Bill Shankly famously said that “some people believe football is a matter of life and death, I am very disappointed with that attitude. I can assure you it is much, much more important than that.”
In a year where a global pandemic has halted and contextualised sport, we have been reminded time and time again that, in reality, football does not matter. However, in an icy-cold Academy stadium, in the critical tie between then second-placed Arsenal and fourth-placed Manchester City, the importance of the result, a last-gasp 2-1 win for City, felt a world away, but the importance of football more broadly and the role it can play could be felt as strong as ever.
In the buildup to this fixture Arsenal centre-back Jen Beattie had spoken publicly for the first time about her breast cancer diagnosis in October. Having received the news on the evening of Thursday 8 October, she played and scored against Brighton the following Sunday, and the team poignantly engulfed her. With her family in Scotland and the pandemic raging, it was her football family that stepped in. She told the BBC that the “celebration of that goal [summed] up the whole experience and how the girls have reacted.”
WSL round-up: Ladd winner extends Man Utd lead at top
Manchester United maintained their unbeaten record in the Women’s Super League with a hard-fought 2-1 victory at Reading.
Leah Galton fired the visitors ahead in the 32nd minute after being sent clear by Hayley Ladd (pictured), but Reading equalised 10 minutes into the second half when Jess Fishlock’s shot went in off Millie Turner. Ladd scored what proved to be the winner seven minutes from time, heading home from close range after Reading failed to clear a corner.
United’s victory extended their lead at the top of the table to three points as Arsenal conceded an injury-time winner at Manchester City.
Chelsea moved above Arsenal into second place in the table thanks to a 1-0 win at Brighton, Sam Kerr following on from her hat-trick last week with the winner in the 21st minute. Inessa Kaagman struck the crossbar early in the second half but the home side were unable to find an equaliser.
World Cup winner Alex Morgan scored for the second game in succession as Tottenham beat Aston Villa 3-1 to climb to eighth in the table. Morgan was brought down in the area after 12 minutes and coolly converted the resulting penalty, but Villa equalised in fine style when Nadine Hanssen picked up a loose ball and chipped the goalkeeper from long range.
Spurs went back in front after 37 minutes as Morgan’s cross was turned into her own net by Caroline Siems and Rosella Ayane made certain of the points shortly after the hour mark with her first goal for the club.
Bristol City remain rooted to the bottom of the table after being thrashed 4-0 at home by West Ham, while the game between Birmingham and Everton was postponed due to a waterlogged pitch. PA Media
Photograph: Tom Dulat/Getty Images Europe
Here, in Manchester, the 29-year-old was again embraced, this time by both sides, who warmed up in shirts with her name and number on the back. It was even more fitting given the Scottish defender, who is undergoing radiotherapy and played 90 minutes, had spent four years with the home side before rejoining Arsenal for a second spell in 2019. In terms of the football, Joe Montemurro’s side have struggled against those around them at the top this term, suffering cup defeats to City and Chelsea and a first league defeat to leaders Manchester United last month which was followed by a late-own goal and draw with Chelsea.
However if Arsenal have been rattled by their record against the biggest sides in England, they did not show it early on in Manchester. Their pressing game began in earnest and it was instantly successful. A poor pass from England full-back Lucy Bronze put Keira Walsh under pressure and her one-touch played the ball straight to the feet of WSL record goalscorer Vivianne Miedema who, with pinpoint accuracy, slotted the ball low into the net from the edge of the box.
The Arsenal press seemed to burn out quickly though, despite their fresher legs with City having played in the Champions League on Wednesday. City regained their composure and grew into the game, with the US World Cup winner Sam Mewis and winger Chloe Kelly at the heart of their best play.
At the half-hour mark they grabbed the equaliser. Caroline Weir’s corner floated into the box and Beattie got in the way of goalkeeper Lydia Williams, preventing her from punching clear and allowing Mewis to send a looping header in. The fact that none of the previous 13 WSL games between these two sides had ended in draw was an ominous sign though and in the fourth minute of injury time Weir struck from 20 yards to give City a victory that has clawed them to within a point of Arsenal who have dropped to third.
It was a cruel blow for Arsenal who again dropped points to rivals and on a different day we would perhaps go harder on Montemurro who said that Arsenal’s problem is “obviously mentality”. However on a day when it was Beattie’s story that mattered most, that can wait.