Women’s Super League previews 2021-22 No 1: Arsenal | Women’s Super League

Joe Montemurro’s Arsenal painted themselves into a corner by racking up four defeats and two draws by mid-February last season. A single loss in a league of just 12 teams will prove costly, and that took the Gunners out of the title race.

An unbeaten run from February through to the end of the season salvaged Champions League football, the team eventually finishing one point ahead of fourth-placed Manchester United to snatch the new, extra qualifying spot.

The respected Montemurro, who in 2019 ended Arsenal’s seven-year wait for a league title, announced in March that he would leave at the end of the season as Arsenal looked decidedly behind the pace of champions Chelsea and runners-up Manchester City, off the pitch as much as on it. A few months later and their fortunes and expectations appear transformed.

Alongside the unveiling of new manager Jonas Eidevall, who joined from Swedish side Rosengård, the Arsenal chief executive Vinai Venkatesham promised an overhaul of the women’s setup that would include increased investment, matches at the Emirates Stadium and working towards a new training base at London Colney.

The club seem to be walking the walk, with the season opener against champions Chelsea hosted at the club’s main stadium on Sunday 5 September, while their recruitment has been solid.

The long-time target Mana Iwabuchi finally sealed a move which would link her up with former Bayern Munich teammate Vivianne Miedema, the England forward Nikita Parris returns to the WSL from the seven-times European champions Lyon, Denmark’s Simone Bøye Sorensen has been added to the back line and Norwegian midfielder Frida Maanum has joined from Sweden’s Linköpings.

Perhaps more important was the decision not to cash in on the Netherlands’ record goal scorer Miedema, despite keen interest in the forward, who is entering the final year of her contract in north London. There is also a new one-year deal for the centre-back Leah Williamson.

The Gunners’ early start to the campaign (Champions League qualifying began two-and-a-half weeks before the domestic season) has not allowed players much of a break, particularly those who competed at the Olympics in Tokyo. It has, though, given Eidevall’s team a head start and the manager a chance to begin to build.

The new signing Mana Iwabuchi has settled quickly into Arsenal’s team. Photograph: Mikhail Sinitsyn/SPP/Shutterstock

Iwabuchi in particular has slotted in quickly, the Japanese wizard scoring three times in two Champions League matches (against Kazakh side Okzhetpes and PSV) as Arsenal cruised through the first stages of qualifying to set up a two-legged tie with Slavia Prague for a place in the group stage.

Eidevall attributed Iwabuchi’s swift settling in to her intelligence and that of the group as a whole. “It’s always easier to adapt to a new team when you are very intelligent,” he said. “Mana is adapting so quickly too because all of the other players are really intelligent. It would be a real struggle for Mana where people wouldn’t understand her passes or her movements, or if they needed a long time to get used to that. Clearly, her teammates understand her very well.”

Whether the revamp on and off the pitch is enough to mount a sustained challenge for the WSL is hard to predict. Eidevall has impressed in press conferences and in his first few games in charge and there are promising early signs the club is stepping up ahead of a colossal season, when the broadcast rights deal with Sky Sports and the BBC will put the league front and centre.


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