How would the Reading Royals respond after their thorough beating by Chelsea last week? How would they fare against an Arsenal side that defeated them 6-1 in the opening match of the season? How would Arsenal play in their first match in a month?
An evenly matched, technical game without much drama showed that Reading has bounced back well, that manager Kelly Chambers has gotten her side back on track, and that Arsenal felt the effects of their long layoff.
A 1-1 draw today at Madejski Stadium saw the Royals have the better of the play in the first half. A goal in the fifth minute by Reading’s Lauren Bruton off a wonderful free kick from Emma Mitchell put the hosts ahead early.
From there, Reading continued to have control of play during the first half. The Royals' attack was played out well, calm, and disciplined. Reading striker Jess Fishlock was a presence to watch out for, and the entirety of the Royals starting 11 played their positions superbly. Chambers’ squad was ready to play and was impressive to watch.
Arsenal boss Joe Montemurro started a young defence for the Gunners, with Anna Patten making her return to the backline alongside Lotte Wubben-Moy. Veteran Katie McCabe played at right back; and the Royals attacked the youngsters on the left side with success. Arsenal’s defence looked confused at times throughout, and several mis-communications between Arsenal keeper Manuela Zinsberger and her defence made for some nervous moments for the Gunners.
Arsenal came out of the defensive end near the end of the half, Dutch international, Vivianne Miedema, does what Vivianne Miedema does best. One quick chance, and the Gunners were level in the 40th minute. It seems as though they old saying follows Miedema: “You can’t stop her; you can only hope to contain her.” Overall, it was apparent that the Royals’ defence was frustrating the WSL’s top scorer throughout the game, and indeed the entirety of the Gunner’s attack during the first half.
An Arsenal surge in the second half
The second half saw Montemurro make several changes, and these brought an immediate difference to the pitch. Patten and Wubben-Moy came off for veteran Gunners, Jen Beattie and Leah Williamson in the backline; Beth Mead came on for Malin Gut and was the best player on the pitch for the second half.
Mead was a force to be reckoned with, and the Gunners controlled play in the second half. Mead made numerous runs down the right side and spent considerable time around Reading’s box. The winger put in several crosses for Arsenal and many opportunities to take the lead came their way, but they could not finish.
Reading keeper Grace Moloney made two key saves, and the visitors also saw a number of shots miss from close in. Miedema had a great chance in the 67th minute, but went down in the box as she took her shot. The striker appealed to referee, Lisa Benn, for a penalty, but none was forthcoming. Benn called an excellent match, letting the teams play and kept the match going.
Two major concerns for the Royals coming out of this are Fishlock and defender, Kristine Leine. Fishlock took a hard shot to the head off the foot of Leah Williamson in the 73rd minute and went down for some time. She passed initial concussion protocol and continued in the match, but had to be subbed off nine minutes later as she was obviously woozy.
More troubling at this point is Leine. In the 86th minute, she was involved in a collision and went down with a scream. She remained on the pitch for several minutes, and was eventually stretchered off with her leg strapped. No word just yet on the extent of the injury, but Leine was laughing and looked in good spirits as she was carried off. Hopefully, she will be back straight away.
Nine minutes of added time provided some action, but neither side capitalized. With the draw, and a well-played match, the Royals showed a tremendous turnaround from the Chelsea thrashing. A great response by Chambers and her squad.
Next up for the Royals is Aston Villa, who sit just one spot from the bottom of the table. This will be a great opportunity for the team to gain on fifth place Everton. If the Royals can catch the Toffees, it would be massive for the club’s mentality in the rest of the season.
Football, as with all sports, is won and lost with a player’s attitude. Reading have picked themselves up tremendously with a result against Arsenal, and will be rather exciting to watch next week.
Conversely, the Gunners have most likely fallen out of the title race. With Chelsea, Manchester United, and Manchester City all ahead and playing terrific football, Arsenal had a tall order ahead of them going into this match.
With their draw against Reading, the Gunners have put themselves into a situation where they need to win out for a chance at the title. Montemurro needs to find his most consistent lineup. He’s got the players, but not the right combination at the right time. There is still time to make this team the goal-scoring juggernaut they can be, but they have to develop consistency.
More importantly, the Gunners and their manager need to get their minds right. Right now, this team is not all on the same page, and that shows on the pitch. The have a week to work on their difficulties. Next up are West Ham, who will have to fill the hole left by Rachel Daly who will return to the NWSL.
This will be a great chance to right the ship for the Gunners. Arsenal is a star-studded team with a lot of confidence issues right now, and a strong showing against the Hammers will be a massive help.