Arsenal 3-1 West Ham United
by Ben Gilby at Meadow Park (31/10/22)
Above: Stina Blackstenius runs away in celebration after putting Arsenal 2-1 up last night. Photo: Arsenal Women.
Arsenal came from behind to claim victory over West Ham United in front of almost 4,000 fans at Meadow Park, in doing so breaking the record for consecutive WSL wins.
This victory, the Gunners’ 13th league win in a row, came despite the Hammers offering stubborn and impressive opposition, particularly in the first half, which saw their captain, Icelandic international Dagny Brynjarsdottir put in an outstanding shift.
After her goalscoring return to action in the club’s midweek win over FC Zurich in the Champions League, Jordan Nobbs was on the bench, joined by the likes of Vivianne Miedema, Jen Beattie, Lina Hurtig, and Mana Iwabuchi. Long gone are the days when the Gunners relied on teenagers to fill their quota of substitutes.
Arsenal started by maximising possession, looking to build patiently from the back. That ploy had its first reward as Stina Blackstenius cut along the left only for Grace Fisk to head clear. Fisk was in action at the other end linking with captain Brynjarsdottir who angled a powerful header that Gunners keeper Manuela Zinsberger gathered at the second attempt.
The task of trying to rein in Caitlin Foord, arguably in the club form of her life, was given to Lisa Evans, but the Matildas star had the freedom to drift across the centre and out to the left, pulling the Hammers’ attacker around with her at will in the early exchanges. To make a difficult experience for Evans worse, Foord’s pace left the Scot struggling in this spell.
Arsenal turned up the pressure with 13 minutes on the clock as Beth Mead and Frida Maanum combined with menace to earn a corner which Wubben-Moy headed goalwards but the visitors cleared. Maanum advanced once more shortly afterwards and forced the Hammers into a sliced clearance at the cost of another corner.
The visitors looked to respond and after a move starting on their left, Evans fired a powerful effort which did not bother Zinsberger, but it was enough to remind the home side that the EastEnders posed a threat.
Five minutes later and, after a corner from the right, Brynjarsdottir rocketed a header into the net, only for her effort to be ruled out for a foul as she made contact with the ball. It was yet another warning sign for Arsenal that despite all their possession, West Ham’s efforts were giving them a serious foothold in this game. Their ability to play quick balls across the Gunners’ 18-yard area and looking to make incisions into the box were causing problems at the back for the hosts.
With 34 minutes played, West Ham earned their reward. Viviane Asseyi played a ball through towards Brynjarsdottir which Steph Catley angled back towards her own goalkeeper. As Brynjarsdottir honed in on the ball, Zinsberger didn’t know whether to stick or twist, and the outcome was a slow agony for Arsenal as the ball rolled gradually towards the goal only to hit the post, with Brynjarsdottir getting the last touch as it was redirected over the line. Both she and her side deserved it for their respective efforts. It was the first goal Arsenal had conceded in almost 15 and three-quarter hours of WSL football.
The Gunners tried to respond, and with Asseyi out of the action on the right flank, Mead broke through. As she did so, Kim Little went down. Mead advanced and powered an effort in which earned a corner. Little was forced from the pitch, bringing a return to action for Nobbs with five minutes remaining of the half.
With the hosts earning back-to-back corners, they levelled the scores as the ball made its way to Nobbs on the edge of the box to fire an absolute rocket to mark her arrival in style.
The Gunners ended the first half on the front foot, but West Ham deserved parity for their superb work-ethic and stubborn probing of the home side.
Arsenal created the second period’s first opportunity within six minutes of the re-start as Blackstenius found Foord out on the left, but the Australian’s shot hit the side netting as Hammers keeper Sophie Hillyard cut down the angle.
The momentum remained with the hosts, and within two minutes, Arsenal were ahead as Steph Catley curled in a free-kick for Blackstenius to head home.
West Ham found it hard to respond from an attacking prospect as the match developed into a battle for control of the midfield. However, they had worked hard to counter the threat of Foord with Risa Shimizu backing up Evans in containing the Matildas star’s threat.
This move did have a major negative though in allowing for space for Katie McCabe on the left, and the Irish international had an ever-increasing influence on the match as it entered its last half-hour.
Shots on target were rare in this period, with the sole opportunity coming from Mead who worked her way onto the left-hand side of the box and fired a powerful effort across goal which Hillyerd got a hand to in order to direct away for a corner.
McCabe was revelling in the space afforded her on the left and she got away to deliver a pinpoint cross for Maanum to head in Arsenal’s third with 20 minutes remaining.
Buoyed by this, Arsenal flicked the switch and played their most fluent football of the evening. Whilst Eidevall rang the changes, mindful of players’ minutes after two successive midweek Champions League games, it did not lessen his side’s intensity. It merely set West Ham another puzzle.
Hurtig and Miedema were in tune from the moment they entered the field with the Swede looking in full penalty box predator mode. Arsenal were quicker and more incisive, and the Hammers were hanging on for dear life in the final 10 minutes.
Miedema laid off a ball to Nobbs who, in almost a repeat of her stunning strike before the break, crashed in a shot that Hillyerd repelled.
West Ham earned a rare chance in stoppage time when Brynjarsdottir hit a powerful effort that needed Zinsberger to push away to the right for a corner.
There was still time for one last Arsenal effort as Maanum combined with Hurtig to force Hillyerd into a save.
Whilst it took Arsenal some time to get up to full speed in this encounter against dogged opposition, this was another impressive win from Eidevall’s team. To come through successive weeks of WSL and Champions League football and still win games comfortably is no mean feat.
They look the real deal this season. At their best, the Gunners can move the ball around and offer movement off the ball that is at a level virtually almost unequalled in the WSL. Arsenal might be second at present, but with current leaders Manchester United their next home opposition, we will soon see just how good the Gunners are.
Teams: ARSENAL: Zinsberger, Maritz, Wubben-Moy, Catley, McCabe, Little, Walti, Maanum, Mead, Blackstenius, Foord. Substitutes: Marckese (GK), Beattie, Nobbs, Miedema, Hurtig, Iwabuchi, Weinroither, Agyemang, Reid.
Scorers: Nobbs 42′, Blackstenius 53, Maanun 70′.
WEST HAM UNITED: Hillyerd, Shimzu, Stringer, Fisk, Smith, Brynjarsdottir, Longhurst, Hayashi, Kyvag. Substitutes: Filis, Walker, Atkinson, Flannery, Houssein.
Scorers: Brynjarsdottir 35′.
Referee: Abi Byrne.