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Are Arsenal off the pace in the WSL?

After a disastrous start to the season, Arsenal Women have managed back-to-back 2 - 1 wins, but neither have looked overly convincing. Seven points from the first four games leave the Gunners in the bottom half of the WSL, already drawing questions on their potential to challenge for the title.

Arsenal failed to win either of their opening games in a WSL season for the first time, losing their opener for the first time since 2013 when the Gunners were defending champions. After a hugely underwhelming 1 - 0 defeat to Liverpool at the Emirates on the opening weekend, Jonas Eidevall's side rescued an injury-time draw against Manchester United.

The equaliser from Cloe Lacasse was possibly the goal of the season so far, but it came at the end of a frustrating game for Arsenal. The Gunners dominated large parts of the game at Leigh Sports Village, hitting the woodwork multiple times and being denied well by Mary Earps on several occasions in the second half.

The common theme between the first two games was the poor quality of the goals conceded. Sabrina D'Angelo gifted the ball to Leah Galton for United's equaliser before Melvine Malard strolled between Arsenal's centre-backs to tap in a messy goal.

Miri Taylor's goal for Liverpool in the opening game wasn't much better. Arsenal's central defenders were drawn apart and Taylor was left with a tap-in from seven yards out.

It didn't look to be going much better for Eidevall's side against Aston Villa, when Maz Pacheco scored unmarked from a corner for the Villains 25 minutes in at the Emirates.

The improved pace of the football from Arsenal wasn't troubling Villa's defence anywhere near enough, but the introduction of Beth Mead, making her first appearance for 11 months after her ACL injury, inspired the Gunners' comeback.

Katie McCabe riffled in her first goal of the season in the 92nd minute, before Alessia Russo struck a late, late winner, securing all three points with her first WSL goal for Arsenal.

Against Bristol City it was a slightly more straightforward evening for the Gunners. Despite the narrow victory margin, Arsenal peppered the Robins' goal for the entire evening.

Katie McCabe scored twice to secure the points at Ashton Gate, and the goal scored by Rachel Furness for the hosts was an outstanding header, far more of a good finish than poor defending by Arsenal.

Still there are serious questions over the capability of this group to compete for the title. Arsenal boast what should be one of the best squads in WSL history. Whilst they have been unlucky with injuries and are still nursing several problems from last season, the Gunners have stars in every position on the pitch.

There have been signs of fatigue and sloppiness in all four games (especially against Liverpool), which of course is partly due to the long calendar in a World Cup year, but every club has had to deal with that.

Arsenal failed to reach the Champions League group stages for the first time since 2020, and their Conti Cup campaign is yet to start. Manchester United have had European qualifiers to play, whilst several teams played league cup matches between their third of fourth WSL games. Yet Arsenal look by far the most tired team in the league.

That being said, there is an undeniable level of quality in the Gunners' ranks. Alessia Russo and Beth Mead's combination was quite brilliant to finish off Aston Villa, and Cloe Lacasse's goal away to Manchester United was an absolute rocket.

All three of Katie McCabe's goals this season have been outstanding, and all three have directly influenced the result. In fact, she's single-handedly responsible for four of Arsenal's seven points this season.

Arsenal have of course been boosted by the returns of Beth Mead and Vivianne Miedema, winning both games since Mead returned. It's worth noting that last season, before Mead suffered her ACL injury, Arsenal had won every single game in all competitions.

It is looking up then for Arsenal, but the concern will be the points they've dropped already. Champions Chelsea finished last season with 19 wins, a single draw and two defeats (one of which was to Arsenal).

The Gunners already have a draw and a defeat this season, meaning they would, in theory, need a special run to recover well enough to win the WSL. It's not to say that they aren't capable of this, especially with their significantly improved squad depth, but there is certainly a long way to go from here if Arsenal are to be WSL title contenders again this season.

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