A double from Vivianne Miedema took her tally to 53 goals for the calendar year but Arsenal’s victory against Everton was marred by injury to Beth Mead.
Miedema scored either side of Kim Little’s penalty to ensure Arsenal lead the Women’s Super League table into the new year. A late goal from former Gunner Chloe Kelly was not enough to trouble the visitors but hinted at the resurgence taking place under Willie Kirk.
“Arsenal have got so much quality, when you go a goal behind they’re a tough team to play against because they retain the ball so well,” said Kirk. “We showed a bit of character in the second half. If you go three goals down against Arsenal if you’re not careful it can quickly become four, five, six. I thought we dug in and tried to claw our way back into the game.”
It is one year since Kirk made the move from Manchester United, having spent six months as Casey Stoney’s assistant manager, to Everton and the team’s turnaround has been impressive. Having picked up just three wins in the league last season, Everton already have five this term with nine games played.
Kirk was rewarded for his side’s wins against Liverpool at Anfield and Tottenham with the manager of the month award for November.
“Over the nine games we’re pretty happy where we are,” continued Kirk. “It’s a lot better than last season. But we won’t stop there, we’ll continue to improve this group, it’s a young group, we’ll strengthen in January and we’ll come back and be ready to have a really positive second half of the season. Arsenal are a team that we’re striving to be as good as.”
For the visit of the champions he put three at the back, hoping to halt the swagger of a side that have scored 20 goals in their last two games. The strategy failed, with the team pushed back into a back five. Despite some early pressure from the Blues, the Gunners eased into their flow.
It took just 14 minutes for them to break through. A cross from Little on the far right was inch-perfect onto the head of Miedema who turned it powerfully through the hands of Tinja-Riikka Korpela. The pressure did not stop. Wave after wave of Arsenal attack pushed at the Everton defence.
Last October, despite a win, Jordan Nobbs’s ACL rupture saw the Gunners’ leave the north west with their heads bowed. Just past the half-hour mark, injury struck again. The England forward Mead collapsed to the ground following a tackle by Gabby George and screams reminiscent of Nobbs’s echoed up the stand as physios rushed to hold Mead’s gashed lower leg.
With the forward carried off, and eight minutes added on, Arsenal’s momentum was lost. Everton, though, could not capitalise.
In the second half, with news that the injury may not be as bad as first thought, they regrouped and it was Danielle van de Donk, who stood over the injured Mead while she clutched her face, who would force a fine save from Korpela after cutting on to her right foot and firing low.
Four minutes later and they doubled their lead. Kelly tripped Little in the box and the Arsenal captain stepped up to confidently slot home from the spot.
Miedema added a third, scoring in her sixth consecutive league game to equal Little’s club record, meeting a low cross, which crept under Korpela, from Leonie Maier at the far post.
With 12 minutes left, Kelly pounced on a loose ball and drilled past Manuela Zinsberger to reduce the deficit – her fifth goal in eight league games.
“It was very positive,” said Aaron D’Antino, who with fellow coach Leanne Hall is standing in for Joe Montemurro who has retuned to Australia for personal reasons.
“I’m just proud of the fact that nothing’s changed, we did the business as usual, got a result midweek and today. Top of the table at Christmas, that was what we wanted and we got it.”