It was a tall task for the Liverpool FC Women, heading to London to face an Arsenal side who are expecting to challenge Chelsea for a WSL title in front of over 50,000 fans at the Emirates. On top of that, Matt Beard was short handed with several players missing through injury or illness. Despite that, the Reds managed to eke out a 1-0 win to start their 2023-24 campaign.
Below, we take a look at some winners and losers on the night, and attempt to disentangle narrative from fact.
The Liverpool midfielder was tasked with playing as a striker alongside fellow midfielder-turned-striker Missy Bo Kearns. With Arsenal keeping control of the ball for vast stretches of the first half, Taylor didn’t have a whole lot to do, but an early move by the Reds to start the second half saw the ball come through to her in the box. Taylor calmly slotted the ball inside the far post for her first Liverpool goal, giving the Reds a lead they would not relinquish. Not a bad way to open your account!
When Liverpool signed Teagan Micah, the foregone conclusion in the mind of most supporters was that the Aussie would supplant the veteran Laws in net. Laws, however, kept her head down and retained the starting gloves for the opening match against Arsenal. Facing an unrelenting barrage, Laws made several crucial saves. A couple of those saves were top shelf to deny the Gunners. Laws was also quick off of her line on a couple of occasions to make sure she got to the ball ahead of an Arsenal attacker making a run into the box.
Set Piece Defense
On the whole, Liverpool defended well as a unit against an Arsenal side littered with attacking talent. On top of faring well in open play, the Reds had to defend 19!!!!!!! corner kicks over the entirety of the match. Jenna Clark, Gemma Bonner, and Grace Fisk were immense in winning almost every first ball in, with Rachael Laws there to swipe away a couple as well. There were some nervy moments with the ball only half cleared, but in the end Liverpool did what they needed to do against the insane number of set piece opportunities.
Ending Away Win Woes
Last year Liverpool finished the season winless in away matches despite leading on a couple of occasions. Matt Beard and his squad broke the away match curse in their very first opportunity this season. If Liverpool truly are to challenge for a European spot, or even just look to make improvements in the point tally, they’ll need to continue to pick up points away from the friendly confines of Prenton Park.
Traveling Support in Record Crowds
It was announced that a WSL record 54,115 fans attended that match at the Emirates. The Reds, as always, had fantastic travelling support, including two coach loads of supporters bussed down from Liverpool by the club. The away end could be heard loud and clear on the broadcast, and you can see the wonderful bunch serenading the players with You’ll Never Walk Alone after the match below.
You’ll Never Walk Alone pic.twitter.com/bI58oXDK9M— Liverpool FC Women (@LiverpoolFCW) October 1, 2023
Starting Off Shorthanded
In the first match of the season, Matt Beard only had five players on his bench. Key signing Sophie Roman Haug was missing after a facial injury while on international duty, while the likes of Jasmine Matthews and Yana Daniels were also missing after rumors of a covid outbreak in the squad surfaced earlier in the week. Of course, Nimah Fahey, Melissa Lawley, Leanne Kiernan, and Shanice van de Sanden were all out as they work their way back from longer-term injuries.
This offseason, Matt Beard and his staff made a concerted effort to rebuild their central defensive unit. In came the likes of Grace Fisk and Jenna Clark, who are both very good in the air to play alongside Gemma Bonner who is also a ball magnet with her head. Against Arsenal, Beard said he employed tactics to clog the center of the pitch and force Arsenal wide, trusting his central defensive unit to handle the aerial threat. It worked in spades, with very few crosses finding the head of an Arsenal player ahead of the Liverpool defenders.
Asked Matt Beard about his approach today. Said he wanted to make sure Liverpool dominated the centre to force Arsenal wide and into crosses. ‘Usually they like to go central then swing out wide, we wanted to stop them going central.’— Tim Stillman (@Stillmanator) October 1, 2023
What Happens Next
Liverpool will head home to take on Aston Villa at Prenton Park next Sunday. Villa are one of the teams Liverpool are looking to catch in the table this season after the Villains finished 2 spots and 14 points ahead of the Reds last year.