MATCH INFO:

Manchester City 2, Arsenal 1

Goals: Vivianne Miedema – 3’, Sam Mewis – 30’, Caroline Weir – 90+4’

The most anticipated matchup of the weekend saw Manchester City host Arsenal, two teams at the top of the FAWSL table battling it out to keep their title hopes alive.

In the media buildup to the match, Arsenal’s Jen Beattie spoke to the media for the first time about her breast cancer diagnosis.

The Arsenal defender was diagnosed back in October but has still been able to appear for the North London club and make her mark this season. She scored Arsenal’s third goal in their 0-5 win against Brighton Hove & Albion a few days after her diagnosis.

Beattie, who also played for Manchester City before becoming an Arsenal player, was celebrated by both teams during the match warm-up as all the players donned Beattie’s top.

Vivianne Miedema opened up the scoring early on, only for Sam Mewis to tie the game in the 30th minute. Heading into the 90th minute, it looked like the points would be shared at the Manchester City Academy Stadium, with the match still tied at 1-1. But after six minutes were added on, City managed to pull out a miraculous winner in the 94th minute.

City’s narrow victory revealed quite a bit about the state of both teams, as well as the trajectory of the FAWSL title race this season.

1. Arsenal needs to find a way to continue their press throughout a match, or they’ll continue dropping important games. 

From the first whistle, it was clear that Arsenal head coach Joe Montemurro had instructed his side to press a lot higher than they usually do. Manchester City are one of the best teams in the league when it comes to  high press, and it’s clear that Montemurro wanted his side to match their opponent. It’s also clear that Gareth Taylor did not expect Arsenal’s tactics to be as aggressive, as his side looked shell-shocked by Arsenal’s pressure, which led to Manchester City making silly errors and giving Vivianne Miedema a golden opportunity in just the third minute.

Despite Arsenal not having the best start to the season, Miedema is having a fantastic personal season, yet again. The top goalscorer in the league the past two seasons, Miedema’s goal against City was her 11th in the league this year, as she once again finds herself the top scorer in the WSL.

The hope was that the early goal would rejuvenate Arsenal and they’d continue with their pressing tactics to catch a stunned Manchester City off guard. Instead, their early lead made them more complacent, and the aggressiveness toned down after a mere ten minutes, allowing their opponents to grow into the game, with Manchester City racking up 18 shots (16 on target) compared to Arsenal’s two.

Post match, Montemurro admitted that his side faces a ‘mental block’ when playing big teams. Arsenal has yet to beat Manchester City, Chelsea, or Manchester United this season, in both league matches and the FA Cup.

The team has consistently started games with high intensity, only to drop off and allow the other team to then set the pace. It’s been disappointing to watch week after week, as the current roster is significantly better than their results would suggest.

It’ll be interesting to see how Arsenal fares against Everton next week. Everton may not be one of the traditional “big clubs,” but the team certainly looked like one earlier this season. Arsenal should be able to beat Everton, especially since they will be playing at home, but if they fall into the trap of dropping off early into the game, expect Everton to take advantage.

2. Caroline Weir (and her left foot) is crucial to Manchester City

Had this match ended in a 1-1 draw, Manchester City would have had 16 points, leaving them seven points behind league leaders Manchester United — a huge gap to make up. With the gap now at five, it makes things a bit easier on City. Simply put, Weir’s winning goal in the 94th minute has allowed Manchester City to stay within reach of the title race.

City has been excellent this season, both collectively and as individuals. Weir is someone who has been playing a crucial role at City since her arrival in 2018. The team is known for scoring in abundance, and while as a midfielder, it isn’t Weir’s job to actually score them, she continues to contribute by finding spaces to exploit, creating chances, and racking up assists.

City’s last league match, prior to hosting Arsenal, was away at Everton, which they won 3-0, with Weir assisting every one of their goals. Her fantastic performance in Liverpool is likely what got her the start against Arsenal, and she once again repaid her manager’s trust. Should she continue to start, Manchester City can go into matches with the confidence that they don’t even need their best goalscorers to find the back of the net in order to still score in abundance.

3. The top of the FAWSL table is as competitive as ever

With five points separating first and fourth place in the table, the teams at the top have continued to give fans a thrilling title race. The hope is that it continues right down to the wire, and we see the competitiveness remain until the final match weeks.

Four teams chasing a title is a treat, and the champions will likely be whoever can come out on top in the head to head matches, since the top four have consistently been able to beat the other eight teams. At this point, it is hard to gauge who that will be, which only makes it all the more exciting.