Tottenham 1-0 Arsenal: ‘Inefficient’ Gunners again left chasing Chelsea in WSL title race

It seemed like Arsenal had it figured out. Seven successive league wins included a comprehensive victory over the champions, and their best players were returning from injury.

Tottenham 1-0 Arsenal: 'Inefficient' Gunners again left chasing Chelsea in WSL title race
Tottenham 1-0 Arsenal: ‘Inefficient’ Gunners again left chasing Chelsea in WSL title race

All they needed was a win over an out-of-form Tottenham, who had shipped 11 goals in their past two Women’s Super League games, and Arsenal would be top of the table as they aim to release Chelsea’s four-year stranglehold on the title.

And they should have secured that win. Arsenal attempted 31 shots in Saturday’s north London derby, their highest total in a WSL match this season. By contrast, Spurs had five efforts – their lowest in the league so far.

The 1-0 defeat therefore left Arsenal manager Jonas Eidevall scratching his head as to how his team had somehow failed to leave Tottenham Hotspur Stadium with nothing.

“It’s always difficult to analyse when looking through the lens of a result,” Eidevall said. “You try to stay objective. The most likely outcome from today was an Arsenal win, that is the fact.

“Of course we are disappointed with the result and our inefficiency, but we played well enough to win the match today.”

While Arsenal squandered chance after chance, Spurs held strong and scored the game’s only goal through the one time they managed to pass through the Gunners’ press.

It was a magnificent team move, capped by Martha Thomas’ sliding finish. It was a goal worthy of Ange-ball, with Tottenham’s men’s team manager Ange Postecoglou among the 19,480 spectators having overseen victory at Nottingham Forest on Friday.

Spurs were clinical and made good decisions. Arsenal did neither for the majority of the match. While home keeper Barbora Votikova was player of the match, she never had to make a truly show-stopping save.

It was all part of the frustrating package for Arsenal. They should have won, but they were several notches below their performance in the 4-1 victory over Chelsea six days previously – and paid the price.

‘We got harshly punished’

Tottenham 1-0 Arsenal: 'Inefficient' Gunners again left chasing Chelsea in WSL title race
Tottenham 1-0 Arsenal: ‘Inefficient’ Gunners again left chasing Chelsea in WSL title race

“It’s fair to say we were not as strong today as against Chelsea,” said Eidevall. “But there was only one time they played through the press and we got harshly punished.

“We were unbalanced in our press, that has to be a learning point for us. Other than that we were very much in control. We were just not able to convert.”

In the compact 22-game WSL season, teams with title aspirations know dropping points to mid-ranking sides can be extremely costly.

Champions Chelsea only failed to collect maximum points in three of their 22 games in the last campaign; Arsenal have already lost two and drawn one of their first 10 matches this season.

That will add to Eidevall’s frustration, even more so given how none of the signs indicated that this result was on.

Arsenal had won their last three league matches against Tottenham, scoring more goals progressively in each victory – 3-0 in May 2022, 4-0 in September 2022, and 5-1 in March 2023. They came into this game having scored 16 in their last four WSL matches, winning against Chelsea, West Ham, Brighton and Leicester.

But their best openings came before Thomas’ winner – Caitlin Foord hitting the post in the first half, Alessia Russo heading wide after 50 minutes – and their decision-making got worse as the game became more frantic.

Russo was off form and Beth Mead was frustrated. Vivianne Miedema came on as a second-half substitute for her 100th WSL game but made little impression and is clearly still feeling the impact of her ACL injury lay-off.

Having those three players fully fit and firing in attack will make Arsenal a huge force. Eidevall must hope that happens when they return to action in 2024.

‘I am lucky to have such brave players’

Tottenham 1-0 Arsenal: 'Inefficient' Gunners again left chasing Chelsea in WSL title race
Tottenham 1-0 Arsenal: ‘Inefficient’ Gunners again left chasing Chelsea in WSL title race

For Spurs, it was a truly historic day. Manager Robert Vilahamn was still audibly full of adrenaline when praising his players and lauding their passing style after the game.

While Vilahamn clearly instructed his side to be more compact after heavy defeats by Manchester City and Manchester United, this win and the way it was earned was viewed by the Swede as vindication of his methods.

“They lost a couple of games against hard opponents, that has made confidence tricky, but they wanted to do it at this stadium,” he said. “They were brave enough to play out, which is what we want to do with this team.

“That’s how we want to score goals – not set-pieces, we want to play with speed and through the lines. That is how a Tottenham team should score.

“We also needed to work on the mental aspect, the pressure of the game. To not change too much, not go five at the back, and get a win is impressive. When we get the ball we don’t just kick away, we scored a really good counter-attacking goal.

“I am lucky to have such brave footballers.”

For Spurs, this result provides an enormous boost heading into the winter break, and it should fuel belief that a top-half finish is firmly in their reach.

For Arsenal, their players and staff can only sit on the sofa on Sunday and watch where they end up at Christmas. They could end 2023 in third and three points off the top, if both Chelsea and City win their games.

Clearly, they still have questions to figure out.

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