Arsenal extend lead at top of WSL despite late Birmingham scare | Women’s Super League

Arsenal opened up an eight-point gap over their nearest title rivals, Chelsea, with a deserved 4-2 win over Birmingham.

Though Arsenal conceded two late goals, they remained potent in their attack throughout thanks to the defence-dismantling duo of Vivianne Miedema and Stina Blackstenius. All eyes will now be trained on Emma Hayes’s Chelsea, who must win their three games in hand to match the pace of the current league leaders and their new-look attack.

Blackstenius, signed in the January transfer window, led the line in a fashionable 3-4-3, while Miedema operated from a deeper position, haunting the midfield half-spaces. Every time Birmingham sought to leave the confines of their defensive third, it was the marauding Arsenal full-backs that fed the pair, forcing the visitors to punt long to an isolated Libby Smith.

It was only a matter of time before that particular ploy would lead to a goal, and it all unfolded in the 13th minute with a swashbuckling run from Steph Catley down the Arsenal right.

The full-back may have been frustrated when her shot was deflected on to the crossbar and not past Marie Hourihan’s reach, but the disappointment would be short-lived when the resulting corner, delivered expertly by Laura Wienroither, was headed in by Rafaelle Souza. Arsenal doubled down with their high-pressing system, forcing possession to be turned over again. This time it was Blackstenius leading the charge, with the ball ricocheting around in the penalty area. In strode Miedema, calm and composed amid the defensive scramble, to slot the loose ball away with ease to score Arsenal’s second in the 33rd minute, becoming the first player in the WSL to be involved in 100 goals (70 goals scored, 30 assists).

The Arsenal manager, Jonas Eidevall, said about Miedema’s current form: “Viv enjoys feeling involved and connected and in this new pressing role she is doing that. It’s the same in offence, I think she is happy and she’s enjoying herself.”

Arsenal continued to enjoy themselves collectively in the second half while Birmingham became increasingly more reliant upon their hardworking defence. The hold-out lasted until 20 minutes from time before Beth Mead delivered what looked the killer blow – a third goal thanks to her own darting run towards Hourihan’s goal, facilitated by Catley’s inch-perfect pass through the cracks of the Birmingham central defence.

Consolation for Birmingham’s overworked back four came finally in the form of a goal scored by Smith. Lucy Quinn then followed up in the 83rd minute to ignite some concern among the home crowd.

The Fiver: sign up and get our daily football email.

Birmingham’s manager, Darren Carter, said: “The response to going two down was fantastic, to fight back to 3-2 and potentially score an equaliser, I’m proud of my players.”

Caitlin Foord, however, provided relief for the hosts to make it 4-2 in the dying moments of the game, ensuring the three points stayed with them. The onus is now on the reigning champions, Chelsea, to respond at West Ham on Thursday.

In Sunday’s other game, Champions-League-chasing Tottenham were held to a 0-0 draw at Reading.

Source link