Of the three big teams in the Women’s Super League, Arsenal perhaps were the ones who had been most underrated and silent over a summer transfer window that has seen their rivals bolster their squads heavily. Across London, Chelsea have splashed the cash to sign Pernille Harder, one of the best players in the world and Manchester City are expected to get Lucy Bronze and Rose Lavelle integrated into their squad very soon.
The Gunners by contrast made their signings early and made them silently, bolstering in areas that perhaps do not capture the imagination much. Steph Catley, Malin Gut, Lydia Williams and Noëlle Maritz are all signings made to bolster a defense that has suffered in over the last two seasons, and each one — specifically Catley — comes with huge experience and potential.
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City had gone out and registered a 2-0 victory in the season opener against Aston Villa, and Chelsea would follow later in the evening. Perhaps appropriately then sandwiched in the middle, an afterthought, it was Arsenal who registered the most emphatic start to the season beating Reading 6-1 at Meadow Park. They had to, no one was paying attention!
The scoreline, while emphatic, will not register that this could have been much worse for Reading. Vivianne Miedema had — by her lofty standards — an odd day in front of goal, missing two extremely gettable chances but scoring two goals of pure genius. One another day, Arsenal would’ve had a few more.
The pinfall kick started with Kim Little’s goal in the 15th minute, a beautiful first time volley off a superb Leah Williamson floater that will surely be among the goals of the season when the lists kick up next year. The Arsenal captain is the lynchpin of the side, and as much as the plaudits fall on Miedema, Jordan Nobbs, Danielle van de Donk and Beth Mead, it is Little who keeps this juggernaut moving, when it does move. Her box to box energy and superlative technique were the difference between the midfields, and in essence the teams.
Arsenal picked off Reading every time they went on the attack, finding spaces easily and breaking them down too. There were two Arsenal old girls in the Reading kit and Danielle Carter and Katie McCabe would’ve known all about the quality of their former teammates, but could do little to curb it.
Jill Roord will remember the afternoon memorably, registering a hat trick on a rare full start for the team, and the performance will no doubt give her and Joe Montemurro the confidence that they have another outlet when the going gets tough. For Manuela Zinsberger the one goal conceded will sting, seeing as it came off a bad mistake by her, and was brilliantly poached by Carter. Arsenal have started strong, as they usually do against the smaller teams. This season, for once, they have the squad depth to match their two title rivals and will hopefully keep the momentum going.
Galton Spoils Harder’s Debut
Manchester United opened their season strongly, earning a 1-1 draw in their opening WSL fixture against Chelsea at home. Chelsea dominated a huge part of the game, but United’s equaliser, in the 79th minute, scored by Leah Galton was a huge boost to a side hoping to mount a more serious challenge for the title this season.
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“I’m over the moon. We put everything we had into the game and it’s a great result for us,” United captain Katie Zelem said after the match. “We’ve just competed with the champions and showed to everyone else that we’re here to compete - we’re not just settling for being in the league. We want to build on last season; we know we’ve got more to give and I think we showed that today.”
Chelsea started much quicker and settled to their paec better too. Sam Kerr, the superstar who signed for Chelsea only last November scored the opener in the 25th minute, her brilliance of movement and a diving header giving Chelsea the lead. Despite that goal, United were the ones who held the majority of possession, forcing Chelsea into counterattacking , transitional football.
Kerr missed a chance to double her tally at the half hour mark, capitalising on a defensive mistake but dragging her shot wide. United came back in the second half with more energy and late in the game they had their reward, Leah Galton finishing a superb move by guiding Jackie Groenen’s low cross into the net.
As this was happening, Pernille Harder, Chelsea’s record signing was on the touchline, waiting to come on as a substitute. Harder, signed for £250,000 ($3,32,237), has become the most expensive signing in history of women’s football and in the 10 minutes on the pitch showed the reason everyone rates her so highly, her movement, technique and IQ on display from the word go.
“Clearly we are not at our best yet, we lacked a bit of aggression,” Emma Hayes, Chelsea’s head coach said after the game. “That said, I mentioned beforehand that I’d take a draw here. We knew United would be well organised and hard to break down and that’s what we found.”
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