Arsenal were defeated, again, away to City after a poor 1st half left them with a mountain to climb so why are they struggling in big matches?
There seems to be a problem in recent big games, with the exception of the Continental Cup final, where Arsenal were superb but found Ann-Kathrin Berger in top form in the Chelsea goal. There were too many defeats against the Big 3 opponents last season in the league as well as in the Champions League against PSG and it looked like the same again against City in the FA Cup for 50 minutes.
The starting 11 and tactics did not work out and it is not the first time this season that positioning Danielle van de Donk in the number 6 role fails.
The Dutch forward does not seem suited to that role in big games any more.
The lack of midfield balance also meant that Sam Mewis had free reign in the middle of the park and having van de Donk patrolling in her area was clearly a mismatch. Putting someone who is 1m83 up against 1m60 is not a really good game plan.
The team regained balance once Lia Walti was introduced for the injured Kim Little early in the second half. The switch from a 4-2-1-3 to a 4-1-2-3 system suited the players better.
The players and the coaching staff are equally responsible for that defeat.
The performance level in the first half was not good enough. When you play in a big game, players need to raise their level like City did. They pressured our defence and our ball use was certainly not up at the usual Arsenal standard. Defenders were forced to play long balls to nowhere and second balls were not being won.
The players, under pressure from City, did not manage to find any passing rhythm or angles, and they seemed a bit panicky. Those are the situations where you need all your strong technical players on the pitch in order to be able to keep the ball and play out of the defence.
With Jennifer Beattie and Lia Walti sat on the bench, there were simply not enough quality passers to break the City pressing. It got better, of course, in the second half once Walti came on and offered more calmness and precision.
The team also went more direct late in the game to pressure the City defence who were not particularly confident under pressure. Bonner, for example, made many fouls throughout the game and could have received at least two yellow cards, if not three with a strong referee.
There was an improvement in the second half with a few chances created, but not enough to trouble Roebuck in the City goal. The marginal calls, back passed and some fifty-fiftys went City’s way, so lady luck, or the lenient referee, also did not help the Gunners.
It is also important to note that Arsenal had nearly a full bench with seven players out of a possible nine, but none of them were forwards. We had four defenders and two defensive midfielders. Therefore, Joe Montemurro only made one substitution during the game as there were no fresh attacking legs to put on. The squad size was not a problem, the problem was we have two attackers injured and one being used as a defensive midfielder.
That was a tactical choice that backfired as previously mentioned.
We certainly also missed having a character like Jayne Ludlow in the team. We do have a lot of technical leadership on the pitch, but when things go wrong, someone has to take control of the team and the ball.
Jordan Nobbs and Leah Williamson did it for part of the game, but we need someone who will consistently push their partners to get and play better. In the end, the team that performed better went through.
Arsenal need to regroup, get a few injured players back in training and prepare for some very busy upcoming weeks.
Next is Bristol at home in the league on Sunday. We need to keep our 100% record intact and stay at the top of the table.
Then, the following Wednesday is Chelsea away in the Conti Cup. We need to make a statement in that game and show that we can compete in big matches like we did in last year’s final.
Sunday week will see the Gunners travel to Brighton away to finish a sequence of five games in two weeks. Before the international break, there will be another North London derby at Borehamwood on Sun 18 October unless it gets moved for TV.
Montemurro will have to make use of his whole 22-player-squad as games are coming thick and fast.
We can also hope the injured players heal as quickly as possible.