Arsenal women recorded their seventh win in seven games against a valiant and well-organised Birmingham side, opening up an eight-point gap on the Blues in third place.
It was a typical, tough top-of-the-table clash on Sunday at Borehamwood, with Birmingham showing why they are the only team that has managed to keep the pace with Arsenal and Manchester City.
I spoke with our goalkeeper, Pauline Peyraud-Magnin, after the win. She said, “Birmingham is one of the toughest teams we’ve played so far in the League alongside Chelsea. Those are top-level, quality games and today we won 3-1 and showed we were ready for the challenge. We got the three points which was the most important thing.”
Joe Montemurro decided to revert to a back four against the Blues, making a couple of changes from the Bristol game. The starting 11 was: Peyraud-Magnin; Evans, Williamson, Quinn, Mitchell; Waelti, Van de Donk, Nobbs; McCabe, Miedema, Mead.
There was moaning and frustration among some Arsenal fans with te scores level at 0-0 by halftime. A few had become accustomed to the caviar served up since the season started. The pate on offer in teh first 45 on Sunday did not seem to satisfy them.
Those fans have a short memory and false expectations. No team can win every game by four or five-nil. The opposition will not let this happen every week and that was the case on Sunday.
The deadlock was eventually broken when a stray pass from the Blues defence was picked up by Waelti who found Nobbs who finished well to make it 1-0.
Unfortunately, the lead did not last very long as from the restart Birmingham equalised with an ease that must have annoyed Joe Montemurro on the touchline. It was certainly a poor goal to concede.
Pauline said, “It is a bit annoying to concede that kind of goal for a goalkeeper. To concede just after we scored as it took us a lot of time to score the opener was certainly annoying. But we reacted very well to the setback and came back straight into the game and managed to win it.”
Danielle van de Donk scored a decisive penalty to give Arsenal a 2-1 lead. Full credit must go to the Dutch playmaker for taking responsibility in a game where she was not always on her best behaviour alongside some of our opponents.
Jordan Nobbs scored Arsenal’s third in injury time to add a little bit of gloss to the scoreline and make sure of the three points.
Now, with a third of the season played and Arsenal three points ahead of Manchester City with a game in hand, and eight points clear of the two teams in third place, I asked Pauline if it was possible to talk about Champions League qualification and, possibly, the title?
“There are many many games still to be played in the League and in the Cups,” Peyraud-Magnin said. “We have to take the games one by one and see things day by day before thinking about the Champions League and the title.”
German defender Tabea Kemme, who had been injured for a long time previously with Turbine Potsdam and was rehabbing since the beginning of her Arsenal career, was finally given her debut.
Hopefully, she will be phased in cautiously and will be able to bring all her skills and expertise to the team as well as boosting the number of players available to Montemurro.
On the day, Lia Waelti was magnificent and deservedly received the official supporters’ club player of the match award. The way she has fitted into the team and adapted to the FA WSL is incredible.
She has improved the team so much compared to last season, it is like having Makelele, Pirlo and Kante in one player in the heart of the midfield. Her work is really crucial on defensive transitions especially when van de Donk and Nobbs are found wandering higher up the pitch when the full-backs are also in attacking mode.
The game also showed that against a very well organised, tough defensive team playing on the counter-attack, Kim Little’s technique and vision in midfield is really missed.
In the first half, especially when both sides were playing with a compact block and space was at a premium, her ability to find space and conduct the game was sorely missed.
Overall, it was a very good test of the team’s strength and they passed it with flying colours.
It is now time for the international break and, hopefully, no-one will come back injured as the squad is still a bit short in numbers.