Arsenal breezed their way past Aston Villa, scoring seven unanswered goals at Borehamwood to stay on the shoulder of the Women’s Super League leaders Chelsea.
Emma Hayes’s team restored their lead to four points by winning 1-0 at Birmingham later in the day, but Arsenal have a game in hand and will hope to take the title race to the final day on Sunday.
Arsenal’s clearest tactic in this game was to ensure Beth Mead, who had scored in her past four games and made it five in a row here, remained in the line of sight of Mayumi Pacheco, the Villa defender, on the right wing.
While the visitors’ back four were busying themselves with Mead, Vivianne Miedema sprung up to cause defensive chaos from the left. The Dutchwoman evaded Sarah Mayling’s erratic marking from the start, making darting runs in the box, and at other times delivering defence-dissecting passes. It was this particular pattern of play that led to Arsenal’s – and Miedema’s – first.
After an audacious run through the Villa midfield, the forward blasted the ball past Sian Rogers as early as the ninth minute. Of course, one goal would not be enough for Miedema, especially with the WSL Golden Boot race hotting up.
Arsenal searched for a second, this time troubling the Villa central defensive pair. Anita Asante and Rachel Corsie struggled to remain in touch with one another. It was not long before Arsenal exploited their failings and in the 13th minute Miedema perfectly recreated her first goal.
Jonas Eidevall, Arsenal’s manager, commented on the Miedema-led attack, mentioning the work that had been done to create it off the pitch: “It’s a big part of us, having a good balance at the different ways we attack in open play, lightning‑fast counters and really good positional possession play, that’s what we try to embody and that’s what we tried to do today.”
It became increasingly apparent with both goals that Villa were missing Jill Scott’s tenacity and pressing. The 34-year-old’s injury left a gaping hole in defensive midfield, and Arsenal glided through it on almost every occasion, unchecked. It was only down to another outstanding performance from Rogers, the Villa goalkeeper – similar to her player of the match display against Manchester United – that kept the scoreline at 2-0.
That all changed after half-time. Though Rogers had made several saves in the first half, she could do little to divert a header from her own defender, Corsie, that gifted Arsenal a third goal in the 52nd minute.
There had been some confusion on the scorer; Miedema’s shot had clattered off the crossbar and on to Corsie’s head, with Mead also hovering around the goalmouth and attempting to apply the finish, but it was the Villa defender who was deemed to have had the final touch.
Carla Ward had seen enough, and swapped Alisha Lehmann for Shania Hayles. But the forward joined a side camped deep in their own half, and soon there would be a fourth goal from Mead, a fifth from Lotte Wubben-Moy, and a sixth from Stina Blackstenius in the 82nd minute, as Arsenal relentlessly ploughed through their opposition.
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Eidevall said of the rout: “It’s fundamental, how much we do with each game, we have to keep scoring and getting the most points and goals we have. I’m pleased we have that culture here, as Barcelona women’s do.”
Approaching full time, Nikita Parris scored the seventh, from the penalty spot, and at the end both teams had gained their own reprieve and insight. Aston Villa will likely avoid relegation despite the battering, Arsenal know they must simply try to win their remaining two games, the first of which is Wednesday’s north London derby at the Emirates Stadium. If Arsenal lose it the title will be Chelsea’s again. Win, and the race goes to the wire.