Aston Villa Women were back in Women’s Super League action on Sunday afternoon, but it was not the result they would’ve wanted as Arsenal secured all three points with a 4-0 win.
Second-half goals from Vivianne Miedema, Jordan Nobbs, Katie McCabe, and Lisa Evans became the undoing of a Villa side that remained resolute throughout the first half.
It was always going to be a tough ask, but recent results provided a glimmer of hope for Marcus Bignot’s side who have been on an upward spiral since his arrival in January.
That was very much the case in the first 45 minutes as Arsenal, despite dominating possession, struggled to break their opponents down and were left to rue missed chances.
Arsenal stamp their authority on the game in the second half and come away with the points. pic.twitter.com/kt9ssSRpba— Aston Villa Women (@AVWFCOfficial) February 28, 2021
Five minutes in, Nobbs had the opportunity to open the scoring from a tight angle, but Lisa Weiss made the first of many saves to send it behind for a corner.
A few minutes later, Villa had their first run at goal with a quick counter-attack as Elisha N’dow was able to find Mana Iwabuchi, but the Japanese international was unable to get the ball under control in time and the danger was cleared by the Arsenal back-line.
The hosts were able to cause further trouble on 22 minutes after some fantastic footwork from Chloe Arthur saw her clip a ball over the Arsenal defense and into the path of Stine Larsen.
The number nine came off second best in a battle with Leah Williamson and the forward’s opportunity was hastily cleared.
Larsen was in again on the 30-minute mark and this time she struggled to find her way past Williamson and Jennifer Beattie, with little support from her teammates.
The isolation of the Danish international made it difficult for Bignot’s side to carve out many clear-cut chances as the majority of the team were deep in their own half, unable to support their attacking play quick enough.
Villa did well in the first half to break forward on occasion and relieve the pressure on their defense, but with too much space between their midfielders and forwards, opportunities were comfortably handled by the Gunners.
Arsenal refused to be left ruing missed chances and started the second half brightly, with Miedema having a go from range, but she saw her effort lift over the crossbar and into the stands.
It was the hosts that had the next big chance on 57 minutes, as N’Dow found herself with an opportunity to put her side ahead but, like Miedema, her shot flew narrowly over the crossbar in what was Villa’s best chance of the game.
Just moments later, the Villan’s hard work began to unravel before them as Miedema eventually found the back of the net for Arsenal.
Beth Mead was in space on the right flank and sent a cross into the box, which was comfortably tapped in by the forward inside the six-yard box.
Whilst the opener was a confidence knock for Villa, it was the opposite for Joe Montemurro’s side who were given a huge lift and chances came thick and fast.
Within 10 minutes their lead was extended to two as the goal scorer had an effort pushed away by Weiss, but straight into the path of Nobbs, who was able to knock it beyond the goalkeeper.
In their first attack following the second, Arsenal very nearly made it three as an initial effort from Noelle Maritz came off the crossbar and the follow up was headed straight at Weiss by McCabe.
Minutes later, though, the Irish international got her goal as a powerful effort from distance was drilled into the top corner, making it 3-0 to the visitors.
It was already game over, but Arsenal didn’t let up and a fourth eventually came their way as a cross in from the left was headed in from close range by Evans with a few minutes left to play.
@Katie_McCabe11 with the rocket! #BarclaysFAWSL pic.twitter.com/GWZQE96LRF— Barclays FA Women's Super League (@BarclaysFAWSL) February 28, 2021
The full-time whistle came as a relief to Villa as they found themselves on the ropes in the second 45 and the defeat will sting as they were well on the way to a positive result when the half-time whistle blew.
This loss, though, is reminiscent of the 4-0 defeat to Chelsea at the end of January as, despite the score line, Bignot was beginning to instill greater resilience in his team as the ‘days of winning easily at Villa have ended’, to quote the Blues boss, Emma Hayes.
In times before, Arsenal may have traveled to Walsall and walked away with a victory similar to the 6-1 or 9-1 they’ve earned against others already this campaign.
But the visitors were made to dig deep in order to break down this Villa defense.
As his side travel to face Manchester United next weekend, Bignot will want to put this result quickly behind them as they look to continue their climb of the table, with survival well-within their sights.