A revitalised Vivianne Miedema and Beth Mead breathed life back into Arsenal’s title challenge in a tough defeat of Brighton.
Despite having earned just one win in their previous seven games, the Gunners are still top of the WSL and were able to extend their lead to four points here, albeit having played a game more than second-place Chelsea.
Their situation looked to be worsening when Emma Koivisto gave Brighton the lead in the first half but an energetic restart saw Mead provide an assist for Miedema from a free-kick on the left before scoring from a slightly more central set piece herself.
Arsenal arrested a three-game losing streak on Sunday, with Tobin Heath’s stoppage-time equaliser ensuring Jonas Eidevall’s side took one point away from Manchester City’s Academy Stadium. It was an important strike that capped off a gutsy performance – something that has been lacking recently – and was the Gunners’ first goal since an own goal in their 4-1 defeat to Hoffenheim in the Champions League group stage on 15 December.
Heath was rewarded for her heroics with a second WSL start in an Arsenal shirt, having made two substitute appearances since her return from a calf injury. Also included in the starting lineup, much to the relief of Arsenal fans, was the centre-back Leah Williamson, who went to ground in the first half against Man City before being substituted at half-time as the Gunners manage her return from a hamstring problem.
Full debuts were also handed to the new defensive signings Rafaelle Souza and Laura Wienroither, with the former partnering Williamson after impressing when coming on in her place on the weekend, and the latter at left-back in place of the suspended Katie McCabe, who picked up her fifth yellow card of the season at Manchester City.
Hope Powell’s Brighton were in the middle of a goal drought far worse than Arsenal’s before kick-off. The Seagulls had gone five league games without a goal: their last scorer was Maisie Symonds in the 1-0 defeat of Leicester on 14 November.
In the 15th minute though Brighton’s fortunes looked brighter, with Koivisto leaping highest between Wienroither and Miedema. With her back to goal, Koivisto sent a looping header beyond the goalkeeper Manuela Zinsberger to give her side the lead.
After a bright start to the season Brighton had not won in seven WSL games but were ahead against the league leaders, having also secured a 0-0 draw against Chelsea at Kingsmeadow on Sunday.
“I expect Brighton to work very, very hard,” said Eidevall before kick-off. “They are organised, they try to hit you on the counterattack, they are strong on set pieces and a good crossing team. It’s about controlling their threats. They get good numbers into the box when they cross the ball and it’s about limiting those moments and defending them when they happen.”
Having predicted the threat Arsenal had failed to deal with it and, despite their dominance in possession, were undone by another smart set piece that would energise their opponents. But whatever was said between the home side at half-time worked. The Arsenal players emerged from the dressing room with the bit between their teeth and kept Brighton pinned in their own half. In the 55th minute they equalised in style. After being clattered just outside the area by Maya Le Tissier, Mead stepped up and swung a free-kick towards the back post. Williamson missed but it was turned in by the alert Miedema behind her.
Five minutes later the Gunners doubled their tally and the source was familiar. Mead and Miedema stood over the ball for a free-kick outside the box but it was the former who stepped forward, beautifully curving her strike round the wall and into the far corner beyond Megan Walsh in the Brighton goal.
Miedema and Mead, so potent in Arsenal’s early charge to the top of the table, looked transformed. Playing more centrally and not dipping deep as much, Miedema went from one touch in the box in the first half to being much more of a presence.
After Sunday’s FA Cup tie against the Championship side London City Lionesses, Arsenal play third-placed Manchester United at home then Chelsea away in what will be critical seven days for their title challenge.