Jonas Eidevall said Arsenal must “believe that everything is possible” after his team ensured the destination of the WSL trophy will be decided on the final day of the season, with a 3-0 defeat of Tottenham at the Emirates Stadium.
A fourth-minute strike from the influential forward Beth Mead and two second-half goals from Caitlin Foord moved the Gunners back to within a point of the league leaders Chelsea with one game to play.
In the eight competitive fixtures played between the two sides since Tottenham were promoted to the WSL in 2019, Arsenal have won seven times (including a win on penalties in the League Cup) and lost none, with the sole draw between them coming in the reverse fixture in November. In those eight games, Arsenal scored 29 goals and conceded just five times.
The Gunners’ draw with Tottenham in November signalled that the gap is closing between the women’s football heavyweights and their north London rivals. After a blistering start to the season, the two points dropped at the Hive was the first blemish on an immaculate Gunners league campaign.
After that match, the Tottenham manager, Rehanne Skinner, said that Arsenal and England centre-back Leah Williamson had told her that the progress of Spurs was making this “a proper north London derby”.
Keen to capitalise on the budding competitiveness between the two teams, Arsenal arranged for the tie to be played at the Emirates Stadium on Saturday 26 March. The postponement then, due to a Covid outbreak at Tottenham, was frustrating as the fixture was shunted from a prime weekend slot to a Wednesday evening. The turnout was impacted, with half of the open lower tier a fair way under capacity.
Soon though, those that had turned up were treated to a first WSL north London derby goal at the Emirates. A purposeful pass from Williamson was latched on to by Mead who ran into the box, shifted the ball on to her left foot and fired low past Tinja-Riikka Korpela.
In the buildup Eidevall had pointed to the potential for the tie to be a bruising one. “It’s a physical, gritty side that we’re going to play against that will try to take the tempo out of the game and they are very good at doing that,” the Arsenal manager said. “I respect them for doing that, we want to showcase our football and to create and have the ball in play. It will be exciting to see which style will win the game.”
He was not wrong. By half-time Spurs had conceded eight fouls to Arsenal’s one, with midfielder Maéva Clemaron and forward Rachel Williams, scorer of Tottenham’s opener in November, particularly tough in the tackle. By full time it was 12 to four.
“It’s both an ideological battle and it’s of course, a battle between the clubs. It’s two very different styles that battle each other and I’m very happy that today, football won,” said Eidevall afterwards.
Not long after Mead’s opening goal Spurs went agonisingly close to an equaliser as the ball pinballed around the Arsenal box before Mead blocked Kyah Simon’s effort and Vivianne Miedema cleared off the line from the Australian shortly afterwards.
In the second half the story was similar, with Arsenal controlling possession and pushing for a second but struggling to break through the banks of organised white shirts.
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In the 71st minute they finally squeezed through. Miedema’s short corner to Mead was played back to the Dutch forward whose shot was saved by the foot of Korpela only for Foord to poke in at the back post.
Less than 10 minutes later it was three as Miedema clipped the ball wide to Mead, who did the same to Foord waiting to her left. The Australian forward took one touch before curling the ball into the top corner.
Spurs had the chance of a consolation from the penalty spot in added time when Angela Addison went down, softly, in the area under pressure from Lotte Wubben-Moy but Addison’s penalty came back off the upright.
“We make quite a few costly mistakes in front of goal and that’s something that we’ve got to improve on,” said Skinner.
Arsenal’s hope of dethroning reigning champions Chelsea remains alive, just. The Gunners must win at West Ham on Sunday lunchtime and hope Manchester United can deny Chelsea victory at Kingsmeadow to send the trophy north across the river.
“I’m never a Man United fan, put that on record,” laughed Williamson, who said she did not want to know the result in south-west London during Arsenal’s game.