The American winger tore through Villa’s right flank in the 80th minute and teed up Mana Iwabuchi who scored with a perfect first-time finish. It was a disappointing late collapse for Villa, seeing goalkeeper Hannah Hampton have a horror final ten minutes, but there were positives, nevertheless.
Jonas Eidevall's side continued their charge towards regaining the Women's Super League title, picking up their ninth straight win in all competitions.
Story of the match
It was a first half of Arsenal attack vs Villa defence which got started very quickly. Within the first two minutes, Vivianne Miedema sent a headed effort towards goal which got deflected onto the bar. The visitors didn’t let up, leaving Villa camped outside their own box during the early exchanges. Miedema again came close from a header on seven minutes, giving Villa another warning.
Carla Ward’s side managed to weather the early storm to get a few chances on the counter shortly after. Manuela Zinsberger had a heart-in-mouth moment as her short pass out was picked up by Chantelle Boye-Hlorkah. The makeshift striker looped an effort towards goal, but the backtracking ‘keeper was able to recover and tip it over for a corner.
Immediately after, Boye-Hlorkah was unlucky not to head home from point-blank range. The corner conceded by Zinsberger was cleared out to Meaghan Sargeant, who sent a venomous cross towards Boye-Hlorkah. However, the ball had too much on it and it zipped over her head.
Arsenal looked to counter from there, with Steph Catley sending a perfect low ball into the path of Miedema. Unfortunately for the Dutch striker, Hampton was there to dive at her feet to parry the ball clear.
The game settled into a fascinating tactical battle from there. Villa tried out a deeper defensive block for the first time, seeing Sargeant, Anita Asante and Elisha N’Dow forming the centre of a back five. The five defenders stayed narrow to counter the wide threat from Arsenal, with a spare central defender being on hand if the full back was beaten. They did a fine job of crowding Arsenal out, forcing Miedema to drop deeper to get on the ball.
Villa’s low block did start to creak towards the end of the half, however. Both Alisha Lehmann and Remi Allen made panicked errors to let the Gunners through, but Hampton was on fine form to recover. Lehmann’s mistake, a needless foul on the edge of the box, saw a wicked free kick get sent in towards Hampton’s near post. However, the ‘keeper got down quickly to keep it out.
Ironically for Villa, it was their former star that finally broke them down. Iwabuchi replaced Frida Maanum at half time and ran rings around Villa’s defenders. She quickened Arsenal’s attack and gave them the spark they needed to break through the low block. The Japanese star pulled Villa’s defenders apart, giving Little the room, she needed to send a low shot cannoning in off the post.
Fellow substitute Katie McCabe was on hand to compound Villa’s misery three minutes after Iwabuchi’s goal. Hampton played a short pass out from the box, which fell to the feet of the Irish star. She sent an effort looping over Hampton into the net, leaving the ‘keeper stranded. Little grabbed her second of the game and 150th Arsenal goal courtesy of a heavy deflection just before full time.
Despite Villa’s late collapse, there were signs that they can hit teams on the counter. Both Boye-Hlorkah and substitute Shania Hayles worked the Arsenal defence. Villa’s low block forced Arsenal to work for the win until the final ten minutes, so Ward will see the positives.
Takeaways from the match
Villa are not here to mess around
The scoreline is very harsh on Villa. They defended resiliently for 80 minutes, but fell to a late onslaught from Arsenal. Their right back, 16-year-old Olivia McLoughlin, coped especially well given her opponents and the fact that she has never played at right back before. Villa's refusal to lie down for Arsenal show that they are now able to hang with the best in the league.
Stop Arsenal if you can
Since Eidevall's arrival in North London, Arsenal have been quite literally unstoppable. He has won all nine of his matches in charge so far and they already seem like favourites for the title. Their ruthlessness with Villa, especially with them having one eye on their Champions League tie with Barcelona in midweek, further shows that they are not to be messed with.
Stars of the match
From a Villa perspective, their star is naturally a defender. Elisha N'Dow came up with some huge blocks and clearances throughout the match and regularly bailed out her teammates. Honourable mention should also go to Mayumi Pacheco for her work in both directions.
Despite a very impressive team performance, the star of the show was Mana Iwabuchi. Her skillset of drawing players out and finding space between the lines were instrumental in breaking Villa's resistance and they struggled without her.