It was fourth time lucky for Arsenal as they put four second half goals past Aston Villa to collect their first victory of 2021.
COVID-19 cases, a waterlogged pitch and a frozen pitch had previously forced three postponements but finally, The Gunners were welcomed to a sunny Banks’s Stadium for the first Barclays’ FA Women’s Super League meeting between the two sides.
A difficult first half made way for a prolific second for the visitors, as a 58th-minute Vivianne Miedema tap-in opened the floodgates, guiding The Gunners to an ultimately comfortable win. Further goals from Jordan Nobbs, Katie McCabe and substitute Lisa Evans ensued as Arsenal’s patient attack uncovered the formula to break down Villa’s compact defence.
The Villains looked defensively solid for much of the game, sitting deep with five at the back and causing Arsenal problems as they struggled to play their way through. Their organisation and resolve at the back looks an early mark of Marcus Bignot’s managerial ability, with his side’s improvement evident despite the loss.
It was an energetic start as Arsenal got the game underway and both sides took up some good attacking positions in the opening exchanges.
As expected the visitors looked to attack with pace, with Nobbs sending an early shot on target after a darting run down the left, but an outstretched leg from Lisa Weiss sent it behind for the first of 12 corners that Villa conceded over the 90 minutes.
The Gunners continued to dominate and attack the Villa box relentlessly, but they were thwarted by a lack of cutting edge and creativity in the final third, unable to unlock The Villains’ resolute defence. Chances for Jill Roord and an off-target free-kick from Beth Mead followed but none looked convincing as the hosts held strong.
Noelle Maritz produced the best chance of the half in the closing stages. Her long range shot looked destined for the top corner but a fantastic fingertip save from Weiss denied the Swiss International her first Gunners goal, reinforcing her side’s defensive solidity.
The second half continued where the first left off, with Arsenal taking control once again but struggling to fashion any clear-cut opportunities. Villa came close through centre-half Elisha N’Dow after an unstoppable run from Mana Iwabuchi. N’Dow’s looping shot from outside the box looked goal-bound, but it crept just over the bar.
Despite the hosts beginning to grow into the game, in the 58th minute Arsenal’s patient attack finally found their breakthrough. Mead sent a low ball across the six yard box, and Miedema got on the end of it to score her 13th goal of the season, bringing her level with Ellen White once again, as the Barclays FA Women’s Super League’s joint-top goalscorer of all-time.
From there The Gunners’ looked almost unstoppable, upping the tempo and attacking with pace and power. Less than 10 minutes later, Nobbs doubled their lead after Miedema’s shot was palmed away by Weiss, rebounding off the Arsenal skipper and into the back of the net, a well deserved goal on her full return from injury.
McCabe added Arsenal’s third in the 73rd minute with an absolute rocket from distance, stunning the keeper and herself in the process, reward for another excellent performance from the left-back-cum-left-winger. Minutes later, the goalscorer turned provider as a fantastic ball into the box from McCabe found the head of substitute Evans, adding some gloss to the result.
It was a scoreline that possibly flattered The Gunners, but one which Joe Montemurro will be delighted with nevertheless as Arsenal look to direct their season back on track. Villa on the other hand will take the positives from a strong defensive performance against one of the Barclays FA Women’s Super League’s attacking heavyweights, but will certainly question their lack of potency in attack.