Match Report: Arsenal 5-0 Manchester City

Arsenal ascertained they are not to be messed with after a 5-0 victory over fellow title contenders Manchester City.

Vivianne Miedema opened the account for Arsenal within ten minutes after a Manchester City mishap presented the gunners with an open goal. Beth Mead pounced on Alanna Kennedy’s soft back pass to Karima Taieb and after collecting the loose ball, teed up Miedema who made no mistake calmly putting one past City’s scrambled defence.

Arsenal’s second goal came after a break in play for treatment to Lauren Hemp after she took a ball to the face. Lia Wälti slotted the drop ball forward, Miedema collected and immediately flicked it on to Kim Little. The captain turned, dribbled and fired in quick succession sinking the shot past Taieb, who did manage to get a hand to it.

Towards the end of the first half City organised themselves a threatening moment or two. The example of Hemp, who was able to cut in and dance her way through several Arsenal players before being caught out by Maunela Zinsberger at the touchline, served as a cool reminder of City’s attacking firepower.

The second half resumed similarly to the first, City retained high levels of possession, yet Arsenal’s work off the ball meant the Manchester blues were kept at bay. City substitute Filipa Angeldahl was able to test the waters with a powerful right-footed shot just before the hour mark. The Swede released the ball after finding space just outside the area, yet her effort was collected fairly comfortably by Zinsberger.

Moments later Katie McCabe notched her name on the scoresheet. The Republic of Ireland captain picked up a lofty ball from the back, carried it through the middle and outfoxed centre back Alanna Kennedy and stand-in right back Georgia Stanway before releasing her shot.

Photos: @ArsenalWFC

One of City’s greatest chances of the evening came with just over fifteen minutes to go when Ellen White’s lobbed effort tipped over the bar. Midfielder Vicky Losada retrieved the ball outside of the 18-yard box and dinked it over the head of Jen Beattie. This was picked up by White who successfully chipped the keeper but was denied by the crossbar.

With just over ten minutes to go, Arsenal then won a penalty after Alex Greenwood challenged a goal bound Little. The captain stepped up, and as expected, took Arsenal’s tally to four. The gunners signed off their impressive evening with a fifth and final goal from Leah Williamson. Substitute Lotte Wubben-Moy whipped in a cross, after collecting the second ball from a corner, which Williamson met and headed with great precision.

Whilst Arsenal were perhaps favoured to win this fixture, it was wholly unexpected for them to do so by such a large margin. So, what went wrong for Manchester City, and what went well for Arsenal?

Within the opening seconds of the match one of Arsenal’s key plays was performed; long balls. Typically, Manchester City play with a high backline. This is to force opponents to play within their own half, thus allowing City to press up field as a possession-based unit. Whilst this usually serves City well, the pairing of a makeshift defence with the long passing ability of Arsenal’s centre halves made for a messy day at the office. Consistently long and switched balls crossed the length of the pitch and were collected by Arsenal’s forward players, who by dropping in behind, immediately stretched City’s already trailing defenders. Very quickly Arsenal established that this play would serve them well and it was an instrumental factor in the large score line.

Defensively, Manchester City were sloppy, yet contributing factors must be considered fairly. City were without Lucy Bronze, Steph Houghton and Esme Morgan, who are all out due to injury. Georgia Stanway filled in at right-back and Alanna Kennedy filled the right sided centre back role. Although both Stanway and Kennedy have filled these roles before, neither are naturally positioned here. This was particularly noticeable with Stanway, who’s attacking nature meant she drifted high up the pitch.

This would usually not be too much of a problem for City, as Lucy Bronze, their typical right back, plays much of her game through and beyond the middle third. During these times, Steph Houghton would come further across to patrol the open area and defensive midfielder, Keira Walsh, would drop deeper to cover Houghton. Yet, this is where City really found themselves in a sticky situation, not only were they missing Houghton, they were also desperately missing Walsh.

Midfielder, Laura Coombs was tasked with filling Walsh’s role in anchoring the midfield, yet she was unable to cope with Arsenal’s quick and direct transitions. Coombs, who had a notable season last year, is arguably used best as a box-to-box midfielder. Her ability to track and forth within the middle third to reinforce a defensive phase or to bolster an attack is incredibly valuable when she is able to do just that.

To play Coombs as a defensive midfielder ahead of an improvised backline was always a risk. It is role Coombs is unaccustomed to and one that requires a degree of perception and force to stave off central passages of play, which Coombs, unfortunately, did not quite manage to pull off. This tame marking meant that Kim Little was essentially able to play as a fourth forward.

With over half of City’s defensive structure being made up of players that are somewhat unfamiliar to the requirements of their given roles, it throws up pertinent questions. Should players always be held to their expected standards even when playing out of position? Are there cases in which they simply cannot be? Yet further to this, and in this particular case, why was City’s typical approach not adapted to discipline and deepen the defensive line? Arsenal are noted for their intensity in their attack, so to stick to a high back four, a back four that was rendered vulnerable within seconds, is curious. There is no shame in throwing the kitchen sink into defend when needs must.

At times City were noticeably disjointed. Passes were misjudged, runs were mistimed and players did not appear to be on the same wavelength. This made things much easier for Arsenal and worked into the hands of their gameplan. Although, for the most part, Arsenal were very relaxed in allowing City a fair whack of possession, they were able to force turnovers that allowed them to transition and counter quickly. Jonas Eidevall’s approach to this game was simple and direct. Lift the ball over the top, pick up second balls, force turnovers and press with pace and intent.

It was not entirely doom and gloom for City however. The midfield duo or Caroline Weir and Vicky Losada played clever one-two’s and churned through balls out wide in attempts to surge play towards Arsenal’s area. Lauren Hemp, as usual, was exceptionally dangerous down the wing putting fullback Nöelle Martiz to work. Martiz, it must be said, dealt with Hemp well.

It will remain to be seen as to whether Gareth Taylor will be able to wrench his side out of this hole with such limited options. Perhaps a deeper, more defensively minded approach may favour City for a period.

And for Jonas Eidevall? Well, more of the same.

Arsenal: Zinsberger (GK), Maritz, Williamson, Beattie (84’), Catley, Wälti (84’), Maanum, Little (c), Mead (84’), McCabe (63’), Miedema (77’)
Substitutes: Williams (GK), Wubben-Moy (84’), Patten, Schnaderbeck, Nobbs, Heath (84’), Parris (63’), Iwabuchi (84’), Foord (77’)

Goals: Vivianne Miedema (10’), Kim Little (22’ 78’ (p)), Katie McCabe (60’), Leah Williamson (90+3’)

Manchester City: Taieb (GK), Stanway, Kennedy, Greenwood, Stokes, Coombs (54’), Losada (76’), Weir, Beckie (68’), Hemp (68’), White (c)
Substitutes: Keating (GK), Park (68’), Angeldahl (54’), Shaw (68’), Scott (76’), Mace