions Chelsea.

The squad started and finished the 2020/21 season very well, but sandwiched in between were some poor results; notably Arsenal would end up paying for their inability to knock over their peers at the top of the table – similar to the previous year.

Just four points from a possible 18 against the two Manchester clubs and Chelsea would pulverise their title tilt.

In fact, the North Londoners would be looking nervously over their shoulder, in terms of Champions League qualification, until the 94th minute of their early May encounter with Everton. Kim Little’s penalty gave Arsenal a 2-1 win and a vastly superior goal difference over Manchester United meant the gap was insurmountable for the Red Devils regardless of the final round of fixtures.

Manager / Head Coach

A new man in the hot seat: Jonas Eidevall has taken over as Arsenal Head Coach.

“I am delighted and it has been excellent to start working with the players on the pitch myself. Obviously the staff here have been doing incredible work with the players while I have been remote but it’s easier for everyone now that I am on site. I am very excited about [working with a full squad] and I think the players are too, we have a very exciting season ahead of us and we will need all of that quality.”

Jonas Eidevall, Head Coach, Arsenal, via arsenal.com 8/8/2021

There’s someone new at the helm after Joe Montemurro left the club and headed to Juventus Women over the summer.

Jonas Eidevall has come in, having spent the first fifteen of his coaching years working in his native Sweden. The 38-year old may not have been on too many supporter wish lists, but then – looking back – was Montemurro the name on everyone’s lips?

Eidevball has enjoyed a good level of success in a very well-established European Women’s league, working with Lunds BK, Helsingborgs IF and FC Rosengård (over two spells), where he was part of a Damallsvenskan winning team twice as an Assistant (2013/14) and once as the main man in 2019.

Summer Recruitment

Even though the club has new leadership, the Gunners have had a fairly low-key summer and just four new players have arrived at the time of writing.

There can’t be too many players better suited to the ‘pass, pass, pass’ style of Arsenal’s Women’s team, though, than skilful Japanese international Mana Iwabuchi, who has made the switch from Aston Villa. Iwabuchi has already scored three times for the Gunners in the Champions League and can offer some tactical flexibility being able to play in midfield, as a free-role number 10 or as part of an orthodox strike pairing.

The Gunners also moved to sign forward Nikita Parris, who scored 19 goals in 30 league appearances for Lyon, and won pretty much everything a player can win in France during the 2019/20 season – including the UEFA Women’s Champions League.  She’ll add pace to the Arsenal attack and again can offer dual roles as a central striker or wide attacker.

Two Scandinavians have come in. Norwegian Frida Maanum is just 22-years old but has 33 caps for her country and over 130 senior club appearances. She knows where the goal is too with 24 goals in 89 appearances for previous club Linköpings FC.

Danish international defender Simone Boye Sørensen worked with Eidevall at FC Rosengård but was not an ever-present for most recent club Bayern Munich. It will be interesting to see how competition develops for places in the Arsenal backline given that several of the players are competent at centre back or full back.

Who’s moved on?

Two of their three Dutch World Cup Finalists have left the club. Box-to-box midfielder Jill Roord went to Wolfsburg pretty much as soon as the season ended, while Daniëlle van de Donk signed for Lyon, debuting in the recent WICC trophy over in Portland, USA.

Young, ball-playing central defender Ruby Mace has joined Manchester City and excellent right-sided attacking playing Lisa Evans was deemed surplus to requirement, and has gone to West Ham on loan.

Key Players

Vivianne Miedema – The 25-year old Dutch striker is key to Arsenal’s title ambitions.

While Kim Kittle remains vital at the heart of the Arsenal midfield, it was even more important that the club kept hold of goal scorer extraordinaire Vivianne Miedema. She racked up 18 goals in 22 league appearances last season – taking her WSL tally to 60 overall.

The Dutchwoman also seemed to enjoy working alongside Aussie forward Caitlin Foord, who contributed 10 goals and five assists over the 2020/21 campaign.

Elegant central defender Leah Williamson is another important component in the spine of the team with over 100 senior appearances for the club. She should feature as one of two (or three) central defenders (depending on Eidevall’s preference week-to-week), but can also operate into a midfield role which can give the Head Coach tactical options and keep opponents guessing.

A favourite of the D2B parish is Irish left-back Katie McCabe who led the way with eleven league assists during 2020/21. Solid defensively she chips in with goals too, and they tend to be memorable.

Pre-season

Arsenal have had real-life competitive matches during pre-season, winning two first-round European qualifiers in Moscow. They beat Okzhetpes of Kazakhstan with goals from Mana Iwabuchi, Kim Little (pen), Beth Mead and Nikita Parris, and then went on to top PSV Eindhoven 3-1 with Iwabuchi bagging a brace after Vivianne Miedema had opening the scoring.

The faced Czech side Slavia Praha in the home leg of round two on the 31st August and beat them 3-0. Parris struck early and Little doubled their advantage from the penalty spot. Miedema added a third midway through the second period.

Given the historic rivalry it would probably be remiss of us not to mention that they hammered Tottenham Hotspur 4-0 in a friendly, ahead of their Euro adventures.

Opening Day

It’s a tough start. Arsenal host champions Chelsea on Sunday 5th September. A perfect time to lay down a marker, though.

Prospects

Top three is the absolute minimum requirement for the club and its fans, and the squad looks more than capable of achieving this.

Midfielders Jordan Nobbs and Malin Gut are reportedly carrying injuries going into the season so already squad depth is going to be key if the Gunners are to punch their weight in both domestic and European competition.

The question is: will the new signings actually improve the squad or maintain it to the level it was at during the last campaign? There’s little doubt Arsenal will score plenty of goals, but will this group be able to dig in during the tight, physical battles with their main rivals and grind out the extra points required to be genuine title contenders?..

Transfer Summary (as at 28/8/2021)

In

  • Mana Iwabuchi (Forward)
  • Nikita Parris (Forward)
  • Simone Boye Sørensen (Defender)
  • Frida Maanum (Midfielder)
  • Tobin Heath (Forward) – post article

Out                                                                                             

  • Jill Roord (Midfielder)
  • Ruby Mace (Defender)
  • Daniëlle Van de Donk (Midfielder)
  • Leonie Maier (Defender)
  • Lisa Evans – Loan (Winger)
  • Grace Garrad (Midfielder)

==

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