Arsenal were defeated at home by Chelsea allowing Manchester City to take top spot with a win at West Ham.
The team is on a slippery slope as injuries take their toll.
The side’s form in the last three league games is clearly a worry. LWL with two defeats coming against direct title contenders. There have been three wins in the meantime in the FA WSL Conti Cup, but that just papers the cracks.
Attacking play has been sloppy in the last two games and all the hard work done in the first half of the season has been lost in those three league games. A healthy lead has become a one-point deficit.
Of course, we have a game in hand, but City are, for the first time this season, in the driving seat.
In previous seasons they were like a shark that had caught the scent of blood, but the good news is they are capable of dropping points even if they remain unbeaten.
Chelsea are also on a roll and it is a worry, while Birmingham lost at home to Bristol on Sunday and will be looking for a new manager as well.
There is no doubt that injuries and tiredness are the main reason behind the drop in performance in Arsenal’s most recent games. After all, on Sunday the team had only four substitutes on the bench, even when you include the two recent signings.
The Academy kids were back with the Academy team, losing 2-1 to Liverpool and the bench was composed of a goalkeeper in van Veenendaal, plus Mitchell, Veje and the teenager, Kuyken.
Joe Montemurro mentioned after the game that we had seven starting players sitting in the grandstand and the soccer gods are not smiling at us at the moment. He also said that he was not looking at bringing in more signings during the transfer window.
At the same time, the club has reached the official quota of 23 players signed and would need to de-register one player to sign a new one. Jordan Nobbs would be the most likely player to be removed from the squad cap for 2018/19 season.
With the surprise last minute-omission of Danielle van de Donk through injury, the starting 11 was a bit unbalanced. Peyraud-Magnin in goal, an untested centre-back pairing of Arnth and Quinn, Williamson and McCabe at full-backs. In the middle, two defensive midfielders in Waelti and Bloodworth with Little at number 10. Up front Evans, Miedema and Mead tried to give the side some bite.
The Gunners only took the game to Chelsea in the last 15 minutes when they put some pressure on with a goal from their first chance of the game through Miedema. Before that goal, Arsenal’s attacking play, passing and off the ball movement was poor in the same way it was off on Wednesday against Birmingham.
Chelsea are a well-drilled and organised team that had only conceded in one previous game out of twelve, so it was really hard to even create a chance. I counted one half-chance in the first half and no shots on target at all.
You can feel how important some players are when they are not on the pitch. Jordan Nobbs accelerator capacity or Danielle van de Donk’s clever link-up game were missing.
Chelsea were also clever in managing the half-space on their right wing. Blundell and Carney gave McCabe a hard time. The Irish defender was not helped by her teammates and ended 2 v1 numerous times because Waelti and Mead seemed to alternate in marking the free player in a confusing manner.
Regarding the centre-back pairing, the two Chelsea goals came from crosses with a third denied for a tight (and correct) offside decision. It was disappointing to see Cuthbert put a header in for the first goal then smash a volley home after a poor clearance down the middle.
But Chelsea created so many chances while Arsenal were not at the races for the first 75 minutes. The whole team should shoulder the blame for the defeat. The defensive block was too stretched at times, another problem mentioned by the coach after the game, and Chelsea managed to get between and around our lines way too many times.
On the attacking side, Kim Little was isolated in midfield with Waelti and Bloodworth dealing with their defensive tasks and unable to offer an attacking input. These are the situations when you need a secondary hub to build-up play in the middle and relieve the pressure on Little. The two midfielders who naturally fit that job were sadly unavailable through injury.
Then the other attacking option would have been to build up play via the flanks, but Williamson and McCabe were so busy defensively that they could not help Evans and Mead. As a result, Miedema was extremely isolated, but she still managed to score and put in a good left footed shot that was well saved by Lindahl.
It was strange to see the team not being able to build up play from the back with players not showing for the ball very often nor giving an easy option to the ball holder under pressure. Peyraud- Magnin did a lot of long kicking instead of her usual build-up play from the back.
There was a slight improvement on the defensive side once Mitchell came on for the injured Mead at half-time and things finally started to look good when Veje came on at left wing and McCabe moved inside in a 3-3-4 system that shook Chelsea.
Unfortunately, the fightback came too late to salvage a draw.
At the end of the day, we still have our destiny in our hands. If we win all our remaining games we will win the league.
Hopefully, more players will return from injury after the international break and none of them will come back with one.
The fixture list will be very busy in the upcoming months and we will need as many fit player as possible:
Here's what the rest of the current women's football season looks like for Arsenal, Chelsea and Manchester City. pic.twitter.com/neypUI1khe
— Rich Laverty (@RichJLaverty) January 13, 2019