Arsenal travelled to the Banks’s Stadium on Sunday to find their first win of the new year against Aston Villa.
After three postponements, Villa were finally able to host Arsenal for the two sides’ first ever Women’s Super League meeting. Robust defending from Villa kept the game goalless for an hour. In the end however, Arsenal’s patience paid off and they came out 4-0 winners.
The Gunners were in control from the very start. Spraying the ball from side to side, they looked for a way to break through Villa’s defensive set up. Jordan Nobbs and Katie McCabe in particular showed slick build up play.
Lacking the finish
Jill Roord and Beth Mead had a few shots in the first half, but either dragged them wide or into the hands of Lisa Weiss. The score may be unflattering, but Weiss made several good saves throughout the match. The German international struck a far more confident figure than in her early WSL appearances. She also looks to have eliminated the nervy errors that gave away easy goals at the start of the season.
Arsenal struggled to create a real threat with their final ball. Low crosses played to the strengths of the crowded Villa box. Corner after corner, often taken short, came to nothing. Joe Montemurro justified their approach after the game: “We’re not a team that just puts it in there and hopes for the best, we try to create something.”
That creativity was not to click until the second half. Just before the hour mark, Mead sent a well-judged cross into the box to find Vivianne Miedema, who calmly tapped it home.
Strength of character from Villa
Villa kept up their energy after going behind, but they failed to truly connect into an attacking threat. As ever, star forward Mana Iwabuchi was the home side’s brightest spark.
Villa’s best spells of possession came from her magnetic ability to keep the ball under pressure.
She enabled a break forward from Chloe Arthur and exciting young talent Asmita Ale, forcing Danielle van de Donk to track back and do some defending.
Arsenal’s calm possession kept the threat from Iwabuchi to a minimum however, and ten minutes after the first goal they doubled their advantage. When Miedema’s shot was palmed away by Weiss, captain Nobbs was in the perfect place to bury it on the rebound.
Not long after, McCabe put the game thoroughly to bed with an audacious goal. Her thunderous strike sailed over the outstretched hands of Weiss and into the top left corner.
Not content with scoring a rocket, in the 88th minute McCabe proved her assisting credentials too. The Republic of Ireland captain floated the ball into the box, where substitute Lisa Evans leapt up to head in the final goal of the match.
For Aston Villa coach Marcus Bignot, their performance provided plenty to build on. He envisions :this time next year when we’re playing the likes of Arsenal, that sixty minutes being in a game turns into 75, then turns into 90 minutes”.
After disappointing results against top teams, today’s result doesn’t dispel Arsenal’s reputation as flat-track bullies. However, as their first of the year, this win comes as something of a relief for players and fans alike.