Vivianne Miedema scored yet again to give Arsenal a comfortable win away to Birmingham City in the Women's Super League.
Arsenal’s Dutch star bagged the third of the game, coming 15 minutes from full time. It's the first time Miedema gets a league goal against Birmingham.
She received the ball on the edge of the box and after a smart fake shot and good footwork, she fired in a beautiful shot against Hannah Hampton’s far post and into the net. It was another satisfying away day in the West Midlands for Joe Montemurro, having beaten Birmingham’s Second City rivals Aston Villa in their last game.
Story of the match
The first half of the match was hardly a classic, with little happening until the closing five minutes. Vivianne Miedema had a chance to open the scoring with a close range header after six minutes, but her effort cannoned off the post. The Dutch striker had a couple more efforts miss narrowly throughout the first half, but she was largely kept quiet as Blues forced her to drop deeper into midfield to receive the ball.
Despite Miedema being contained by Birmingham, they needed to pay closer attention to her attacking partner Caitlin Foord. The Australian hitman headed in her first goal from close range, despite much confusion over the decision to allow it. The linesman also appeared to flag for either offside or a foul on Blues’ goalkeeper Hannah Hampton, who picked up a knock during the move, yet the referee overruled her assistant and the goal stood.
The second goal was much more cut-and-dry than the opener and it came just two minutes later. Blues again lost track of Foord at the far post and she was able to stab home unchallenged from a few yards out. It was a frustrating end to the half for Carla Ward’s side as their low block of defenders had kept Arsenal well contained up to Foord’s opener.
The offside incident wasn’t the only unusual controversy the players had to contend with at St George’s Park. At the start of the match, all of the balls were flat. Within five seconds of the game kicking off, the players had to put the ball out and exchange it for a new one because it was flat.
Katie McCabe spent much of the opening stages complaining to the referee about the balls, while Hannah Hampton had to avoid using one of the spares behind her goal for the same reason. It was a bizarre incident that should have been noticed well before kick-off.
It was a much different start to the second half with Birmingham doing much of the attacking. The hosts introduced Claudia Walker and Christie Murray from the bench at half time and they came flying out the gates. Walker had the first real chance of the half, with some good build-up play finishing in her shot being well blocked. Both players wreaked havoc on the Arsenal defence in the opening stages of the half, yet this didn’t result in a goal.
Despite these promising early signs from Blues, the game eventually settled back into the rhythm of relentless Arsenal dominance. Hampton had to make a string of impressive saves to try and keep it respectable, including launching into a tackle to send the ball flying into the grass behind the touchline, but there was no stopping Arsenal in the closing stages.
Jill Roord came close late on, but it was her fellow substitute Lisa Evans who completed the scoring in injury time, securing successive 4-0 wins on the road for the Gunners. It was a very satisfying performance for Montemurro’s players, who again proved they can keep their professionalism when faced with stubborn defences.
Takeaways from the match
Blues desperately need Murray back to full fitness
The Blues skipper has been sorely missed during her long-term injury layoff, but now with her back in the team they can finally start to look forward again. She hasn't played since Blues' defeat to West Ham in November and in that time Blues have won just once and scored just two goals.
Carla Ward will be desperate for her to get back up to speed as quickly as possible and for Blues to finally start picking up points again.
Miedema is unparalleled in the WSL
This statement may prove shocking to some, but Vivianne Miedema is quite a good striker. While she is a prolific goal scorer, averaging just under a goal every game this season, she is much more than just a finisher. Her work rate and willingness to drop back into midfield to receive the ball while holding off and drawing away defenders is what drives Arsenal forward and what sets her apart from many other strikers in the league.
Her opposite number in this game, Claudia Walker, is a similar type of striker. Like Miedema, she is a good finisher with fantastic hold-up play and a high work rate, but her scoring record is dwarfed by the Arsenal star. Very few strikers in the world, let alone the league, can match Miedema in terms of how well rounded she is.
Stars of the match
It's difficult to pick a star for a side who lost by four goals, but if there had to be one it would be Hannah Hampton. Yet again, the England shot-stopper kept her side in the game and kept it respectable until the closing stages. She led well from the back, made a string of impressive saves and certainly did her international chances no harm.
As for Arsenal, their star is much harder to pick for the complete opposite reason. If you had to narrow it down to one player, it would have to be Vivianne Miedema. Her goal was a sublime effort and she continues to be the driving force behind Arsenal's attacking prowess.