WSL Report: Tottenham Hotspur 1 - 0 Arsenal
Arsenal have failed to capitalise on their clinical dispatch of rivals Chelsea last weekend and take top spot in the WSL league following a one-nil defeat to Tottenham in the North London Derby.
A sea of 20,000 blue and white shirts, speckled with red and white, filled the stands. The lone and sonorous melody of Louis Armstrong's ‘When The Saints Go Marching In’ echoed ethereally around Tottenham Hotspur Stadium. This set the tone for what proved to be an anomalous performance by the Gunners.
Arsenal pressed aggressively in the opening ten minutes, with 52% of their attacks originating from the left flank.
Playing at left back, Catley passed the ball to her teammate, Matilda Foord. Foord skilfully weaved through Spurs' central midfield, combining play with Maanum, before she unleashed several rapid attempts at goal in just three minutes.
An off-looking Foord, however, struggled to convert.
In the 14th minute, Foord stretched awkwardly, attempting a dramatic karate kick to meet Mead’s crisply whipped cross into the box. She grimaced in frustration as her effort failed to connect cleanly with the ball.
In the 16th minute, incoming goalkeeper Barbora Votikova was beaten by number 19’s beautifully placed curl, only to be rescued by the post.
Spurs struggled to read Arsenal's set pieces, with Catley and Mead conspiring to deliver menacing balls that both Russo and Amanda Ilestedt failed to capitalise on.
Tottenham’s defence adjusted to the threat, with Graham and Neville shutting down the flanks and forcing the attacking wingers to push inside, while centre-back Bartrip stifled Russo in the run of play.
Despite Arsenal’s possession, Spurs had spells of brilliance.
Beth England, known for her formidable hold-up play, dominated at the edge of the box. Meanwhile, Bizet, the talented Norwegian player, outmaneuvered Catley on the right flank.
Yet, like Arsenal, Tottenham lacked that killer instinct in their final passage of play, with a counterattack in the 32nd minute offset by a disciplined Arsenal defence, halting Neville’s darting run towards the left corner flag.
With a ratio of 7-2 shots at goal in the Gunners’ favour, one sensed that Spurs were content with the scoreline as the minutes ticked by towards the end of the first-half.
Leonhardsen Maanum almost broke the deadlock just before the half-time whistle with a casual placement of the ball towards the top right-hand corner.
Votikova, determined to remain in Vilahamn’s starting eleven, stretched and parried the shot out wide for a corner kick.
Patience wearing thin as her side was continually frustrated, McCabe was lucky not to receive a yellow card following her late collision against defender Neville, narrowly avoiding a suspension for Arsenal’s New Year clash against Everton.
Before the restart, perhaps cognisant of her recent hip injury, Vilahamn switched Beth England with Naz - the pacey and physical forward who scored twice in their Conti Cup clash with Arsenal midweek.
Arsenal once again pressed in the opening minutes of the second half, with a sharp pass down centre by Walti laid off by Russo for Maanum, who surprised the defence with a one-touch strike.
Luckily for Spurs, her dupe was anticipated and blocked by the keeper, solidifying an impressive WSL debut.
Decked in a black Adidas trench coat, Arsenal manager Jonas Eidevall clapped encouragingly from the touchline when Maanum sent another shot careening over the bar, while Mead’s volley moments later settled benignly amongst the cheering home crowd.
In the 58th minute, Neville skilfully dinked a ball around Katie McCabe.
The pass found their top goalscorer, Martha Thomas, who expertly controlled it and turned with ease.
She then rolled it on to Bizet, who was charging down the right flank with plenty of space.
Bizet advanced before diverting inside and cutting the ball back towards Thomas.
Anticipating the move, Thomas outmaneuvered Ilestedt’s outstretched leg and deftly poked the ball past Zinsberger to give Spurs the lead.
In response to Tottenham drawing first blood, Arsenal’s Steph Catley pushed higher up the pitch, with Votikova forced to make another big stop when a soft defensive header from Neville set Russo up for the lob.
Vivianne Miedema, marking her 100th appearance for the Gunners, and Arsenal’s November player of the month, Kyra Cooney-Cross, replaced Pelova and Maanum with half an hour left to play.
Cooney-Cross made an instant impact, her fresh legs further ramping up the tempo.
With only 9% of the action situated in the visitors’ end, and a 23-shot (and counting) tally, an equaliser seemed inevitable.
Yet, when Mead struck the ball across the goalmouth in the 74th minute, only two Arsenal players were positioned to pounce.
Despite the scoreline, Arsenal seemed reluctant to commit players within the six-yard box and looked a little ragged and out of shape.
As full-time drew near, play was halted due to a medical emergency in the crowd, giving both teams a chance to regroup and replenish.
With five of their WSL goals this season arriving in the final minutes, Arsenal fans had reason to be hopeful as super sub Stina Blackstenius charged onto the pitch in the 80th minute.
For Tottenham, goalscorer Thomas was substituted for Percival.
With play resuming, hope was further stoked when officials indicated that eleven minutes of stoppage time would be played, with attacking winger Lacasse replacing McCabe shortly thereafter as a statement of intent.
In the 91st minute, the Canadian darted past the Spurs’ defence, delivering a ball metres from goal to an off-balanced Miedema who, having recently returned from an ACL tear, has yet to fire on all cylinders.
For the remaining additional ten minutes following the emergency stop in play, Arsenal threw everything at Spurs, who defended gallantly, with Bartrip roaring as she prevented Russo yet again from converting with her head.
Despite the pressure applied throughout by the players in red and white, it is Eidevall’s team who end the game on the back foot, with goalkeeper Zinsberger caught out of position having run the length of the pitch for a last-ditch corner in the dying moments.
As the seconds ticked down, Lacasse pursued Ayane, who sprinted after the ball, with nothing but an unguarded goal beyond.
To her left, Zinsberger flailed an arm in a desperate plea for offside.
Lacasse, in pursuit of the Spurs forward, followed suit.
As Ayane, metres from goal, drew her right foot back to shoot, Lacasse stole the ball with a daring slide tackle, leaving viewers both at home and within the grounds, breathless.
The final whistle then blew.
Tottenham Hotspur had won their first North London Derby.
In failing to seize the opportunity and secure three points, Arsenal have inadvertently breathed life back into a struggling Chelsea.
All to play for in 2024.