A hat-trick from Jill Roord, two from Vivianne Miedema and an exquisite volley from Kim Little earned the Gunners a 6-1 victory in their opening game at home to Reading.
It was Arsenal’s first game in over since months since the 2019/20 Women’s Super League was curtailed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Joe Montemurro’s side bounced back from their Champions League exit at the hands of Paris Saint Germain and displayed an inspired performance against a strong Royals side who’s pressing style of football made the game a difficult one for Arsenal, despite what the scoreline may show.
Jill Roord’s performance
23-year-old Netherlands midfielder Jill Roord joined the Gunners in last summer’s transfer window from FC Bayern Munich and has already equalled her goal tally from last season.
Sitting in the middle of the pitch, the partnerships that she has built up with the rest of the side were evident, Roord’s positional play allowing her to find herself unmarked for all three goals after interplay with the wingers.
Speaking in his post-match press conference, the Arsenal head coach praised Roord’s performance and highlighted how her game has improved since she made the move to Meadow Park:
“She has a very, very good understanding of space. She has a very good understanding of positioning and sometimes with players of that talent, especially on the ball, you have to teach them sometimes to stand still. Not follow the phase, not follow the ball, just stand still and you'll receive it in one space beating the line.
“I think it was three or four times in the first half where she just stayed in an area because we had the ability to prepare and build up and find her in very dangerous areas in between lines. She did very, very well today.”
Joe Montemurro favours the use of a smaller squad for his Arsenal side, although injuries in previous seasons have often resulted in a lack of depth, something which has proved to be detrimental for a side who featured in the league, Continental Cup, FA Cup and Europe last season.
The Gunners have used the recent transfer window to recruit wisely and bring in players to help in positions where they struggled last year. The head coach believes that a larger squad will help his side to stay at their best throughout this season:
“We've always had the same amount of players, we've always had 20-21 players in the squad, it's been unfortunate in the past years that we've had some long term injuries and some players that haven't been able to get right so we've had to make do with that.
“I think it's important for us because this season is going to be longer with the added FA Cup and the Conti Cup coming up before the second phase of the FA Cup in the second half of the season so I'm happy to use a 'rotation' because we can have the opportunity to freshen up players and have them at their best.”
Montemurro’s side impressed as a collective on Sunday, keeping the ball wall to negate the effects of a highly physical Reading midfield and nullifying the effect of the Royals’ signature high-press throughout the game:
“It's a quality of what we've been trying to build over the last three years, the collective way we play. We like to prepare a lot of our patterns in our play and I think that today was a good example of that.
“I was also particularly happy with our defensive structure. We played against a who, don't think that because of the result today Reading are not going to be a team who are there in the end. They pressed us very, very high - especially in the first part of the first half and the first part of the second half - and we did well to solve the problems of them pressing very, very high so I was even more pleased with that phase of our play.”
Steph Catley, Noelle Martiz, Malin Gut and Caitlin Foord all made their league debuts for the Gunners on Sunday. Catley’s long ball provided a direct path for Jordan Nobbs to assist Vivianne Miedema for the game’s second and her ability to play accurate long passes is something which looks like it may feature often this season. Montemurro praised the performances of Gut and Foord and the additional options which the new players provide:
“They are all growing, they are all integrating well. Malin Gut and Caitlin Foord were very good today, I think we say Malin today especially will be a special player for Arsenal. I've said this before.
“We saw the power of Caitlin Foord getting in some amazing positions where she probably could have had a goal or two so I'm really excited that we have the possibility to do all different things, not just in an approach to a game but throughout games.
“If we need to change things, if we need to play with different types of wingers, or we know that Caitlin can play centrally if we need a second striker, then we can do that. It's been quite deliberate in doing that and that's what I'm excited about.”
The return of fans
An opening day fixture in Borehamwood is one which would have normally taken place in front of a bumper crowd, although the stands were empty on Sunday.
Montemurro spoke about the difference of playing behind-closed-doors and the desire to have fans back sooner rather than later:
“It's definitely different. You lose a little bit of the emotion. The emotion of the moments [that you get] by having the crowd there. I get a little less abuse shouted at me so I'm alright!
“It is different and we can't wait to have everyone back but we just want to make sure that it's done properly and done for the safety of everyone.”
Arsenal will take part in a pilot fixture next weekend at West Ham United’s Victoria Road in front of 1000 spectators, the first top-flight football fixture with fans back in the ground.