FA WSL: Can Arsenal Ladies get back to their best?

With a string of changes at Arsenal Ladies during the FA WSL off-season, Emily Magee discusses whether it can spur the Gunners back to the top of the women’s game.

We’re now closing in on the start of the FA Women’s Super League Spring Series. A small one-legged mini-series, it will give the WSL teams a chance to see how they will fare ahead of the new winter FA WSL season.

For Arsenal Ladies manager Pedro Martinez Losa, it will be a chance to see whether his new recruits can get the Gunners back to the top and become the powerhouse of English women’s football again.

Arsenal Ladies are no doubt the best team in the history of the English women’s game, but the days where the Gunners would be considered immortal are unfortunately long gone.

The north London club’s dominance during the 2006/07 season was an example of their superiority. Alongside winning four domestic cups and the London County FA Women’s Cup, Arsenal went undefeated in the league – claiming the title with 119 goals with just 10 conceded.

But, the most impressive feat for Vic Akers’ team was clinching the 2007 Women’s Champions League title after five attempts with a two-legged victory over Swedish side Umea, which arguably capped the greatest achievement in the club’s history. Arsenal Ladies are still the only British side to ever win the competition.

The tides began to change during the 2013 season and Arsenal’s dominance came to an end. This coincided with the loss of head coach Laura Harvey who jetted off to America to ply her trade in the NWSL, after leading Arsenal to 13 titles under her tenure.

The Gunners not only lost the FA WSL title to Liverpool that year– ending Arsenal’s nine-year unbroken streak as top flight champions – but they also lost numerous star players including Steph Houghton, Katie Chapman and Kim Little.

It’s merely that women’s football has greatly improved over the last ten years. A recent emergence of women’s football in this country has in no uncertain terms provided a decline for Arsenal ladies.

However, this is certainly for the better. The FA WSL is now hotly contested and gone are the days where Arsenal would be dominating the league and cups, winning countless titles season after season.

Notwithstanding the fact that it’s become a battle of the ‘big boys’ in the WSL 1. It’s synonymous with the Premier League where the top three of Arsenal, Manchester City and Chelsea dominate while the other teams can only rival with the right resources, facilities, and of course the right amount of money.

With investment comes opportunity and Chelsea and Manchester City have produced success by heavily backing their women’s teams.

Back to this season and Losa has produced many impressive deals during the WSL off-season. One thing the manager has to get right this term is stability and the ability to consistently produce results throughout the season.

A recent key signing for the Arsenal manager was the capture of Scotland midfielder Little. The 26-year-old spent six years with the Gunners before joining Seattle Reign and possessed a prolific goal-scoring record of 81 goals in 91 appearances.

Like her NWSL counterpart, former U.S. Women’s National Team midfielder Heather O’Reilly is also making a trip across the pond. The 32-year-old has signed an 18-month deal and is the third high-profile American to sign with a European club – after Alex Morgan joined Lyon and Crystal Dunn joined Chelsea Ladies, proving what an impressive signing this is for Arsenal.

Joining these two high-profile players is England Under-23 striker Beth Mead. The 21-year-old, who is widely tipped as a future England star, has signed from Sunderland in an undisclosed deal.

With arrivals they are inevitably going to be departures, the most high profile being Kelly Smith’s retirement. The talented forward leaves behind a sensational legacy for Arsenal, England and most importantly for the women’s game. The 38-year-old retires after an astonishing 73 goals in 66 appearances for Arsenal and 117 caps for England.

Smith was not only the first female superstar footballer but she was an inspiration for many – inspiring countless young girls across the country to play football, and in turn showing them that women have every right to embark on a career in sport.

Adding to the player exodus out of Borehamwood are the likes of Casey Stoney, Josephine Henning and the Spanish trio of Natalia Pablos Sanchon, Marta Corredera and Vicky Losada – along with Arsenal stalwarts Emma Byrne and Rachel Yankey.

The number of players leaving the club may seem drastic, but to many it proves that quality is more important than quantity. Last season, Losa had too many quality international players and couldn’t accommodate them all with a starting spot.

With the right balance this season we could see an Arsenal Ladies team competing for honours on all fronts, and not just the Women’s FA Cup.

Follow Emily on Twitter at @Egmagee

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