Football Features

Arsenal perfect, Man City lost: Stories of the WSL season so far

By Harry Edwards

Published: 20:00, 14 October 2021

The FA Women’s Super League is taking a break until November due to international football so, after five gameweeks, what better time to have an early review?

Chelsea went into the 2021/22 campaign as defending champions, pipping Manchester City by just two points, Leicester City replaced Bristol City and there were four managers taking charge of new teams. There were also two new stadiums brought in with Birmingham City playing their matches at St Andrew’s while Leicester moved to the King Power, both sharing with their men’s side.

The start to the new season has already been somewhat punctured due to an international break last month, but that hasn’t stopped some sides from making early statements of intent and others bringing up worries that could last the entire campaign.

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But what exactly has the WSL taught us so far?

1. Arsenal are perfect under Eidevall

Arsenal were stagnating under Joe Montemurro last season and looked unlikely to trouble Chelsea and Manchester City unless something changed. That change did come in the summer, with Montemurro stepping down (eventually taking over at Juventus) and Jonas Eidevall replacing him. The appointment came with a lot of excitement but it would be fair to say no one could have predicted Arsenal to start the new campaign as they have.

The Gunners had, on paper, the toughest start to the new season facing Chelsea and Man City within their opening three games but Eidevall’s side navigated the two matches with the utmost professionalism. Against Chelsea, Arsenal weathered an early storm to eventually take control of the game against the defending champions and were fully deserving of their 3-2 win — their first victory over the Blues for almost three years.

Reading were dispatched next before Man City came to Meadow Park for what can only be described as a thrashing. Arsenal took a 2-0 lead into half-time but eventually beat Man City into further submission, finishing with a 5-0 victory that utterly humiliated their opponents and showed that the Gunners mean business.

Aston Villa and Everton have also fallen to Arsenal who remain the only team in the WSL yet to taste defeat, with five wins from five games, scoring 19 and conceding just twice. The only blemish on the campaign so far came in the Champions League, but their 4-1 defeat to Barcelona should not be used to tar Arsenal as the Spanish side are probably the best team in the world, let alone Europe.

What Eidevall has done at Arsenal in such a short period of time is massive, especially when you consider where they were going under Montemurro. He has Beth Mead playing at her best, Katie McCabe shining again and new signing Frida Maanum has taken to the WSL like a duck to water — among their many other performing stars such as Vivianne Miedema, Mana Iwabuchi and Leah Williamson. We’re almost a quarter of a way through the campaign (5/22 matches played) and Arsenal are already looking tough to beat.

2. Man City lost under Taylor

For those who are new to the league, Arsenal are considered one of the ‘Big Three’ alongside Chelsea and Man City. Chelsea are second, three points behind Arsenal, but Man City have had a disastrous start to 2021/22 and currently sit down in ninth.

Despite finishing second last season and winning the 2019/20 FA Cup, the jury was still out on Gareth Taylor, who replaced Nick Cushing in May 2020, and the feeling was that he’d need a big campaign this year to prove himself. But after five games Taylor looks on the edge of a sacking.

Man City did get their WSL campaign off to the perfect start, beating Everton 4-0 but that was immediately forgotten as the Citizens were dumped out of the Champions League in qualifying, losing 2-1 to Real Madrid over two legs. And although Man City have tasted victory in the 2020/21 FA Cup quarter-final (which has carried over to the new campaign), Taylor’s side are now four games without a win in the WSL.

A shock 2-1 defeat at home to Tottenham was followed by the aforementioned thrashing at Arsenal, before West Ham left the Academy Stadium with all three points. Defeat in the weekend’s Manchester Derby would likely have spelt the end for Taylor, but Man City managed a 2-2 draw despite Georgia Stanway’s first-half sending off.

Sure, Man City have had a lot of injury problems but it’s not just the winless run, as some of Taylor’s decisions with regards to his starting XIs have raised a lot of questions. Against Man Utd, for example, Taylor starting with midfielders Jill Scott and Stanway at centre-back and right-back respectively, despite having defenders Ruby Mace and Alanna Kennedy on the bench.

Taylor may be the man most grateful for the international break.

3. Baptism of fire for Leicester

It’s not uncommon for a newly promoted side to struggle in the top flight but fans were excited about Leicester City as they had won the Championship with relative ease all while playing good football.

But after five games the Foxes sit bottom of the WSL without a point, scoring just two goals and conceding 13. Things could have been a lot different for Leicester had they made the most of their dominance in their opening game against Aston Villa in which Natasha Flint gave them the lead. But the Foxes let Villa score two goals in as many minutes and they were unable to turn things back around.

What followed was a tough run of fixtures that saw Leicester face Man Utd, West Ham and Tottenham, the latter still being perfect in the league at that point. Three defeats came, with nine goals conceded and just one scored (in the 3-1 loss to Man Utd).

After a 2-0 defeat to Chelsea on Sunday, Leicester go into the break bottom of the table and now without a goal in three league games, with Man City their next opponents when the WSL resumes. But while they are still awaiting their first point, the defeat to Chelsea can provide encouragement for Leicester.

The Foxes were defensively brilliant against Chelsea and it was only once the Blues had brought Ji So-yun, Guro Reiten, Sam Kerr, Erin Cuthbert and Pernille Harder on from the bench — to join the likes of Fran Kirby, Niamh Charles and Jessie Fleming in what was essentially a 2-0-8 — that they managed to break through in the 83rd minute. Other teams won’t have that quality and on another day Leicester could have left Kingsmeadow with their first point of the season.

It isn’t all doom and gloom, but Leicester will need to start converting good performances to points if they are to avoid an immediate return to the Championship.

4. The dark horses falling at first hurdle

Before the season, Everton were a lot of people’s dark horses for the WSL. They were never going to win the league, but they were being tipped by some to cause an upset and snatch the final Champions League spot after a summer of big signings, if Willie Kirk managed to get things right.

He hasn’t.

Everton may have won two games so far, beating Birmingham 3-1 and Reading 3-0, but this season was going to be about how they fared against the ‘Big Three’. Well, Everton have played Man City, Chelsea and Arsenal already this season and their record stands at three games, three defeats and 11 goals conceded.

The Toffees started the campaign with back-to-back 4-0 defeats to Man City and Chelsea, showing very little threat of scoring against either side, let alone taking points against them. It was a similar case in the 3-0 defeat to Arsenal in their final game before the break, as the Toffees managed just five shots with one on target and conceded two goals due to bad defending — Sandy MacIver should have done better to stop Katie McCabe’s shot, while Lotte Wubben-Moy’s goal came from a set-piece.

5. ‘Kerrby’ lead the early standings but Arsenal dominate

Although Chelsea are behind Arsenal in the league standings, they do have a player at the top of the both the early goals and assists leaderboards. Sam Kerr, who won the 2020/21 WSL Golden Boot, has picked up from where she left off and has netted five times so far this season, sitting one clear of Vivianne Miedema and Kim Little — who are joined by Arsenal teammates Katie McCabe and Beth Mead in the top five (on minutes played).

Meanwhile, Fran Kirby leads the assist standings also with five, one more than Ella Toone. There are then a trio on three assists including Toone’s Man Utd teammate Hannah Blundell, with McCabe and Mead once again showing their heads.

2021/22 WSL top scorers

Position Player Club Goals Minutes Played
1st Sam Kerr Chelsea 5 315
2nd Vivianne Miedema Arsenal 4 364
3rd Kim Little Arsenal 4 449
4th Katie McCabe Arsenal 3 320
5th Beth Mead Arsenal 3 357

 

2021/22 assist leaders

Position Player Club Assists Minutes Played
1st Fran Kirby Chelsea 5 360
2nd Ella Toone Man Utd 4 425
3rd Katie McCabe Arsenal 3 320
4th Beth Mead Arsenal 3 357
5th Hannah Blundell Man Utd 3 450