Arsenal were soundly beaten 2-0 at bottom of the table Birmingham on Sunday. It was a poor performance, in line with others recently and with four defeats in five games for the Gunners, alarm bells should be ringing very loudly.
Thankfully, the league table still looks very healthy.
Arsenal are still top of the League, four points clear of Chelsea although Arsenal have played an extra game.
So, we will still be top once Chelsea have caught up on their postponed game, should they win it.
Chelsea are also struggling right now.
What did the FA Cup final do to those two? 🐈⬛🐈⬛ pic.twitter.com/ke7ccaWcaF
— Sophie Lawson (@lawson_sv) January 9, 2022
I would not be surprised if some players for both teams are short fitness due to Covid-19 and game accumulation.
This is the first season with the new Champions League group stage. These are six extra midweek games that were added onto the first half of the season.
Previously, teams would play three or four Conti Cup games in the same period, but those games would not be played with the same intensity, travel abroad nor the stress of Covid protocols.
Considering that Arsenal also started pre-season really early with the Champions League qualifying Round 1 in August, it looks like tiredness is catching up with some of the players.
It was very visible that some players struggled, fitness-wise, early in the game against Birmingham.
You do wonder if the players should have come back in better shape and rested after the Christmas break.
Covid-19 is possibly to blame for fitness problems, too.
There is no doubt that those who got positive results are not 100% fit, as it is a disease that causes lasting damage.
Football is a game where fitness is a key component and if you cannot run fast enough, for a long enough time, you are clearly at a disadvantage.
One of the other recurring problems is positioning on the pitch.
It was obvious again that there is a midfield balance problem.
Jonas Eidevall has used multiple combinations of his midfield three, but the balance has not been right for a while.
Defensive transitions are exposing the centre-backs time and time again, as seen with the first Birmingham goal.
"What a moment this is for her!" 🤩
Birmingham City take a shock early lead over league leaders Arsenal in the #WSL through Libby Smith 🔥
📺 Watch live on Sky Sports Premier League pic.twitter.com/iuMinFTY9X
— Sky Sports WSL (@SkySportsWSL) January 9, 2022
That was a really poor goal to concede. Losing a ball in midfield can happen but one single pass taking out all the midfield and defence is not OK.
Lia Walti used to shield the defence really well under Joe Montemurro and she was missed on Sunday.
At the same time, she did play in previous games that ended up in defeats and the same midfield problemsalso happened there.
So one player on her own will not solve the problems, it is really a team shape issue.
The team is not as compact as it should be in attacking and defending phases. This should be solved easily by some work in the training ground.
Coordinating defensive and offensive actions is a basic thing and you would expect it to get sorted out quickly.
But that is not happening right now.
Another problem is individual errors.
There are many decision-making problems, in either positioning on the pitch or technical choices for passing controlling, shooting and clearing balls.
It is up to the individual to work on the technical side of things for technical problems or with the staff on the tactical side of things.
Decision-making can be improved with training too, but there is work that needs to be done by the players on their own to reflect and correct their errors.
The lack of depth in the squad was exposed on Sunday. There was one keeper and three centre-backs on the bench.
The manager had no attacking options to change the game.
The first thing that comes to mind is that some Academy forwards could have been involved.
We know there is a huge gap between Academy football and first team football and you would not expect the Academy players to compete against Barcelona, Chelsea or PSG, for example.
But having them on the bench against the side bottom of the league could have been helpful, pending Covid-19 protocols of course.
Also, the lack of depth is relative. There were five players not available due to injury: Gut, Williamson, Walti, Parris, Heath.
Alongside those missing were the three Australian players who were on international duty for the Asian Cup.
Iwabuchi will also go to the Asian Cup, which means the squad is getting thinner.
But once, the injured players are back, as well as the internationals, the squad size will be more than enough.
But, right now, a short term solution must be found and the Arsenal manager hinted at new signings coming up soon.
The fixtures list is super-congested until the February international break and more bodies are needed, especially as the club let Anna Patten go on loan.
Coming next are:
- Sun 16 Jan Reading H FA WSL
- Wed 19 Jan Man United H Conti Cup
- Sun 23 Jan Man City A FA WSL
- Thu 27 Jan Brighton H FA WSL
- Sun 30 Jan London City Lionesses H FA CUP
- Wed 02/ Thu 03 Feb Potential Conti Cup SF
- Sun 6 Feb Man United H FA WSL
- Feb 11-13 Chelsea A FA WSL
This might be a make or break period in many competitions, and a number of players, alongside squad rotation in the cups will be needed if the club wants to win trophies.
The next game is against an in-form team Reading and will be a tough ask.
Arsenal really need to improve as a team and the players need to start performing again if they want to bring a trophy home come June.