WSL: Arsenal v Manchester City
The Arsenal come from one behind to beat Manchester City 2-1 in front of a sell-out crowd at Meadow Park
3 April 2023
The visitors seized the first advantage, breathing down the necks of the Gunners and pressing intensely early doors. Bunny Shaw’s bullet header earned City the lead within five minutes of kick-off following a passage of rather lovely build-up play between Lauren Hemp, Laura Coombs and Chloe Kelly.
Shaw had another opportunity open up a few minutes later and, although the chances were not falling thick and fast, the scales were tipping in City’s favour throughout the first half.
The makers of City’s midfield, Yui Hasegawa, Laura Coombs and Filipa Angeldahl, held control in the middle third, as well as offering a higher quality on the ball and in their passing. Arsenal found Hasegawa in particular difficult to deal with throughout. But with the addition of fullbacks Esme Morgan and Laia Aleixandri cutting inside, the visitors were able to overload Arsenal in the midfield whilst leaving Hemp and Kelly high and wide.
Yet, as is becoming something of a theme, Jonas Eidevall’s gameplan began to take shape and the Arsenal began to get more of a foothold towards the end of the half. When they concede, the Gunners are not impulsively reactive. Rather than dropping their heads or panicking, they allow themselves to settle which is definitive of a collective culture developing.
There was concern for Arsenal as Caitlin Foord was replaced by Laura Wienroither 35 minutes into the first half after suffering a knock. The Gunners will have everything crossed that nothing substantial is afoot after captain Kim Little became the latest name on their growing injury list last week.
City had their chances in the second half and will be disappointed not to have netted at least one of them with the space Arsenal repeatedly gifted at the far post. Eidevall’s side dodged a bullet more than once in leaving Hemp unmarked when City’s whipping crosses came in and it is an area they will need to tighten up on.
Frida Leonhardsen Maanum managed to poke the ball though the mountain of bodies in the area to score the equaliser just after the hour mark. Arguably City still had greater control of the ball up to this point, yet this served as somewhat of a catalyst for Arsenal to take the upper hand.
Eidevall’s decision to shift his formation just minutes later further contributed to this mentality. Centre-back Jen Beattie was brought on and the Arsenal switched to a back three. This was clever for two reasons. One - to add another body into midfield and neutralise City’s overload, and two - to have a single central figure to occupy Bunny Shaw.
Shaw is quite simply an exceptional striker. She has the movement, she has the finish, but what makes her truly brilliant is her intelligence and hold-up play. As she has done all season, Shaw had repeatedly dropped deep, earned possession and held-up the ball to allow teammates to flood forward. By introducing Beattie, Shaw was more closely pressed, limiting her allocation to retrieve the ball.
Katie McCabe then went on to seal the deal for the Gunners with a rocket of a shot that defied numerous bodies, as well as Ellie Roebuck, to thump the back of the net. In a move that has clearly been rehearsed, McCabe received the short corner, nudged it into enough space to create an opening and unleashed a beauty that sent Meadow Park into orbit.
City couldn’t bag themselves an equaliser and Arsenal ultimately earned the precious three points. Neither side outplayed the other, yet the Arsenal recognised and adjusted to the themes of the game more quickly and more sufficiently than their visitors. City, along with their uncharacteristically poor finishing, perhaps left it a little too late to respond to Arsenal’s tactical changes and fell just short of the mark.
Arsenal (4-2-3-1): D’Angelo (GK), Raffaele, Wubben-Moy, McCabe, Maritz (67’), Williamson (C), Leonhardsen Maanum, Wälti, Foord (35’), Pelova (67’), Blackstenius (67’)
Substitutes: Zinsberger (GK), Marckese (GK), Beattie (67’), Gio, Kühl (67’), Wienroither (35’), Taylor (67’), Reid
Goals – Leonhardsen Maanum 61’, McCabe 74’
Yellow – McCabe, Wälti
Manchester City (4-3-3): Roebuck (GK), Aleiandri (81’), Greenwood, Houghton (C), Morgan, Coombs (81’), Angeldahl (87’), Hasegawa Kelly (79’), Hemp, Shaw
Substitutes: MacIver (GK), Casparij (81’), Fowler (87’), Castellanos (81’), Raso (79’), Ouahabi, Dahou
Goals – Shaw 4’
Attendance - 3, 982
Referee – Abigail Byrne