Arsenal WFC 2021/22: Changes, a chase, and challenges

Arsenal celebrate after scoring.
Arsenal celebrate after scoring against Chelsea during the Barclays FA Women's Super League match at the Emirates Stadium, London on 5 September 2021. (Photo by MI News)

Arsenal WFC faced many changes heading into the 2021/22 WSL season with much to prove. The Gunners finished second in the table by a single point and made it to the knockout stages of the Champions League. The team can consider it a successful season. But certainly, they wanted more.

Changes from the start

The season started with a new look for Arsenal, as new manager Jonas Eidevall brought a different style of play for the Gunners.

Coming over from Swedish side FC Rosengård, Eidevall employed a higher press than his predecessor, Joe Montemurro.

The new press was a hit from the start, as the Gunners started the season with an impressive victory over defending champions, Chelsea.

In one of the most exciting matches of the year, the Gunners held on at home against the Blues, 3–2. The new press was very effective, and the Gunners led 3–1 midway through the second half. Goals from superstar striker Vivianne Miedema and a brace from Beth Mead surrounded an Erin Cuthbert tally for Chelsea.

Embed from Getty Images

The home side let off the gas a bit and Chelsea employed a strong press of their own. Pernille Harder was sublime in the second half, scoring once for the visitors and nearly adding three more. Manuela Zinsberger and the Arsenal defense withstood the onslaught, and the season started off strong for the North London side.

Firing on all cylinders

Following the opening day victory, the Gunners went on an absolute tear. They won their next five matches, scoring 20 goals without conceding a single one. Zinsberger recorded the first five of her eventual league-leading 13 clean sheets for the season. The Arsenal keeper enjoyed her best season yet at Meadow Park and, at only 25, looks to have a great future with the squad.

A draw at Spurs was the first blemish to the season, and only a very late goal from Miedema saved a point. Two shutouts against United and Leicester followed the result. The Gunners stood atop the table, looking unstoppable.

Mid-season slump

The start of the new year saw Arsenal stumble mightily, losing their perch at the top in the process. The Gunners traveled to winless Birmingham for what most would consider an easy win. The hosts were having none of that, however.

Libby Smith scored on Birmingham’s first shot just three minutes into the match. Veatrikki Sarri added a second just before halftime, and Arsenal could never crack Emily Ramsey. Birmingham picked up their only win of the season, and Arsenal picked up their only loss.

Embed from Getty Images

The surprise loss was followed by a run of matches that saw Arsenal draw three of their next four. A hamstring injury to star defender and England captain Leah Williamson caused a shift on the backline. The Gunners were in a bit of disarray, and Chelsea slowly but methodically slipped ahead of the Gunners.

The season championship came down to the final day. Arsenal took care of business, posting an 2-0 win at West Ham. The Gunners had to hope that United could do them a favor and merely hold Chelsea to a draw. The Red Devils looked as though they might get the job done. Twice during the match, United led by a goal, but the Chelsea attack could not be stopped. The Blues came back both times, winning the match and the season in style.

More new faces

The Gunners added more than just a new manager, as several players joined the side throughout the season. Nikita Parris, one of the WSL’s most prolific scorers, signed for the club in July 2021. The England all-star had already scored 49 league goals during her stints with Everton and Man City. She then went on to score her 50th for the Gunners in a 7–0 shellacking of Aston Villa.

Embed from Getty Images

The side signed American international Tobin Heath before the start of the season. The striker enjoyed a strong season with Arsenal WFC, scoring twice in nine matches. Yet, a late-season injury ended her season, and she returned stateside to join OL Reign.

Midway through the season, the Gunners made a superstar signing. The club added Swedish striker Stina Blackstenius, and she paid instant dividends. She and Miedema paired up perfectly, and Blackstenius ended the season with six goals in 11 matches. Her tying goal against United came off of perhaps the prettiest assist of the season from Miedema, and if you haven’t seen that play, you need to.

On the backline

Besides their attack, Arsenal WFC also bolstered their defense and midfield. The Gunners signed Danish international Simone Boye Sorensen before opening day. The experienced defender has 66 caps for the Danish national team and saw action in five matches for Arsenal this season.

In January, Rafaelle Souza became the first Brazilian international to sign with the club. She saw action in six matches and scored against Birmingham on 6 March.

They were joined on the Arsenal backline by Austrian international Laura Weinroither. The 23-year-old joined the side from Frauen-Bundesliga club Hoffenheim. She featured in eight WSL regular season matches and one match in the WSL Cup.

Embed from Getty Images

To the middle

Japanese international Mana Iwabuchi re-united with her former Bayern-Munich teammates Miedema and Zinsberger at the Arsenal, joining the club following the Olympics. She featured 11 times for the Gunners, finding the back of the net against Aston Villa.

Also joining the Gunners in the midfield was Norwegian international Frida Maanum. As an attack-minded midfielder, Maanum featured 21 times for the Gunners. She scored a brace against Leicester and added an absolute rocket in a match against Everton.

Player of the Year

While they did not lift the silverware at the end of the season, the Gunners had a very successful 2021/22. Several players had breakout seasons, and the team spread the scoring around more evenly. Miedema scored another 14 goals but also led the league in assists, tying with teammate Beth Mead. Captain Kim Little was her ever robust and calm presence, appearing in every match and contributing six goals.

Williamson and Lotte Wubben-Moy are fixtures on England’s national backline, and stalwart Jordan Nobbs also joined the 50-goal club. As mentioned, Zinsberger led the league in clean sheets and won the Golden Glove for the season.

Player of the Year honors were rightly bestowed upon Beth Mead. The forward enjoyed probably her best season in the WSL. She netted 11 goals for the season and chipped in a league-leading eight assists. Her pace on the attack was terrific all season, and she was the key to the success of Arsenal WFC. She has continued her terrific play for the national side and is one of the reasons many pundits are choosing the home side to left the championship at this summer’s Euros.

Embed from Getty Images

Looking forward

Every Arsenal fan held their breath in anticipation and fear as they waited to see what Viv Miedema would do. The WSL’s all-time top scorer has repeatedly stated that she wants to win trophies, and the Arsenal trophy shelf has been lean as of late. Rumours had her going to Barcelona, Lyon, PSG, and others. With her contract expiring over the summer, fans nervously jumped at every new hint or rumour.

Then, finally, the collective sigh of relief from the Arsenal faithful. Viv decided to stay.

The 25-year-old signed a one-year extension, keeping her in the red for next season. Following a highly productive season (14 G, 8A), Miedema detailed why she is staying a Gunner.

“I think the most beautiful thing about the game is building something with a team and with people around you that you really want to be around.

“I do feel like I have got that at Arsenal. […] For me, winning titles with Arsenal will mean a lot more to me than winning them with another club at the moment. And that’s what I obviously hope to achieve with Arsenal.”

This is an Arsenal side with strength and depth at all positions and a strong core of veterans who have played together for some time. Look for them to battle with Chelsea again for next season’s title.

MORE from Her Football Hub: