North London Derby Demolition as Miedema Makes History
For the second time already since the return of women’s football in England, a North London derby has arrived and reminded everyone – as if anyone needed a refresher – that the capital city is emphatically red. Tottenham Hotspur arrived at Meadow Park looking to improve upon their 4-0 defeat in the FA Cup fixture at the hands of Arsenal a couple of weeks ago, but instead found the Gunners in irresistible form, led as always by the insatiable Vivianne Miedema.
The Dutch with the Midas touch came into this game, her 50th in the Women’s Super League, having scored 49 goals in her previous 49 games and the joint all-time top scorer in the history of the league. Before half-time, she had proved once again that she is in a league of her own, as a sublime first-half hat trick cemented her place at the summit of the WSL’s greatest goalscorers and led her team to a resounding 6-1 victory on the day.
The two teams came into this fixture with very polarized starts to their league campaign thus far. Tottenham had picked up just one point from their opening four fixtures, with goalscoring proving to be a real problem for them so far. Conversely, Arsenal were yet to drop a point in the league and had the best goal difference of any club in the division. The Gunners, however, were suffering from an extensive list of injuries, with right-backs Leonie Maier and Noelle Maritz recently joining the ranks of sidelined players; as a result, we were able to name only four substitutes on our bench. For Spurs, the main absentee of note remained Alex Morgan, who is still yet to feature on the pitch since her arrival.
Despite the litany of injuries, the Gunners were thankfully still able to field a strong first eleven. Joe Montemurro continued to show his faith in Manuela Zinsberger as the first-choice keeper, with Williamson and Beattie playing ahead of her. Katie McCabe began, as she so often did last season, at left-back, while the absence of Maier, Maritz, Catley and Evans meant that Schnaderbeck had to play as a makeshift right-back.
Walti, wearing the armband for the day with Little and Nobbs both missing out, continued as our ever-present midfield general, with Van de Donk and Gut slightly ahead of her, and as always, Vivianne Miedema led the attack flanked by Beth Mead and Caitlin Foord in a 4-3-3. Tottenham also started in a 4-3-3, but switched later in the game to more of a 4-4-2 to try and ensure they had greater numbers back to deal with Arsenal’s potent attacking threat.
If there was one area which could be described as a somewhat surprising cause for concern for Arsenal so far this season, it was that we seemed to be starting matches slower than fans are accustomed to seeing, often giving our opponents the unnecessary chance to settle into the game. We made no such mistake today, dominating the opening minutes with ease and pinning our city rivals into their own defensive third of the pitch.
Setting the tone early
(Figure 1 – left). Schnaderbeck, particular, proved to be instrumental to this early domination, often venturing forward and overlapping Mead to make sure there was always an attacking outlet available on that wing (Figure 1 – right). It seemed clear that the manager had rewatched the FA Cup fixture and noted that we had been a bit too pedestrian in our build-ups that day, thus possibly instructing his players to attack with greater intensity right from the get-go on this occasion.
Last time out, it took the best part of 70 minutes before we managed to break through Tottenham’s stubborn resistance. This time, we faced no such issue. Schnaderbeck won us a free-kick just outside the box on the right, and McCabe stepped up to curl an absolute stunner off the post and give us a lead after less than four minutes played (Figure 2). It was the perfect start for the Gunners, and exactly what our excellent start had merited.
Barely three minutes later, it was two, and a momentous goal as well. Miedema dropped back into midfield to pick up the ball as she so often does, and exchanged a quick one-two with Danielle van de Donk to find herself with enough time and space to bear down on goal and fire across the goalkeeper (Figure 3) as she surpassed Nikita Parris to become the outright greatest goalscorer in WSL history (and in 60 fewer games). Miedema continues to dominate and, given that she has achieved this and so much more at a mere age of 24, the prospect of how much more devastating she can become is a truly exciting prospect for Arsenal fans. With Viv’s contract running until the end of next season, it is crucial that the club does everything in its power to ensure a new contract is given to the mercurial striker as soon as possible.
Caitlin Foord, who has been an incredible team player so far this season, then got in on the act herself just before the quarter-hour mark. Miedema dropped back towards midfield once more, dragging two defenders with her and leaving acres of space in the heart of Tottenham’s back line. Leah Williamson, who always looks out for such opportunities, played another one of her trademark long balls over the top, which Foord latched onto and made no mistake as she calmly rolled the ball past the helpless Rebecca Spencer and into the bottom corner (Figure 4). No less than the Australian deserved after the excellent start to the season she has been enjoying, and long may this form continue.
Foot off the gas
With a safe lead, and perhaps remembering that fact that the squad was currently stretched fairly thin, we began to ease our foot a little bit on the gas. Over the next twenty minutes or so of the match, we continued to move the ball around well and maintain large spells of possession without the players tiring themselves out too much. Tottenham showed brief flashes of growing into the game and had a couple of speculative efforts at goal, but they were handled without much trouble by Zinsberger and the back four. With about ten minutes to go before half-time, however, we upped our game once more, just to remind Spurs who was in charge, and Miedema picked up her second of the match after a set-piece routine that came straight from the training ground (Figure 5). A slightly fortuitous deflection off a Tottenham defender allowed Viv’s shot to squeeze past the goalkeeper at her near post from a tight angle, but it takes nothing away from the intelligence of our striker’s run or McCabe’s awareness to play a quick pass from the free-kick instead of floating a ball into the box.
And Miedema wasn’t finished yet. Some intricate passing and movement between her and McCabe ended with the Dutchwoman finding herself with the ball in the heart of midfield. Spotting Foord ahead in the centre-forward role, Miedema flicked the ball nonchalantly to the Australian and then continued a run into the box, which Tottenham’s defenders criminally failed to track. Foord was clean through with just the keeper to beat, but instead unselfishly laid the ball on a plate for Miedema to tap the ball into a completely empty net (Figure 6) and become the only WSL player to complete a first-half hat trick on two occasions (since Miedema herself in the famous 11-1 thrashing of Bristol City last season). One could see how much it meant to Viv and the entire squad to mark her achievement in such a memorable way, and it was all smiles in the Gunners’ camp as we went into half-time with a comfortable 5-0 lead
To be very fair to them, Tottenham began the second half far better than they began the first, winning a penalty (albeit a very soft call) within the first five minutes. Zinsberger stepped up, however, and pulled off an excellent save to deny Dean from the spot and preserve our clean sheet. Arsenal also fashioned a couple of chances soon afterwards, but were denied by some equally excellent reflex saves from Spencer. We were not to be denied, however, and just after the hour mark Caitlin Foord managed to net her second and Arsenal’s sixth after some excellent build-up in attack involving Van de Donk, Miedema and Mead (Figure 7). Although Leon scored a consolation goal 13 minutes from time after some poor marking at a set-piece (their first-ever goal against us, by the way), it could not take away from an otherwise professional and dominant performance from the Gunners, who comfortably saw out the remainder of the match and extended our perfect start to the campaign with 5 wins out of 5, the only side in the division yet to drop any points as we go into the international break.
There were some key changes to our approach in this game – some forced due to injuries – which resulted in some of the most decisive moments in our favour. The first, as mentioned before, was the use of Viki Schnaderbeck at right-back instead of her usual preferred positions of either CB or a holding midfielder. With McCabe and Schnaderbeck as Arsenal’s full-backs, one would normally expect McCabe to regularly venture forward (which she still did in this game at times) and ensure three natural defenders remained back. However, giving Schnaderbeck enough licence to roam forward and provide that extra body in the midfield and final third was a stroke of genius and, given the Austrian’s experience and tactical nous of the game, it ensured that we dominated the midfield battle in a controlled manner, whether it meant simply having another outlet to pass to or someone intelligent enough to hold onto the ball high up the pitch and draw tactical fouls, as she so expertly did for the free-kick that McCabe scored early on.
The second reason behind Arsenal’s dominance was a strategy which we have adopted in almost every game this season: the ability to interchange between two or three formations in the blink of an eye (Figure 8). Despite starting in their original 4-3-3, Arsenal seemed to have no difficulty switching into a 4-5-1 to win the midfield battle and turn over possession in our favour. More interestingly, however, was the fact that we also subtly changed to a 3-4-3 at times; this was done by sending McCabe and Schnaderbeck up into midfield alongside Gut and Van de Donk, with Lia Walti dropping into the centre of defence between Beattie and Williamson. This move ensured that our back line was still completely solid and able to bail us out in the unlikely event of a rapid Tottenham counterattack, while still giving us more than enough bodies in midfield to keep our opponents under constant pressure.
Player of the Match (overall):
Vivianne Miedema. Very close to running out of superlatives to describe this talented young Dutch striker. Another hat trick, record-breaker, history-maker. 52 goals in 50 games now, on track to take the Golden Boot for the third season running. Simply sensational.
Arsenal Player of the Match (personal opinion):
Vivianne Miedema. There were strong cases for both Schnaderbeck and Foord to take this accolade from this match, given their regular selflessness and willingness to give up personal glory to ensure the team’s success, but Viv just edges it for me here. Aside from the hat-trick, she also played a key role in both of Caitlin Foord’s goals and could be regularly seen to drop back not only to midfield, but sometimes to our own defensive third just to win the ball back and start another Arsenal attack. A 10/10 performance from our #11.
Unable to choose between three moments. McCabe’s sensational free-kick set the bar high for quality, but I just as much enjoyed Foord so selflessly setting up Miedema for our fifth goal when the Australian could so easily have put the chance away herself. That sense of team camaraderie is something I truly love to see from footballers at any level. The final moment, of course, was the occasion itself of Vivianne Miedema becoming the league’s record goalscorer, and it was made all the better by the fact that she did so by finishing off a typical, free-flowing Arsenal move
Barclays FA Women’s Super League:
Arsenal vs Tottenham Hotspur KO: 14:30 GMT Meadow Park
Arsenal: Zinsberger, Schnaderbeck, Williamson, Beattie, McCabe, Walti (c), Gut, Van de Donk, Mead, Miedema, Foord
Substitutes: Williams, Wubben-Moy, Mace, Denton
Tottenham Hotspur: Spencer (c), Zadorsky, Harrop, Filbey, Davison, Dean, Percival, Addison, Kennedy, Quinn, Neville
Substitutes: Whitehouse, Leon, Green, Williams, Worm, Ayane, Sulola