Arsenal set WSL pace as Eidevall brings intensity and intelligence | Suzanne Wrack

Manchester City have struggled with injuries while Everton have faltered, leaving unbeaten Arsenal looking the most likely threat to champions Chelsea

As the Women’s Super League season pauses for the international break, unbeaten Arsenal top the table after five games and are on a mission to reclaim the title from the back-to-back winners, Chelsea. Meanwhile, there has been the first managerial casualty, with Everton’s Willie Kirk out after a slow start to a campaign when his team was expected to be serious challengers.

The Gunners’ strong summer spend on and off the pitch, with Gary Lewin’s arrival as head of medicine and sports science among the backroom recruits that have perhaps been as important as players such as Mana Iwabuchi and Tobin Heath, has put them right among the contenders despite having finished nine points behind Chelsea last season.

Early indications are that Jonas Eidevall, their Swedish manager brought in from Rosengård, is proving an impressive hire, the Gunners playing with an intensity and intelligence off the ball that was lacking under Joe Montemurro.

The team’s 3-0 defeat of Everton last Sunday followed by the 4-0 win over Hoffenheim demonstrated that, despite the humbling 4-1 loss to Barcelona in their opening Champions League group game, there is no sign of the engine stalling.

The league remains the main focus of Arsenal’s attentions, as it was when they ended a seven‑year wait to lift the WSL title in 2019, with other tournaments sacrificed as they juggled the campaign with an injury crisis. This time they have the depth of squad to cope with all challenges.

Arsenal are the only team not to have dropped a point and have scored 19 goals. The run included a 3-2 defeat of Chelsea (Arsenal’s only two goals conceded) and a 5-0 hammering of Manchester City, having previously struggled to take points of their title rivals.

New signings and a new manager do not guarantee success but Arsenal are fulfilling the expectations many had for them before the start of the season.

Jonas Eidevall directs training at Arsenal Women’s London Colney
Jonas Eidevall directs training at Arsenal Women’s London Colney base. His WSL frontrunners have beaten the champions Chelsea in the season’s opening month. Photograph: David Price/Arsenal FC/Getty Images

Manchester City’s struggle is perhaps the biggest surprise. Gareth Taylor’s side have lost three games compared with one last season and two in the 2019-20 campaign. Three defeats in a league of 12 teams makes a title challenge extremely difficult.

Despite a remarkable injury crisis, the quality of players City have been able to field has been high. Having lost Georgia Stanway to a deserved red card in the first half at Manchester United last Saturday, City still salvaged a point in a 2-2 draw. The manner of that performance and the four-week gap until their next WSL fixture means City have an opportunity to turn things around but the 11-point gap to Arsenal is large.

In stark contrast to the immediate impact made by Arsenal’s recruits, Everton’s impressive summer signings have struggled to find their rhythm in the increasingly competitive league, resulting in the somewhat premature departure of Kirk. Expected to make an impact at the top, Everton instead sit eighth, two points above City, with two wins and having conceded 11 goals against Chelsea, Manchester City and Arsenal, teams they were expected to challenge.

It is Tottenham, with the former England assistant coach Rehanne Skinner in charge, who have climbed the table. Spurs lie third, behind Chelsea but level on points and two clear of Manchester United, who were predicted to struggle after the departure of Casey Stoney as manager and Lauren James, Christen Press and Heath.

It is perhaps more interesting at the bottom of the table. The WSL debutants Leicester are the only team yet to have picked up a point but they have performed well and held Chelsea at bay until the 83rd minute before conceding twice.

After Bristol City were the clear favourites to be relegated last season, the battle to avoid the drop is likely to be much tighter this time. Seven points separate seventh‑placed Aston Villa and Leicester at the bottom. Under their new manager, Scott Booth, Birmingham clawed their way clear of Leicester with a draw against West Ham last weekend while Reading earned a first win, against Aston Villa.

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The new broadcast rights deal adds an extra incentive to avoid relegation, not just because clubs benefit financially from it directly but because matches broadcast on Sky Sports and the BBC drive interest, revenue and backing in other ways, too.

There can be no room for complacency. Manchester United’s slip from the top of the table at Christmas last season to fourth come May showed how quickly things can change.

Contributor

Suzanne Wrack

The GuardianTramp

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