Welcome to Full Time, The Athletic’s women’s football column – a one-stop shop every Monday to discuss the big issues of the game in England and Europe.
The main story
Arsenal were on the brink heading into the final hour of Sunday’s game against Aston Villa. After Maz Pacheco’s first-half goal, Jonas Ideval’s side faced the grim reality that they might have failed to score.In the first three matches of the Women’s Super League season.
The most improbable and proud return to destroy visitors and trigger a campaign of stagnation.
Villa He was able to defend Pacheco’s goal after crossing the cornerCarla Ward switched to a back five to mimic how Liverpool defended Arsenal in their 1-0 win at the Emirates Stadium two weeks ago. It was an effective decision as Lucy Parker and Lucy Staniforth limited the influence of Leah Walty and Kim Little.
Anxiety levels were rising in the stands – over 35,000 were in the ground, most eager to see the hosts finally break their duck for the season. However, Edeval was substituted midway through the second half, but not much changed.
The pressure on Arsenal has increased following their failure to qualify for the Champions League. If they had lost to Villa, their season would have almost ended before it started.
But Bethmed’s introduction after 88 minutes raised the mood. The England striker, top scorer and player of the tournament as England win Euro 2022, has been sidelined since suffering a torn anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) in November’s 3-2 defeat to Manchester United. She only returned to full practice in the lead-up to Sunday’s game. Just her presence on the field after so long raised the spirits of the crowd. It was inevitable that she would have a role to play.
After 12 more minutes, Arsenal somehow found a gap against Villa’s well organized back line and Katie McCabe fired over. That punished Villa’s decision; They are not set up to break down and win.
Alessia Russo was one of the most impressive players in the 90th minute as the forwards struggled to create much. The much-lauded striker scored her first WSL goal for the club – from Meade’s pass, her shot curled under Daphne van Domselaar.
Your first goal of the #BarclaysWSL season from the 94th minute winner 🤯 @alessiarusso7 @ArsenalWFC We have a better way pic.twitter.com/RGDqhT02bQ
— Barclays Women’s Super League (@BarclaysWSL) October 15, 2023
His return eased the tension, but there are still questions over coach Idewal, who was handed a new three-year contract ahead of the game against Manchester United. For all the relief at beating Villa in such impressive fashion, many feel Ward’s decision to sit out will be used at home and cost the visitors.
Villa have lost all three of their matches so far.
Having finished fifth last year, the expectation is that they will be playing in this era of discussion, so to leave the Emirates empty-handed – and in such late fashion – was a cruel blow. Some thought they could crack the traditional top four this season, but their defeat in North London exposed them as meek.
Are you asking questions about the ward now? Villa’s three games so far, with defeats to Manchester United and Arsenal, are hard to tell, but those weaknesses should not be overlooked – the team looking to push for a Champions League spot are bottom of the table.
The moment you missed
Liverpool had the chance to go top of the league when they hosted Everton at Anfield, but once again Megan Finnegan ensured the bragging rights reached the blue half of Merseyside. The 25-year-old scored in last year’s 3-0 away win over Liverpool and the new boss scored the only goal of the game after the break.
It was a tough start to the season for Everton, who were unlucky in the first two games and were feeling the weight of the group. But a victory in front of more than 23,000 fans at Anfield will be even sweeter as Liverpool get off to an unprecedented start after beating Arsenal and Villa.
The moment of the weekend
Beth Mead made her return to the WSL after 11 months out with an ACL injury – and she wasted no time in showing what she missed out on at Arsenal and England.
The 28-year-old, who finished second in the Ballon d’Or last year, had to do it Watch the World Cup in the summer from afar, assisted on the winning goal for Russo. “I had a bit of an emotional run on the field, but to come back is amazing – amazing,” Mead said. “It’s a long and hard injury.”
Edeval described her return as a “special moment”. “Beth has been working very hard and has had a very difficult year with the injury and the death of her mother,” he added. “It’s been incredibly difficult for her, so it’s (very) good to see her on the field and be able to perform right away. You hoped it would, but you didn’t know it would happen.
Jill Roard raised eyebrows as Manchester City’s only signing this season, but she showed why Wolfsburg were paid a six-figure fee with her goals in a 5-0 win over Bristol City.
Newly promoted Bristol City are determined to struggle this season and 26-year-old Dutch star Roard has shown no mercy from midfield. It was thought that City could be left behind this year with Arsenal and Chelsea looking strong, but Roard has sent a message that Gareth Taylor’s side are in the game.
Manchester United sacrificed their best players and points as they drew 1-1 with Leicester City. They will face Paris Saint-Germain on Wednesday in a first-ever Champions League group stage decider. Manager Mark Skinner has threatened to drop Guise from his WSL squad and will try to justify the decision by keeping the team as the teams were locked 1-1 after the first leg last week.
This coming weekend, Chelsea will be looking to extend their WSL record home win streak – currently at an impressive 17 games – against the team who completed their previous record (14) away wins in 2021 – Brighton.
Brighton were tipped to be impressive before the season but have lost two so losing to Chelsea would continue their poor start to the season.
(Top photos: Getty Images)