Tottenham Hotspur Women fell 4-0 to Arsenal Women in a North London Derby played in front of nearly 50,000 spectators at the Emirates. At no point did Spurs make the game look particularly competitive to the record breaking crowd.
Spurs’ starting lineup was a bit of an eyebrow raiser. I’m not sure whether the worst part was seeing Amy Turner as a right back, Asmita Ale, Angharad James and Nikola Karczewska on the bench, or the fact that we only named five outfield subs. Rehanne Skinner didn’t really have much of a choice here as the team had injury issues, but it was a real shame to see such a thin squad so early in the season.
I don’t think you’ll enjoy reading what happened next any more than I enjoyed watching it, so I’ll try to keep it brief. Beth Mead opened Arsenal’s scoring after just five minutes. Kim Little evaded Drew Spence and Cho So-Hyun in midfield, and played her in. Mead’s first shot was deflected, but it fell right back to her and she buried the ball in the back of the net. The rest of the half continued in much the same fashion. Arsenal succeeded in creating small imbalances all over the pitch, not that it really mattered because most of them could beat most of our players one-on-one anyway.
Spurs seemed to have no ideas in attack, and on the few occasions we did win the ball, the swarming Arsenal players forced us into sloppy and panicked mistakes. It was one of those mistakes that ultimately cost us our second goal. Eveliina Summanen miscontrolled a short pass from Becky Spencer, and Caitlin Foord was on hand to pick it up and play in Vivianne Miedema, who made no mistake in slotting the ball into the corner of the net. The half ended 2-0, and it likely would’ve been worse if Ash Neville hadn’t put in such a fantastic defensive display.
Spurs made no halftime substitutions, though Celin Bizet seemed to come out in more of a wingback role. We looked a bit more energetic in the opening stages of the first half, perhaps in part to that shift. But our set piece chickens came home to roost in the 54th minute when Arsenal defender Rafaelle Souza was allowed an unchallenged header right under the noses of both Amy Turner and Eveliina Summanen. Things momentarily brightened for Spurs again when Nikola Karczewska, Angharad James and Ramona Petzelberger replaced Kyah Simon, Cho So-Hyun, and Drew Spence, respectively. The press seemed more cohesive, and Arsenal were forced long a few times. It didn’t improve our set pieces at all though, and Arsenal scored their fourth when Vivianne Miedema waltzed into the middle of the box for a free header from another Arsenal corner. There were about 25 more minutes in the game, but nothing else worth reliving here.
I don’t want to talk too much about specific players, because pretty much nobody but Ash played well in the first half. Set pieces aside, I thought performances picked up in the second half, though it could have been because Arsenal took their foot off the gas. We also got to see a few new faces in new places today. Celin Bizet looked bright on her first start, but not bright enough to make a difference. She went super direct a few times which I enjoyed because literally nobody else was trying to shoot. Ramona Petzelberger also didn’t really change the game, though she did have a few nice passes and an attempted header in Arsenal’s box. Nikola Karczewska improved the press when she came on, but didn’t see much of the ball. I’m still eagerly awaiting her full debut.
In the end, it was a rough loss to a superior team. We got beat all over the pitch from the first minute, but we had only five outfield players on the bench and therefore little ability to change the game. We also clearly haven’t worked out midfield yet—Angharad and Drew didn’t work last week, and Eveliina behind Cho and Drew didn’t work this week. Our press continued to be disorganized, which in turn exposed our back line to sustained pressure from Arsenal’s world class attackers. Worst of all, we conceded two stupid goals from corners, both with Spurs players waiting and watching Arsenal players run into the box for free headers. Set pieces have been an issue for us for months, for the better part of a year, even. It’s baffling to me that we haven’t yet addressed such a glaring weakness.
Arsenal 4-0 Spurs: The @BarclaysWSL north London derby ends in a rout, with Arsenal hammering four goals past their rivals Spurs.— The Analyst (@OptaAnalyst) September 24, 2022
Spurs didn't have a touch in the Arsenal box until the 75th minute. #NLD pic.twitter.com/zzitDDlvat
Elsewhere in the WSL, Liverpool lost 3-0 to Everton, bringing a firm end to the opening day delight of defeating Chelsea 2-1. I know I was looking on jealously to their victory last week, and this week we saw them brought back to earth. Michael Cox suggested in The Athletic that Liverpool’s victory over Chelsea was a groundbreaking result, perhaps the harbinger of a new era of parity in the FA WSL. I guess he forgot that soon-to-be relegated Birmingham defeated Arsenal 2-0 last season to break their 14 game winless streak. Any team can register a freak win, that’s not new. But over the course of the season, the top two, maybe top three or four, are still going to be wildly dominant. Despite what we might like to think after a stellar summer for women’s soccer, that clearly hasn’t changed (yet).
It’s easy to get bogged down in the details of a performance like ours against Arsenal. We can blame the players, and we can argue all day about who is and isn’t good enough for the club. We can even try to blame Rehanne Skinner for not coaching faster, not pushing players to play through injury, or I don’t know, not being able to convince Rachel Daly to come to Spurs instead of Aston Villa (note- I don’t actually think any of these things are her fault). The truth is, the league remains incredibly unbalanced. The defeat to Arsenal is on Tottenham Hotspur, the organization. As much as we might have wished for it, we are not on the level of Arsenal and Chelsea, we’re not even on the level of City and United. Not this year.
That doesn’t mean all is lost, and it doesn’t mean there’s not a lot to look forward to. We have a great coach, a promising group of players, we’re developing talented young players and should they remain fit, they’ll get lots of game time. We also have one good player and two phenomenal ones coming back from injury. Things are going to get better. In fact, they’re going to get better this season, probably very soon!
But in order to close the gap to the top, the club needs to do more. It’s difficult to understand how they could leave the squad with only one true striker, especially after our goalscoring issues last year, especially knowing that sometimes players from different leagues pick up injuries and need time to adapt to new physical demands. It’s even harder to understand how they could leave us with only five fit defenders, knowing that Rehanne Skinner often likes to play all five of them at the same time. How expensive could it possibly have been to sign one more fullback and one more striker? If the club truly did make inquiries about Nikita Parris, Beth England, and Rachel Daly, what are they doing to ensure players like that pick Tottenham over other clubs in the future? I hope the defeat to Arsenal is a wakeup call. I hope they realize how embarrassing it is to name only five outfield substitutes on your bench against Arsenal, to not play with a true striker or a true fullback, in the second game of the season.
Taking a step back, I think there’s still a decent chance we get fifth place. I think there’s a chance we improve a bit every week, that Kit Graham and Ria Percival come back and instantly regain their old form, that we sign a few reinforcements in the January transfer window, and by the end of the season we’re looking back at our early season form as the unfortunate fumble that kept us from fourth place. In the meantime, the best we can do is wait, and watch for improvement against Reading in the FA Cup next week.