Vivianna Miedema’s versatility and poor refereeing continue to haunt the WSL
VShelsea had a great chance to take the lead in the third minute, but England’s Fran Kirby, well behind in the penalty area, exploded over the bar from a Pernille Harder backhand.
That moment aside, Arsenal started the better of both sides, playing their best football for several months in an intriguing and tense first half, and were unlucky not to take a 20th-minute lead when the Dutch striker Vivianne Miedema hit a half-volley off the post, knocking down Brazilian central defender Rafaelle Souza.
As good as Arsenal were in the first 45 minutes, Chelsea improved their game in the second, with Sam Kerr, Harder and Kirby taking the ball much more frequently and with Guro Reiten shooting straight into Manuela Zinsberger from close range with their best opportunity .
Both teams had scored in all but one of their previous 11 encounters, but the league’s two tightest defenses finally showed their worth, as both goalkeepers moved to seven clean sheets in the WSL for the season, more than any other goalie this season.
Arsenal have not won at Kingsmeadow since 2018, losing both of their league visits since. It was a much better performance, despite the absence of suspended Republic of Ireland left-back Katie McCabe. With their game underway, Chelsea – who have been left without injured captain Sweden centre-back Magdalena Eriksson due to a foot injury – might be the happiest of the two teams, but the real winners were the neutrals, who now a race that will go over.
Chelsea vs Arsenal: Four things we learned
By Molly McElwee
This title race still has legs
If ever-reliable Chelsea had won on Friday, it would have taken them one point up the table with one game less. Instead, the title race remains not only alive but thriving thanks to the 0-0 draw.
It was the best result for the neutral: Arsenal remain two points ahead, but the title race is still in Chelsea’s hands because if they win all of their last seven matches, they are certain to retain the championship.
It also keeps third-placed Manchester United in the mix as they could go within three points of Arsenal at the top if they win their derby on Sunday, making it a remarkably tight top three – especially as United was ruled out by the bookmakers this week, who had them at 100/1 to win the league.
The WSL is fully prepared as we head into the international break next week. Chelsea will not play another WSL match for an entire month, due to League Cup commitments, and will have two games in hand when they return. Hayes said she was relishing the possibility of some time out but the pressure will be firmly on Chelsea to deliver if Arsenal beat Reading on March 2 to extend their lead to five points.
Refereeing decisions continue to haunt the WSL
Referee Rebecca Welch was booed as she left the pitch by Chelsea fans. It wasn’t a pretty or common sight in the WSL, but the fans had every right to feel aggrieved. Arsenal captain Williamson’s arm caught a cross from Charles in stoppage time and if her body hadn’t slightly blocked Welch’s vision on the offense she would certainly have conceded a penalty.
“The talking point will be a penalty that wasn’t given,” Hayes sighed after the game, and it was a similar story last month when Arsenal visited the Academy Stadium and Manchester City. Then, Eidevall regretted the decision to allow play to continue, despite the ball deflecting off the referee’s leg and leading to a City equalizer that cost his Arsenal side two precious points.
Mistakes like these, in games as close as these, show how one decision can turn an entire season upside down. Eidevall argued last month that umpires needed to be full-time professionals to catch up to the standards of a full-time professional league, and Friday’s oversight brought up that question again.
The defense won
At the start of this game, the biggest worries for both teams were the defensive holes. Chelsea were missing captain Eriksson through injury, while Williamson had been a doubt for Arsenal and fellow centre-half Lotte Wubben-Moy was ruled out.
In the end, it was the defensive work of both teams that shined. Williamson, who is so vital to Arsenal’s cohesion, was back in the starting XI, while Chelsea’s remarkable last-minute defense prevented Arsenal from winning in the dying minutes of the match – with Millie Bright and the partnership center half of young Aniek Nouwen. a remarkable part of Chelsea’s performance.
“I think it’s great publicity, in terms of watching two teams in form,” Hayes said after the game. “While I don’t think we’ve been smooth by our standards going forward, I thought we were solid defensively.”
Chelsea’s usual stars up front, Kirby, Harder and Kerr, weren’t at their best – Kirby in particular didn’t look well and wasn’t in top form in his last few appearances – but they were held off by Arsenal, whose defensive line adapted to the challenges. all along.
Souza was sent off with injury and Lia Walti was reliable returning from midfield to replace centre-half for the duration of the match, while Steph Catley had a brilliant game instead of suspended McCabe at left-back .
This depth is unheard of for Arsenal, who have been massively lacking in this department in previous campaigns. After a dismal winter, the Eidevall side looked as organized and as hungry as ever, proving once again this season that they can show off against the rest of the top four – something they had already struggled with. to do.
Miedema as No. 10
For so long, Miedema has been Arsenal’s target woman. The WSL’s all-time leading goalscorer and most fearsome number 9 has saved Arsenal from tough times time and time again.
But it has also made Arsenal, at times, a one-trick pony in previous seasons and put unrealistic pressure on Miedema to deliver. This season, under Eidevall, she has fallen back on occasion and on Friday she played as a No.10 for most of the game, with the added bonus of Arsenal star of January Stina Blackstenius who entered in front.
Miedema last week went viral after powering a world-class through ball to assist Blackstenius’ first goal for Arsenal, and when the Sweden international made his first start on Friday, the benefits of this new partnership were put into sharper focus. evidence.
“We wanted to create space behind their midfield, so it was good to play a striker like Stina who would constantly ask the question behind, and to combine that with a player like Viv who is just a tough priority for them to play. ‘to have [in midfield]”, Eidevall said afterwards. “Also you look at a player like Miedema today and her defensive contribution to the team as well, it was at a very high level. I think it worked well.”
Despite being the WSL’s second top scorer this season, Miedema playing deeper has been received with mixed reactions as Eidevall essentially plays her best player out of position. But in the first half against Chelsea, the tactics looked great. In Melanie Leupolz’s absence through injury, Chelsea were without their strongest defensive midfielder, and Miedema exploited the resulting shortcomings.
She showed vision as she delivered precise passes to Caitlin Foord down the left under pressure, distracted the Chelsea midfielder – who looked unprepared for her presence – and Blackstenius in turn stretched the backline from Chelsea. Although they didn’t come online for a goal and the second half showed there were still a few loose ends to work out, there is real potential in this new formation option.