A few months into the newly formed FA Women’s Super League, it’s a good time to have a closer look to see how the biggest clubs in England have performed so far. Arsenal, who were third favourites at the start of the season, have been irresistible, stream rolling everything put in front of them. Last season’s top two, Chelsea and Manchester City, have had stuttering starts, trailing behind Joe Montemurro’s side. The race for the title and the final Champions League spot is still on so let’s take a look at the numbers to see what the rest of the season is likely to have in store. (Ed.'s note: All stats and results up to date as of November 14th)
Arsenal have made a blistering start to the season, winning seven out of seven. They are three points ahead of 2nd place Manchester City with a game in hand but have yet to play Nick Cushion’s side. Arsenal have managed to blow teams away this season with their impressive attacking play, scoring 34 goals in 7 matches. The most impressive result being the 5-0 win at Kingsmeadow against the double winners, Chelsea. From the above image, we can see that most of their attempts are in promising areas, mainly central inside of the penalty area. It is not surprising to see how Arsenal are able to create these opportunities as they are the most aggressive side in winning the ball back in and around the central parts of the 18 yard box which enables them to have clearer opportunities on the opponents goal, which the image below demonstrates . Most of the praise has been given to the current top scorer in the league, Vivianne Miedema. While stats for goals scored, xG per 90 and shots per 90 are impressive, her game is not just about putting the ball into the back of the net. The Holland international is integral in trying to win the ball off of the opposition but contributing to setting up chances for teammates. While Arsenal’s attack gets most of the praise, we have to also acknowledge the defensive part of their game. Arsenal come up on top on goals conceded and number of shots conceded. When looking at the image below, we can see that Arsenal protect their penalty area extremely well, forcing their opponents to shoot from distance or put aerial balls into the box which their centre-backs are more than happy to deal with. Manchester City Manchester City, like Arsenal, are still undefeated in the league. However, they’ve managed to draw three, with probably the most disappointing one being Bristol City at home, in which they conceded two sloppy goals and the Bristol City goalkeeper, Sophie Baggaley, in inspired form to ensure they only came away with a point. It’s interesting to compare the Arsenal and Manchester City attacking numbers. Man City have generated a very similar amount of shots per game (21.33 and 21 respectively), but the league leaders have much better xG (shot quality) numbers, 3.04 per match to 1.89. When looking at Manchester City’s shots map, it’s easy to notice why that is. When compared to Arsenal, Man City take many more shots from outside of the penalty area from various angles and more headed attempts which are harder to score from, resulting in lower shot quality. At the other end of the field, there don’t appear to be too many issues. Ellie Roebuck has looked accomplished in between the sticks since taking the number one jersey off of Karen Bardsley while Stephanie Houghton consistently marshals her troops at the back as opponents find it difficult to create clear chances.
Finally, we get on to Chelsea. Emma Hayes’ side has picked up some poor results in the league despite being dominant against everyone they have faced so far in the Continental Tyres Cup and Champions League. From a defensive point of the view, they have better numbers than City and similar to Arsenal. Arsenal's opponents tally 0.60 expected goals per match while Chelsea restrict their foes to 0.53. Chelsea manage that despite allowing 8.57 shots to Arsenal's 7.17 because they restrict opponents to 0.06 xG per shot as opposed to Arsenal's 0.08. Their main concern is in attack. Chelsea have scored only 5 goals, the same number as Brighton, Bristol City and Yeovil. A few factors have contributed to that. As the reigning champions, most sides have adopted a very defensive game which Chelsea have not found easy to deal with. Having said that there are many games, like away against Bristol, where they deserved victory by a goal or two but poor finishing, brave defending and top goalkeeping have cost them dearly in the defence of their title. When comparing with Arsenal’s attacking game, there are clear differences with Chelsea’s numbers significantly lower on Clear Shots (shots generated per game when only goalkeeper was in between shot-taker and goal), xG/shot (average expected goals per shot taken by a team), 6.50 to 3.43 and Counterattacking Shots (shots generated per game within 15 seconds of a possession that originates in the originates in the opposition’s half), 1.33 to 0.43. This potentially signals that their build up play is much slower compared to Arsenal, which makes it easier for opponents to get into good defending positions to prevent Chelsea having clear sight of goal, with Ballon D’Or nominee, Fran Kirby, requiring better service. However, we must acknowledge that Chelsea are in the latter stages of the Champions League. They have played more midweek games than any of their league opponents so Emma Hayes has had to rotate her starting 11, which has potentially disrupted their game. Conclusion Arsenal are in pole position to win their first league title in 5 years. The games vs Man City will be key and last season’s runners up will be in a good position to capitalise if they win both of those of encounters. Chelsea, on the other hand, have potentially left it too late to make a recovery for Champions League qualification via the league, but if they improve their attacking part of the game and go on a impressive run, which they are more than capable of, then second spot is still possible. Header image courtesy of the Press Association