Arsenal were beaten 2-1 at Chelsea on Sunday and dropped to the third place in the table, three points behind Manchester City, a side they meet next Sunday at Borehamwood in a must-win game.
There were a couple of surprises in the starting 11.
Manuela Zinsberger started in goal and Lisa Evans at right-back in place of Leonie Maier who had not recovered from her pre-international break injury. The other defenders were as expected in Leah Williamson, Jennifer Beattie and Katie McCabe.
Lia Wälti started in the number 6 role alongside Kim Little in a double pivot. Jill Roord was preferred to Jordan Nobbs at number 10.
Up front were Danielle van de Donk, Vivianne Miedema and Beth Mead.
It was a game of two halves for the Arsenal with a good opening act that saw the team reach the break with a 1-0 lead. The second half was dominated by Chelsea and unsurprisingly and unfortunately the Blues scored two deserved goals to win the game. England from close range and Thorisdottir from long range took advantage of the Arsenal’s unusual defensive frailties.
A defeat is a rare occurrence for the Arsenal Women team under Joe Montemurro, so there is no need to worry too much as it looks like it was a one-off problem. Players and staff know the performance was not good enough in the second half and will rectify this for the next game.
It has to be said, Chelsea played really well.
They pressed up high on the pitch from the world go and swapped their diamond midfield for a flat four in their 4-4-2 that included five attacking players. Credit to the them for going full guns blazing. The Arsenal responded well in the first half but could not resist the onslaught in the second.
There is no doubt a lot of ingredients went missing in the second half when Arsenal did not manage to compete. The Bluesmanaged to raise their level while the Arsenal players hit a slump.
So what was the main difference?
Was there a physical problem?
Maybe. Our intensity seems to die down in the second half. I found that quite normal for Lia Walti, who is only coming back to full fitness, but the other players also looked low on fuel. There is no doubt that the international break played a role there but it was the same for many Chelsea players.
The squad size was also mentioned to explain the difference between the teams but the bucks stop with the manager who assumed the responsibility of having a small squad.
In the first half, Arsenal managed to get away from the Chelsea pressure on the ball for two reasons: Kim Little and Lia Walti were superb on the ball and controlled the midfield very well. Leah Williamson, who was overall excellent, managed to switch play many times to relieve the pressure off the defence.
Also, there was a lot more movement off the ball in the first half that allowed the ball carrier to choose her passing options. If you have two or three passing options, the opposition’s defensive system will struggle, if you have only one, they will come hard at you and that’s what happened in the second half.
The defensive block was stretched way too much and if you are not compact Chelsea will take advantage of it. They certainly went behind and round our defenxe much more often in the second half. That’s how they scored the first first goal.
It was no surprise to see Vivianne Miedema very isolated in this game, because Chelsea managed to effectively cut the passing lanes to her. Still, it did not stop her from getting an assist for Danielle van de Donk and scoring an offside goal. Jill Roord was also isolated because she was quite high alongside her and rarely got a sniff off the ball.
It is interesting to note that despite the two Dutchwomen being very tall, we did not try to hit it long towards them very often even under a lot of pressure. We carried on building up play from the back in the second half but struggle to get into their final third.
On the right side, Lisa Evans was so busy dealing with Guro Reiten that she could not offer the width and support to van de donk that she normally provides. While on the left Katie McCabe managed to go forward more often and Beth Mead was very lively on the ball.
The two centre backs Leah Williamson and Jennifer Beattie were extremely busy throughout the game and faced waves after waves of attack. Manuela Zinsberger also had a busy day in goal and did a good job.
On the substitutions side, while Chelsea’s worked perfectly, Joe Montemurro only made one: Jordan Nobbs for Lia Walti. That sub did not really work out as the team was really struggling on the ball at the time and Jordan could not influence the game as much as possible.
The manager explained the why Jill Roord ended up playing on the right wing. “We thought that if we could play someone closer to Viv, we could overload in that area and allow Jordan Nobbs to take the space that Viv would vacate.”
Also, it forced van de Donk to move from the right wing to central midfield in the double pivot alongside Kim Little. She has been very successful there in the past, but seem to play a little bit too high when she moved inside.
We had a full bench with Pauline Peyraud-Magnin, Louise Quinn, Katrin Veje, Emma Mitchell and the two Academy girls Ruby Grant and Melisa Filis. Towards the end of the game, I would have expected an attacking substitution as we struggled the whole second half to get on the ball. Maybe either Veje or Mitchell at left-back to put McCabe forward or Veje on the wing.
One of the two Academy players could also have come on, although it could have been a huge gamble, but certain players were not in great form throughout the game and a ten minutes sub might have contributed to getting at least a draw.
In the end, no one was sent on to stem the flow of Chelsea’s attacks or offer more creativity.
It was a deserved defeat and the staff and players have to turn their mind to the Champions League with Prague away on Wednesday before then another crunch League game at home to Manchester City.
I expect a lot of rotation in the Champions League to keep the players fresh for the potential League decider.