Arsenal’s manager, Joe Montemurro, said his team “have the football, have the players, have the belief and have the preparation” to kickstart a winning run after securing their first victory of 2021. The Gunners sit outside of the Champions League qualification spots in fourth but play third-placed Manchester United on 18 March.
“From our perspective it’s one game at a time, we know what we need to achieve, we’ve got targets we can control and we know we can,” he said after a game where Vivianne Miedema opened the scoring in the 59th minute.
That the game kicked off at all was enough of a result. This fixture had already faced three postponements: first due to a Covid outbreak in the Arsenal squad, then for a frozen pitch, and then because of a waterlogged one.
With the international break giving Arsenal some much-needed distance from heavy back-to-back defeats by Manchester City and Chelsea, there was a bounce in their step on a frosty morning in Walsall.
Villa, though, are not to be underestimated. Marcus Bignot’s side may only have three wins from 12 but they look increasingly organised. In the Japanese World Cup winner Mana Iwabuchi and the Danish international forward Stine Larsen, they also have a combination of trickery and strength up front.
It did not take long for the former to elicit appreciation from the huddle of subs, club personnel and media as she sliced her way away from trouble, while Larsen did well to keep hold of the ball after being set free to run at Leah Williamson early on.
Having received her 150th England cap on Tuesday, Jill Scott scored the winner as Everton recovered from two goals down to beat Tottenham.
Two penalties inside 20 minutes, scored by French forward Valerie Gauvin, gave the visiting side the advantage but Spurs struck back through forward Angela Addison and midfielder Gemma Davison. However Scott’s header just past the hour mark sealed the win and keeps the Blues within four points of fourth-placed Arsenal.
Making her return to action following an injury, US midfielder Sam Mewis scored twice in Manchester City’s 4-0 rout of Birmingham. The win moves City to within two points of league leaders Chelsea.
Mewis headed in her first from a Chloe Kelly cross, before turning in from Alex Greenwood’s corner. Winger Lauren Hemp added a third and Scotland’s Caroline Weir tapped in the fourth. Mewis’s compatriot Rose Lavelle came on as a substitute and whacked the top of the crossbar moments before the final whistle.
The arrival of Iwabuchi at Villa speaks to the ambitions of the club where former England forward Eni Aluko is director of women’s football. The Japan international could have ended up playing for Arsenal, with Montemurro having revealed prior to the game that a move had been on the cards before plans were thwarted by the postponement of the Olympics.
“Mana is a player I have always admired and feel that she suits our style and yes, we looked at her closely from an Arsenal perspective,” Montemurro said.
The home side did well to stifle Arsenal’s characteristically potent attack, but as half-time approached their relentless chasing and pressure looked to be taking its toll.
With Arsenal unable to play their way through, a strike from Jordan Nobbs from the edge of the box was destined for the top corner but goalkeeper Lisa Weiss would impressively push it away at full stretch for a corner.
It felt like Arsenal’s superiority would soon yield the breakthrough and just shy of the hour mark it did just that. The forward Beth Mead, perhaps with a point to prove after an initial omission from the most recent England squad, powered in a cross from the byline for Miedema to tap in.
Any pressure on Arsenal’s shoulders looked instantly lifted by the goal and after a Miedema shot was blocked, Nobbs was there for the follow-up to double the visitors’ lead.
Then it was Katie McCabe’s turn, the full-back bringing the ball down 30 yards out and smashing it into the roof of the net in some style. Finally, with two minutes remaining, the substitute Lisa Evans rose highest to head in from close range for her first goal of the season.
“Obviously we were against quality opposition,” Bignot said. “I don’t want to create a culture where we just accept losing. This time next year, hopefully, when we’re playing the likes of Arsenal, that 60 minutes of being in a game turns into 75, turns into 90 minutes, of really being in games against the top four. That will be the aim for us.”