If Reading thought they were coming up against an out-of-form Arsenal team (a surprise loss to Birmingham and draws against Manchester United and Chelsea), they were sadly mistaken tonight.
The Royals made one change from Sunday’s FA Cup defeat to West Ham, with Tia Primmer starting in place of Deanne Rose who dropped to the bench. I assume this was a tactical decision by Kelly Chambers (that sadly didn’t work) with Reading lining up in a 4-5-1 formation to try and close down a talented Gunners team.
Reading have never beaten Arsenal in the WSL and from the outset quickly learned it was going to be another tough ask, with Arsenal starting the better of the two teams. The stats confirmed this with four corners in the first 15 minutes.
The small number of travelling Reading fans enjoyed some early optimism with Amalie Eikeland, in the seventh minute, sending in a good cross from the left, only to see this travel just over the heads of everyone. Emma Harries was fouled on 19th minutes but Reading failed to make the most of the free kick, with the referee seeing an infringement against them.
That glimmer of early hope was, unfortunately, pretty much it with Arsenal scoring three goals within 11 minutes. The first was a little unlucky with the ball deflected into the path of Vivianne Miedema who finished with a left-foot strike across the keeper into the corner of the Reading goal (1-0). Miedema scored her ninth goal of the season, her 62nd in the WSL and setting a new record of becoming the first player to score in seven consecutive appearances against the same side…
…anyway, within a minute, it was Arsenal again who reacted quicker, from another unfortunate bounce and this time it was Katie McCabe prodding the ball home (2-0). In the 33rd minute, from Arsenal’s fifth corner of the match, Arsenal went 3-0 up with a charging Leah Williamson heading home.
At half time Kelly Chambers shuffled her pack and made a big statement with a triple substitution. Off went Tia Primmer, Tash Dowie and Emma Harries and on came Rachel Rowe, Justine Vanhaevermaet and Deanne Rose. If the plan was to avoid the repeat of the score line at the SCL Stadium earlier this season, this didn’t work either.
Similar to the first half there was only a couple of glimmers of hope, Deanne Rose whipping in an early cross that Amalie Eikeland wasn’t far from reaching and a shot (the only shot on target) from Rachel Rowe, easily saved by Gunners keeper Manuela Zinsberger. Reading had no corners in comparison to Arsenal’s nine.
Arsenal, with strength throughout their squad, used all five of their substitutions - including a triple substitution on the hour. They had the luxury of bringing on quality international players such as Beth Mead and Jordan Nobbs, the latter replacing the injured Vivianne Miedema who, just before leaving the field, turned from scorer to provider, setting up Stina Blackstenius for an easy left-foot finish past the helpless Reading keeper, Rhiannon Stewart (making only her third WSL appearance of the season) for 4-0.
A third defeat on the trot for the Royals and not the birthday celebrations that Tash Harding hoped for this evening. It’s also a bit unfair to say ‘Reading couldn’t do it on a wet Wednesday night at Boreham Wood’ because tonight they came up against a very good Arsenal performance. The team, I’m sure, will reflect, refresh and regroup ready for Sunday against Tottenham Hotspur (2pm kick off at the SCL Stadium). See you there!