A thumping header from striker Vivianne Miedema in added time denied Tottenham a first win over Women’s Super League leaders Arsenal. A scrambled second-half goal from Rachel Williams looked to have earned the home team a historic victory against their bitter rivals after goalkeeper Manuela Zinsberger had failed to hold on to the forward’s initial effort.
Arsenal were furious after the referee Amy Fearn pulled play back for a foul on Katie McCabe just as England’s Jordan Nobbs, who was through on goal, curled the ball into the net. But Miedema’s header ensured the Gunners stay unbeaten. The narrative of previous encounters was of emphatic Arsenal wins. In the WSL the Gunners have beaten Tottenham each of the three times they have met, with an aggregate score of 11-1.
The rivalry between the north London clubs has largely transferred over to the women’s teams but the huge historic discrepancies between the two clubs has meant that up to now there has only been one outcome. Arsenal are the most decorated women’s football team in England, with 15 domestic titles, and have been a stalwart of the top flight. Spurs, in comparison, climbed into the WSL for the first time in the 2019-2020 season.
At the Hive for this meeting though, there were more question marks ahead of a north London derby than ever before, and an impressive turnout from both sets of fans spoke to the increasing competitiveness of the rivalry. Under former England assistant coach Rehanne Skinner Tottenham are a well-oiled and organised machine. They took a first point from Manchester United last weekend to stay five points behind the league leaders Arsenal, two behind second-placed Chelsea and a point above Brighton, who have looked mostly likely to upset the established order at the top.
It took less than a minute for Arsenal to threaten, with the in-form England forward Beth Mead testing the goalkeeper Tinja-Riikka Korpela from close range. Despite their ongoing domination it wasn’t until 20 minutes later that they would have as clear a chance again. A frustrated Miedema slipped the ball to Noelle Maritz out wide, screamed for the return pass on the edge of the box, cut past Ria Percival and lashed her effort low but too close to Korpela, who fell on it.
The visiting Gunners hit the crossbar twice before the break. First a Mead free-kick from the tightest of angles took a touch off the keeper before bouncing down off the bar. Later, October’s player of the month McCabe clipped a strike from the edge of the box off the top of the bar.
After the break tensions ran high, with Ashleigh Neville, Maéva Clemaron and Percival engaged in almost constant battle with McCabe on the left. Despite the lack of goals past the hour mark there was a sense that one was coming as play began to open up. And, with both Arsenal and Spurs having scored five goals each in the last 10 minutes in the WSL this season – more than any other team – it felt somewhat inevitable.
Arsenal looked thoroughly frustrated. That it was Spurs who made the breakthrough despite at that stage having 38% of possession and five shots to Arsenal’s 15, was not unexpected. Kit Graham’s shot was saved by the knee of Zinsberger, the ball was pounced upon by Williams and Zinsberger failed to hold onto her shot. The forward leapt again and tapped it over her and in.
With Arsenal rattled, Tottenham went close to doubling their lead when the full-back Neville put the ball over the bar with the goal gaping after the centre-back Shelina Zadorsky’s shot was deflected into her path. Nobbs had the ball in the back of the net for Arsenal with five minutes remaining but the referee blew for a foul on McCabe rather than playing advantage as Nobbs took the shot.
With five minutes added on Arsenal finally got their reply, as Miedema leapt above Neville and sent a powerful header past Korpela.