It was the story of the glass being half-full or half-empty on Sunday, as Arsenal could only draw away to Reading, dropping two more points on leaders Manchester City and Chelsea.
Joe Montemurro made two changes from the team that beat Reading two weeks ago in the Conti Cup. Louise Quinn and Heather O’ Reilly, who did well when they came on that game, replaced Jemma Rose and Danielle Carter in the starting eleven.
The system stayed 4-3-3, but Danielle Van De Donk played alongside Dominique Janssen in a double-pivot role, rather than in the number eight role she had two weeks ago.
Reading made one change from their side, with forward Natasha Harding coming on for defensive midfielder Molly Bartrip. The Royals used a different system, moving from 4-3-3 to a 4-4-2, with a diamond midfield and speedy forwards to get in behind the Arsenal defence.
You could see the teams were well-acquainted with each other and there had been some work done by the coaching staff from both sides. The result a chess game that ended up in a stalemate.
When the defensive work is of the highest order, you need a creative spark to make the difference and score a goal. None of the team managed to produce it.
The two clubs have to be credited for their work ethic and players’ willingness to do the dirty work. That tactical mindset explains why there was no substitution for the whole game, as it is clear the managers were satisfied with their team balance and did not want to alter it.
Arsenal did everything but score in that game. Unfortunately, there was no clinical finishing on the day and Grace Moloney had a very good day in goal for Reading.
What we saw in the game is two very compact defensive blocks, set up to disrupt the Arsenal ball playing style. It resulted in a more direct play at times, while Reading also went long in order to use the pace of their two forwards.
In those kind of games, I certainly wonder if we would be better off playing Bethany Mead alongside Anna Miedema and use her pace to run behind the opposition defence. She is wasted on the wing and her direct running would be more useful than the sluggish Mediema.
Obviously dropping the Dutch striker for Mead seems unthinkable for the coaching staff, but I would love for them to try it once. She would combine well with Jordan Nobbs’ direct playing style.
But we know that when Kim Little is back, the team game will suit the Miedema better as the build up play and technical level will go up a notch. As soon as the Scottish playmaker is back, the game will be possession-based even more.
With a midfield three of Janssen, Nobbs and Little, Arsenal have three very technical players who can hold onto the ball. This will also benefit Nobbs, who seems to be doing too much work on her own creatively.
Now, if we look at the no substitutions decision, it was obvious why none were made. It did make sense but it also betrays a lack of confidence in the rest of the squad to make an impact late in the game.
The games are coming thick and fast in the next weeks:
- 4/2/18: Yeovil (away) in the FA Cup
- 7/2/18: Liverpool (away) in the WSL
- 11/2/18: Yeovil (home) in the WSL
Arsenal will fancy their chances in both games against Yeovil, given the WSL 1 side have zero points in seven games, scored none and conceded 25.
Although, there are many injuries in the squad, it is big enough to allow for some rotation for the games against Yeovil. Some Development Team players could get a chance as a result.
The Liverpool (away) game is crucial as they are currently ahead of us in the table. It’s a must win. Personally, I would change 10 players from Sunday’s game against Yeovil so the first-team squad are all fit to play on the 3G pitch at the Halton Stadium.
FT: Reading 0-0 Arsenal
Arsenal XI: Van Veenendaal; Evans, Quinn, Williamson, Mitchell; Janssen, Van De Donk; Nobbs, O’ Reilly, Miedema, Mead
Subs not used: Moorhouse, Scott, Rose, James, Kuyken, McCabe, Carter
The full replay of the game can be found here.