Arsenal ensured they finished 2022 within touching distance of WSL leaders Chelsea with a 4-1 victory over a spirited Aston Villa at Villa Park on Sunday.
Villa stayed in the game for much of the contest and caused the Gunners problems throughout – opening the scoring through a terrific Kirsty Hanson effort – but a Rachel Corsie own goal and strikes from Vivianne Miedema, Katie McCabe and Jordan Nobbs saw the Gunners to a slightly flattering but ultimately handsome victory.
A depleted Villa could only name three outfield players on the bench, but stunned Arsenal inside six minutes. Kenza Dali provided the switch of play to Hanson, who riffled a low, half volley into the bottom corner from the edge of the area
The Gunners pushed for an equaliser, Caitlin Foord firing over after being smartly found by Miedema, and McCabe seeing a free kick fizz just high of the bar.
But Villa were still a threat themselves and came close to adding a second, only the woodwork preventing Laura Blindkilde Brown’s sliced cross from floating into the net.
Arsenal levelled after 26 minutes after McCabe’s cross was palmed onto the unfortunate Corsie by Hannah Hampton, ricocheting off the Villa defender and into her own net.
The Gunners had a second just four minutes later. Steph Catley’s swinging corner caused chaos in the Villa box and Hampton’s punched clearance could only fall as far as the feet of Miedema. The forward’s low drive nestled in the back of the net.
Villa enjoyed a good 15 minute spell at the start of the second half, with Dali and Lehmann looking particularly dangerous as the hosts put the the Gunners under the cosh. However, Arsenal ruthlessly added a third just after the hour mark. Catley burst forward down the left and saw her cross stabbed into the path of McCabe by Hampton, and the Arsenal winger slotted home.
Nobbs added a fourth with seven minutes remaining, stroking home Foord’s pass after the Australian international had spun Danielle Turner to wrap up a big three points.
GK: Hannah Hampton – 5/10 – Saved well from Miedema in the opening exchanges. Could only palm a cross onto Corsie for Villa’s leveller, and cleared deliveries back into the danger area for Arsenal’s second and third.
RB: Sarah Mayling – 5/10 – Appeared to lose the run of Catley in the build up to Arsenal’s third and had a tough time up against Foord.
CB: Rachel Corsie – 6/10 – In at centre back for the first time this season, with Anna Patten unavailable. Unfortunate to see Hampton’s palmed clearance deflect off her and into the net. Good on the ball.
CB: Danielle Turner – 6/10 – Made a terrific recovery run and challenge to dispossess Blackstenius as she bore down on goal. Beaten by Foord in the build up to Arsenal’s fourth.
LB: Maz Pacheco – 6/10 – Produced a big block to deny McCabe in the first half. Saw the Arsenal equaliser created down the left.
CM: Olivia McLoughlin – 5/10 – Broke up play well at times but unable to have a huge impact on the game. Replaced just after the hour.
CM: Kenza Dali – 8/10 – Provided the superb switch of play to Hanson from which Villa opened the scoring. In the thick of every positive Villa move with her smart cross field passes, ability to break the lines and quality in tight spaces.
CM: Laura Blindkilde Brown – 6/10 – Tidy in possession and confidently demanded the ball in tight spaces and with her back to goal. Drifted in and out of proceedings.
RW: Alisha Lehmann – 6/10 – Saw a decent chance comfortably saved by Zinsberger after drifting into a pocket of a space as she enjoyed a dangerous spell at the start of the second half where she carried Villa’s biggest threat. Didn’t track Catley for Arsenal’s third.
ST: Rachel Daly – 6/10 – Popped up with a smart dummy in the build up to Villa’s opener. Otherwise largely kept quiet.
LW: Kirsty Hanson – 7/10 – Opened the scoring in stunning fashion, rifling a half volley into the bottom corner from the edge of the box. Always looked dangerous when driving at the Arsenal backline.
SUB: Emily Gielnik (67′ for McLoughlin) – 5/10
SUB: Isobel Goodwin (86′ for Lehmann) – N/A
GK: Manuela Zinsberger – 6/10 – Question marks over her positioning for Villa’s opener. Comfortably held a second half Lehmann effort.
RB: Noelle Maritz – 6/10 – Not tight enough Hanson for Villa’s opener. Linked up well with McCabe.
CB: Rafaelle – 6/10 – Making her first start since September, nodded a header over in the first half and made a couple of important headers in the Arsenal box. Replaced after an hour.
CB: Lotte Wubben-Moy – 6/10 – Steady and composed, and decent with her distribution.
LB: Steph Catley – 7/10 – Instrumental in Arsenal’s second with a whipped corner delivery and key in their third, bursting down the left flank and providing a teasing cross. Caused problems by Lehmann at times.
CM: Lia Walti – 8/10 – Won the ball back in the build up to an early Miedema chance, and played a really smart pass to send Catley away in the build up to her side’s third. Broke up play expertly throughout.
CM: Frida Maanum – 7/10 – Really energetic, particularly in the first half, driving the Gunners forward with her athleticism.
CM: Vivianne Miedema – 8/10 – At the heart of every positive Arsenal move with her link up play and intelligence in possession. Netted her side’s second – her fourth goal in as many games – with an instinctive finish.
RW: Caitlin Foord – 7/10 – Switched to the left flank midway through the first half and had much more of an impact with her willingness to drive at the Villa back line. Set up her side’s fourth with a driving run and pick-out.
ST: Stina Blackstenius – 6/10 – Could have done better with a free header in the first half, but could only nod straight into the arms of Hampton. Didn’t quite have the pace to get the better of Turner after being played through, and blazed a good sighting of goal over in the second period.
LW: Katie McCabe – 8/10 – Swapped to the right win midway through the first half and was subsequently a greater threat. Had a hand in Arsenal’s equaliser with a teasing cross from the right, and coolly slotted home the Gunners’ third.
SUB: Leah Williamson (60′ for Rafaelle) – 6/10
SUB: Laura Wienroither (71′ for Maritz) – 6/10
SUB: Jordan Nobbs (71′ for Miedema) – 7/10 – On the scoresheet with a well-taken goal.
SUB: Mana Iwabuchi (86′ for Foord) – N/A