As Arsenal’s season progresses, the team’s focus sharpens on the WSL Continental Cup, with aspirations for other trophies diminishing. Amidst external challenges and internal decisions, we delve into the intricacies that have shaped their journey and what lies ahead for the Gunners.

BOREHAMWOOD, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 11: Jonas Eidevall, Manager of Arsenal, gives the team instructions during the Adobe Women's FA Cup Fifth Round match between Arsenal and Manchester City at Meadow Park on February 11, 2024 in Borehamwood, England. (Photo by Richard Pelham/Getty Images)
BOREHAMWOOD, ENGLAND – FEBRUARY 11: Jonas Eidevall, Manager of Arsenal, gives the team instructions during the Adobe Women’s FA Cup Fifth Round match between Arsenal and Manchester City at Meadow Park on February 11, 2024 in Borehamwood, England. (Photo by Richard Pelham/Getty Images)

The Gunners started the season with four trophies targeted and we are now down to two with one of them very unlikely to happen. It means the WSL Continental Cup, where Arsenal are the holders, is really the only remaining trophy available.

The defeat on Sunday saw a lot of over-reacting, especially against the manager. To be clear, I really don’t think he should go unless the players do not want to work with him anymore. I am 99.99% sure that is not the case. The senior players would have surely spoken to the club if there was general unhappiness from the squad. So what happened and why did the team lose?

Looking at the external factors first: Manchester City are a great side, they have quality players who are good on the ball, they develop some good football and will hurt you if you do not defend properly. That is why that game was a cagey affair as both teams did not want to concede first, and rightly so as seen in the final score. Khiara Keating had a very good game in goal for City making key saves. Sabrina D’Angelo also had a good game for the Arsenal in goal.

The other external factor is the refereeing team. Did they have a bad game, no. Did they have a good game, not sure. I hear there were some controversial offside decisions against the Arsenal forwards. Hopefully, the Assistant Referee was right. I also saw an incident being touted as a red card/penalty for a potential Wubben-Moy elbow vs Shaw. The refereeing team did not see it and it is not easy to see stuff like that in live action. That’s why you have VAR. I am certain if the play needs to be reviewed, the FA will act as they did with Rachel Daly recently.

The other main incident is the goal/no goal situation in one of the plays of the game. The reality is simple, the refereeing team cannot give the goal if they don’t see it. They did not see it, they do not give the goal. Who could have seen it? The video and pictures from the game are inconclusive. Only GLT or VAR would be able to give a definitive answer, unfortunately for the Arsenal. Both options are expensive and no doubt Borehamwood FC are not going to make it happen. Regarding VAR, besides the costs, there is also a need to train referees in VAR and in the women’s football world in England, you can probably count on two hands the number of female VAR-trained referees.

Now for the internal factors. The starting XI tactics and substitutions are the manager’s prerogative. The players’ performance on the pitch is theirs. The starting XI was not controversial, but with some interesting choices. McCabe instead of Catley who did not have a great game at West Ham is logical. Cooney-Cross instead of Wälti was surprising but might have been tactical. To me, the right midfielder who would have been very useful against West Ham and City was Kühl with her ability to break lines and her forward passing, but she was loaned to Everton where she gets plenty of game time, which will be useful next season when she comes back. Having Russo Maanum up top was a surprise but with Miedema injured and Little seemingly not 100% fit, as she has not started a game since coming back from injury, the only other option was Blackstenius. I think a Blackstenius Russo pairing would have been good against City, but it did not happen.

The substitutions: Codina for Williamson makes sense as it is an ACL return for the England captain. Codina also made excellent through passes while she was on the pitch and offered a lot in her cameo. Catley for McCabe makes also sense as they both are going to be over-used with Fox gone to the Gold Cup. Wälti for Cooney-Cross could maybe have come earlier, same for Little for Maanum. Blackstenius for Russo, well they could be paired together instead of subbing out.

One question is what is happening to Lacasse, why is she no longer trusted to be a good sub for Mead and Foord. Especially as Foord is overworked and could get replaced more often. She will obviously go the Gold Cup after the United game. I am not sure what is happening there.

The goal conceded is on the players and the set-pieces coach, it is a bad way to lose a game from a set-piece especially such a tight game with small margins. Once the players enter the pitch, there are limited things Jonas Eidevall is able to do to change the course of the game. The players have to take ownership and perform. My worry right now besides the lack of form is injuries accumulating again.

Ilestedt and Miedema missed the City game. Hurtig has been out for a while, with D’Angelo, Fox, and Lacasse going for the Gold Cup, there is a depth problem coming our way. Obviously not as bad as a few years ago when we had a goalie and five Academy players on the bench for the Champions League semi-final with only three kids on the bench in extra time. We have two games coming up next week and they are both must-win games. First London City Lionesses in the Continental Cup quarter-finals and then Manchester United at home.

The United game is crucial and Arsenal definitely needs to have the best possible XI on Saturday, even if it means putting kids on against LCL, who are a championship team after all.