Arsenal go into Sunday's clash of the titans against rivals Chelsea with a point to prove.
The Gunners suffered their first WSL defeat to a team other than Manchester City or Chelsea since April 2018 as they lost 1-0 by Manchester United last time out, and have beaten a fellow 'big three' side just twice in their previous eight attempts.
With Manchester United enjoying a rapid rise and Casey Stoney assembling a squad of real star quality, the 'big three' is beginning to morph into a big four this season, and last Sunday's defeat looks very much like Arsenal once again failing to get a result against the WSL's very best.
When facing the other three quarters of the league, the Gunners have been impeccable. While Chelsea and City have been left frustrated by teams who pile players behind the ball and sit deep, dropping points to Reading, Brighton and Liverpool over the past 18 months, Arsenal had boasted a 100% record against every single WSL side bar Chelsea and City over the last two and a half years.
They don't just beat these teams; they blow them away. City were held to a 0-0 draw by Brighton? Arsenal hit five without return against the Seagulls five weeks later. City could only muster a 1-1 draw with Reading? Arsenal had already beaten them 6-1 a month earlier.
But against City and Chelsea - and now Manchester United - the Gunners have consistently looked second best.
This has been particularly evident against Sunday's opponents. Since thumping Chelsea 5-0 at the beginning of their 2018/19 title winning season, Arsenal have lost six in a row against their London rivals.
Too often when Arsenal play the WSL's elite, talisman Vivianne Miedema cuts an isolated figure. The WSL's all-time top scorer is at her best in and around the box, cleverly bringing others into play or creating an opening for herself with her intelligence and quick feet.
But against Chelsea, City and United, Miedema is frequently starved of service. She then tends to drop deeper as the game progresses in an attempt to stamp her influence on proceedings. The Dutch striker averages 1.04 goals per game in the WSL - but against City and Chelsea, she has only found the net once in her last six in all competitions. And often this is because she has simply not had a sniff of goal.
Arsenal have scored two goals against Chelsea and City during their Continental and FA Cup defeats this season - and both were screamers from distance from Caitlin Foord and Jordan Nobbs. The contrast in the number of opportunities they can carve out against the league's lesser teams and the WSL's elite is stark.
Once again Arsenal will be hampered by a lengthy injury list for Sunday's clash, with Nobbs, Lisa Evans, Jen Beattie, Steph Catley and Noelle Maritz all absent. The former two will be a particular miss in the creative department for the Gunners.
But they still have such a talented side. January signing Foord has been a revelation this season, Jill Roord is in the form of her life and Kim Little and Miedema are among the best players in the world, let alone the league. The Gunners easily have the quality to topple Chelsea, City or United, but for whatever reason against these sides it has not clicked of late.
Sunday's meeting with Chelsea is the ideal opportunity for Arsenal to bounce back from their defeat to United and demonstrate that they can mix it with the very best in the league. Defeat will leave more questions about just how big the gulf between the Gunners and Chelsea has grown over the past 18 months.
Source : 90min