Arsenal ensured the destination of the WSL trophy will be decided on the final day of the season, with a 3-0 defeat of Tottenham at the Emirates Stadium keeping them in the hunt for the title.
A fourth-minute strike from influential forward Beth Mead and two second-half goals from Caitlin Foord moved the Gunners back to within a point of league leaders Chelsea with one game to play.
In the eight competitive fixtures played between the two sides since Tottenham were promoted to the WSL in 2019, Arsenal have won seven times (including a win on penalties in the League Cup) and lost none, with the sole draw between them coming in reverse. fixture in November. In those eight games, Arsenal scored 29 goals and conceded just five times.
The Gunners’ draw with Tottenham in November, with a stoppage-time equalizer from forward Vivianne Miedema required to deny the home team three points at the Hive, signaled that the gap is closing between the women’s football heavyweights and their north London rivals.
After a blistering start to the season, the two points dropped at the Hive was the first blemish on an immaculate Gunners league campaign.
After that match, Tottenham manager Rehanne Skinner said that Arsenal and England center-back Leah Williamson had told her that Spurs’ progress was making this “a proper north London derby”.
Keen to capitalize on the budding competitiveness between the two teams, Arsenal arranged for the tie to be played at the Emirates Stadium on Saturday 26 March. The postponement then due to a Covid outbreak at Tottenham was frustrating, as the fixture was shunted from a prime weekend slot to Wednesday evening. The turnout was impacted, with half of the open lower tier a fair way under capacity.
Within four minutes though, those that had turned up were treated to a first WSL north London derby goal at the Emirates. A purposeful pass from Williamson was latched onto by Mead who ran into the box, shifted the ball onto her left foot and fired low past Tinja-Riikka Korpela.
In the buildup, the Arsenal manager, Jonas Eidevall, had pointed to the potential for the tie to be a bruising one. “When you look at it statistically,” he said. “We are the team that has the ball in play the most in the WSL, Spurs are second bottom of that metric. One team wants the ball in play and the other doesn’t. When we played them in November, there were 22 fouls from Spurs whereas we are rarely over 10 fouls.
“It’s a physical, gritty side that we’re going to play against that will try to take the tempo out of the game and they are very good at doing that. I respect them for doing that, we want to showcase our football and to create and have the ball in play. It will be exciting to see which style will win the game. ”
He wasn’t wrong. By half-time Spurs had conceded eight fouls to Arsenal’s one, with midfielder Maeva Clemaron and forward Rachel Williams, scorer of Tottenham’s opener in November, particularly tough in the tackle.
Not long after Mead’s opening goal, Spurs went agonizingly close to an equalizer as the ball pinballed around the Arsenal box before Mead blocked Kyah Simon’s effort and Miedema cleared off the line from the Australian shortly after.
Simon, who picked up a yellow card was hooked at half-time in favor of Finnish midfielder Eveliina Summanen, who took just 15 minutes to get in the book herself.
In the second half the story was similar, with Arsenal controlling possession and pushing for a second but struggling to break through the banks of organized white shirts.
In the 71st minute they finally squeezed through. Miedema’s short corner to Mead was played back to the Dutch forward whose shot was saved by the foot of Korpela only for Foord to poke in at the back post.
Less than 10 minutes later it was three as Miedema clipped the ball wide to Mead, who did the same to Foord waiting to her left, and the Australian forward took one touch before curling the ball into the top corner.
Spurs had the chance of a consolation from the penalty spot in added time as Angela Addison went down, softly, in the area under pressure from defender Lotte Wubben-Moy but Addison’s penalty came back off the upright.
Arsenal’s hope of dethroning reigning champions Chelsea remains alive, just. The Gunners must win at West Ham on Sunday lunchtime and hope that Manchester United can deny Chelsea victory at Kingsmeadow to send the trophy north across the river.