Roord Ruins Hammers’ Housewarming Party
Jill Roord continued her explosive start to the season on Saturday, 12th of September as Arsenal blitzed to a 9-1 victory on their first away outing of the season. The Dutch midfield powerhouse bagged her second hat trick in as many games to ensure that West Ham’s start to life in their new home ground was anything but a happy one, while Mead, Little, Foord, Williamson, and Miedema (of course) also got their names on the scoresheet to continue the Gunners’ perfect start to the season.
When the fixtures for this season were first announced, most of the buzz amongst fans focused on this fixture, as it had been selected among the first handful of matches across the country to test the return of fans. West Ham were permitted to bring in up to 1000 home fans to attend this game and – to their credit – those lucky fans made the most of their moment, singing proudly right up until the final whistle. Of course, they and the players would have been hoping for a better start to life at Dagenham & Redbridge’s home ground, the Chigwell Construction Stadium, but Arsenal had their own ideas for how the game would go.
No Changes to Start
The Gunners named an unchanged eleven from the team that started against Reading last weekend. Zinsberger retained her position as the #1, while Williamson partnered Schnaderbeck just ahead of her, flanked by Steph Catley and Noelle Maritz again. Walti continued as the holding midfielder with both Kim Little and Roord patrolling the midfield in front of her, and Miedema led the line once more, flanked by Jordan Nobbs and Beth Mead in a 4-3-3. Interestingly, West Ham played the same formation and started the game brightly. As PSG had done, and Reading to a lesser extent, the Hammers took the game to Arsenal in the early stages, successfully stifling our creativity and limiting the time and space we had on the ball (Figure 1). Right from the first whistle, they committed several players forward to force Arsenal to play backwards, making it difficult for the team to settle into their usual rhythm.
West Ham also showcased an ability to fluidly alter their formation the way we had done against Reading, shifting to a 4-5-1 at times to ensure greater numbers in midfield and leaving us, once again, with few options to play the ball forward. This strategy worked excellently for them, isolating our front three regularly and causing possession turnovers which allowed our opponents to attack us with speed and in numbers (Figure 2). Leah Williamson’s role was most notably affected by this, as she was unable to venture forward from the get-go the way she had done in our last league fixture – instead, having to stay in the back four alongside Schnaderbeck.
The early pressure led, understandably, to West Ham initially coming closest to the breakthrough. Another high press led to them winning possession back on our left-hand side and working the ball to Canadian international Adriana Leon, whose well-struck low drive had to be parried around the post. The chance seemed to jolt us into life and, as always, we did manage to grow into the game, thanks largely in part to Catley and Maritz smartly using the width of the pitch and moving forward to help us match the Irons for numbers in the middle third.
Although West Ham did hold their ground, this strategy from Arsenal’s full-backs did ease the pressure we had been under up to this point as the claret and blue shirts found it more difficult to simply pressure the Gunners into losing the ball. They ended up having to resort to rough tackles to attempt to stall our progress, with Daly, Fisk, and ex-Gunner Gilly Flaherty all picking up a booking within 10 minutes of Leon’s chance.
It seemed for a moment that our full-backs’ tactic may have to be modified when Catley was forced off in the 19th minute after a clash of heads, but thankfully Katie McCabe, available for selection again after serving her one-game suspension last week, slotted perfectly back into the left-back position and picked up where our new Aussie signing had left off, helping us unlock the West Ham defence – against the run of play, it must be said – just four minutes later. Miedema, as she so often likes to do, dropped into a number ten role to pick up the ball, allowing Mead and Nobbs to go ahead of her (Figure 3). The striker then smartly played McCabe through on the overlap, and the Ireland international picked out Roord running late into the box with a quick cutback. Roord picked up right where she left off against the Royals and made no mistake, confidently smashing the ball home to give her team the lead.
Arsenal’s celebration was short-lived. Within four minutes of our goal, the Hammers had drawn level. The Gunners once again faced enormous pressure as West Ham committed everyone bar their centre-backs forward, and we simply didn’t deal with the danger effectively. The ball bounced dangerously in and around our 18-yard box and was only half-cleared – it fell to Kenza Dali, who took one touch to steady herself and drove a low shot into the bottom corner (Figure 4). It would have been a difficult shot to save under any circumstances but given that nearly half of both Arsenal and West Ham’s players were in the box at the time, Zinsberger’s view was understandably restricted and she didn’t see the ball until far too late.
To deal with West Ham’s high press approach, Arsenal changed tack in a subtle but crucial way. Instead of having Walti marshal the area ahead of the back four on her own with Roord and Little ahead of her, the captain dropped beside the Swiss international (Figure 5). This now allowed her just that extra few moments to assess the situation around her every time she picked up the ball, which is all that Kim Little needs in order to orchestrate the play and turn the tide in Arsenal’s favour. The Gunners fashioned multiple chances immediately, which Miedema and Nobbs uncharacteristically missed, but we were not to be denied.
Little played a similar ball to free Beth Mead down the right in the 34th minute as Miedema had done for McCabe for our opener, and Mead squared for the Dutch super striker who fired the ball unstoppably into the roof of the net (Figure 6).
There was an argument to be made that Mead may have been offside in the build-up to our second goal and, unfortunately, West Ham’s skipper expressed this opinion towards the officials in an unacceptable manner. Flaherty was given her second yellow and her marching orders while the Gunners celebrated retaking the lead, after which the Hammers fell apart. Arsenal, now well and truly in their groove, began their usual intricate passing movements, with a particularly well-worked move ending in Little adding a third goal on her 200th appearance for the club, and Mead got in on the act a couple of minutes later with a powerful drive into the top corner on her weak foot. West Ham had lost their composure after the red card for their captain and Arsenal had taken full advantage going into the interval, once again, three goals to the good. There is no doubt that this scoreline flattered us a little, given how the opening quarter of the match had unfolded, but we won’t be complaining.
Second Half Fireworks
The second half began in electric fashion. The home side had made two changes, bringing on Van Egmond and Redisch for Dali and Svitkova, but they were clearly still smarting from the way the first half had ended, and Leon found herself added to the litany of bookings within two minutes of the restart. Arsenal picked up exactly the way they ended the first half: Roord added a second for herself after McCabe found her with a low cross in the 52nd minute before a defensive error from Leon sent Miedema free two minutes later to add her second and our sixth goal (Figure 7).
Jill Roord, however, had tasted blood and saw the opportunity for more goals, and completed her second hat-trick of the season before the hour mark. A throw-in from the left found Miedema, who managed to shrug off the efforts of two defenders and roll the ball to her international compatriot to rifle a low shot past the helpless Mackenzie Arnold in goal.
Joe Montemurro clearly felt that the game was now safe enough to rest some of his key players, making a triple change as he brought off Little, Mead, and the hat trick heroine; West Ham may have felt relieved at seeing that trio leave the pitch, though their joy wouldn’t have lasted long once they realised that Van de Donk, Foord, and Evans were entering the fray instead. The boss also decided to give Schnaderbeck a rest, with Lia Walti now taking the role of Williamson’s partner in defence while Malin Gut took up the holding midfield position. West Ham made another change of their own, taking off Alisha Lehmann and bringing on Ruby Grant, who had come up through the Arsenal academy up until the end of last season. These were probably not the ideal circumstances, however, in which Grant had envisaged facing her former club.
With the job done, Arsenal could well have eased off and simply seen out the remainder of the match. To their credit, however, they continued to push on but in an intelligent manner: the Gunners ensured that the Hammers were constantly feeling the pressure, but our players also didn’t overexert themselves and risk needless injury or fatigue. A failed clearance from a corner twenty minutes from time allowed Leah Williamson to capitalise, while a fast counterattack from the back freed Lisa Evans to race halfway down the field and lay it on a plate for Caitlin Foord to net her first WSL goal four minutes before the final whistle. An emphatic 9-1 scoreline, fifteen goals scored in two games and only two conceded means that we are firmly in the driver’s seat at the moment, building up our goal difference yet again. And well done to the team for giving Joe Montemurro an early birthday present.
The most important tactical shift from this game was definitely Kim Little’s decision to drop back alongside Lia Walti when the score was tied at one goal apiece. Even after Gilly Flaherty’s sending off, our captain continued to operate in the double pivot role for the remainder of the game, which guaranteed her ability to dictate the game and never allow West Ham a moment’s peace.
It must be admitted, however, that the game could have gone very differently without the red card – West Ham controlled large parts of the opening quarter, and their astute game plan successfully nullified our attacking threat to a great degree. Although I do believe we would have still won the match if the game had remained 11 vs 11, the margin of victory would likely have been much smaller. Full credit to West Ham, they will be a very tough side to beat for most teams, and we should be proud that our team has managed to gain three points in such a convincing fashion at their ground.
As far as we are concerned, onwards and upwards as we look forward to a home North London Derby in two weeks’ time after the international break, where Arsenal will hope to progress in last season’s edition of the FA Cup.
Arsenal: Zinsberger, Maritz, Williamson, Schanderbeck (Gut 69’), Catley (McCabe 19’), Walti, Little (c) (Van de Donk 58’), Roord (Foord 58’), Nobbs, Miedema, Mead (Evans 58’)
Substitutes: Stenson, Gut, Evans, Van de Donk, McCabe, Maier, Foord, Mace
West Ham: Arnold, Fisk, Flaherty (c), Vetterlein, Pacheco, Cho, Dali (Van Egmond 46’), Svitkova (Redisch 46’), Lehmann (Grant 67’), Daly, Leon
Substitutes: Brosnan, Redisch, Dunbar, Cruickshank, Longhurst, Grant, Van Egmond, Kiernan, Nor
Player of the Match (overall):
Jill Roord. Another game, another hat-trick. She seems hell-bent on pushing Miedema all the way for the Golden Boot this season, long may her form continue in this way.
Arsenal Player of the Match (personal opinion):
Jill Roord. Hard to look past the outstanding performances being displayed by Arsenal’s #14. What I like most is that she is now showing confidence in her finishing ability in front of goal, but never shirks away from her defensive responsibilities either. Roord has made sure that she still does her primary job alongside Lia Walti, but has added an extra attacking dimension to her game as well.
The Arsenal’s ninth and final goal of this game. Lisa Evans laying off the ball unselfishly for Caitlin Foord to score her first league goal for us showcased, for me, the nature of this Arsenal squad. Every player puts the team ahead of herself, and it doesn’t matter to them who puts the ball in the net. This final goal perfectly encapsulated our team spirit, as the team made sure Foord was off the mark in the Women’s Super League, which will only improve her confidence as we move forward.