36 min And here’s some Arsenal! Mead wins the ball high up the pitch when Stokes’ touch is heavy, dashing into the space behind her and curving a lovely cross around Houghton for Miedema. But there’s just too much pop on it, and though at first glance it looked like a slide would’ve done the trick, from the in front, we can see that it was too far in front of her.
34 min Arsenal still look to have the more incisive forwards. The problem is that they’re not getting them enough of the ball because they’re sitting back; understandable, because City want to be pressed to move the ball on and create overloads, but ultimately not currently working.
33 min On the touchline, Joe Montemurro, the Arsenal manager, is shouting his team through the game. Meanwhile, Kelly has a dig from outside the box and Hemp almost collects as she follows in, but her touch is poor and the ball runs through to Williams.
GOAL! Manchester City 1-1 Arsenal (Mewis 30)
Dearie me, this is dreadful from Arsenal. Hemp punts the corner into the air and Williams comes and gets nowhere near, while Beattie does nothing to stop Mewis nodding down, the ball bouncing over both of them and into the net.
28 min Hemp gets the ball out of her feet and immediately attacks Maier, shifting it and crossing. Nothing comes of it, but then Bronze joins in the attack and finds Kelly down the left of the box; she stands up a cross to no one, that ends up winning a corner.
28 min Almost all of Arsenal’s play has come down the left, but now Williamson feeds Mead; she attacks Stokes, who does well to see her away and win a goalkick.
27 min Arsenal try and play their way out, and City try and shut them down; neither side does either activity especially effectively.
24 min Arsenal start to move the ball again, after a period of consolidation. Thy look much the better side, though they’re no longer dominating – even if, as I type that, Mewis tees up Hemp to waft high and then some from just outside the box.
22 min Miedema’s goal was her ninth in 22 games against Chelsea, Man United and Man City. That’s not bad, given Karen Carney criticised her output in that regard – and I’d expect it to get a lot better.
21 min City haven’t lost at home in 35 games in all competitions, a run that encompasses 24 league matches.
20 min Nice from Weir, darting down the left and finding a decent cross, but McCabe is calm, noting that there’s no one near her – why not? – so she controls on her thigh and boots away.
19 min Ultimately, the differences between these two teams at the moment are that Arsenal have the better individuals and move the ball quicker. Obviously these aspects are connected.
17 min Mewis clips a ball into the box that Kelly takes down nicely, but with defenders all over her, she can only lash high.
16 min “‘An artist and an expert’,” says Charles Antaki. “Yes, certainly; and with the exceptional virtue of looking less like either than a mildly bored slouchy teenager who hates games. A wonderful footballer who doesn’t look like a wonderful footballer, making her all the more wonderful.”
Agreed. She’s Villanelle without the couture.
14 min City look a little as they did in the second half the league derby when United set about them. They like to invite the challenge then move the ball on, but when the challenges come and there’s no one free to receive the ball, they panic. On top of that, their passing and movement both lack incision.
11 min “Afternoon Daniel,” says Bill Hargreaves. “Currently following the Arsenal as much for what the women’s team and the youngsters in Europe are doing, as that PL mob. Oof, that Miedema: she can kick a ball alright.”
She’s brilliant isn’t she, an absolute football-playing machine. What I loved about that goal was how efficient it was, immediately doing what had to be done as soon as possible. It reminded me a bit of Mason Greenwood, but she is, of course, a one-off and entirely her own thing.
GOAL! Manchester City 0-1 Arsenal (Miedema 3)
This is a blazing start from Arsenal! They get the ball into Miedema, just outside the box, and she clips a wonderful shot with just enough power and curl, low into the far bottom corner.
10 min City have started playing, but when Weir’s cross is headed clear, Miedema almost gets away on the counter, Greenwood holding her up just as Roord turns up in support.
8 min Kelly goes down the right and crosses, but Hemp can’t control and it won’t drop for Weir, whose touch lets her down.
6 min City spend a few seconds inside the Arsenal half, not doing very much. It’s a start, I guess.
5 min It seems a mad thing to say after so little of the match, but that goal was coming. The question now is whether Arsenal sit back and try to pick City off on the break, or carry on getting in amongst them to try and finish the game – and City’s league season.
2 min This is really good from Arsenal, Miedema holding up finding McCabe, who’s getting loads of the ball. She crosses, Rood tees up, and Foord can’t get her shot away.
1 min BT reckon Arsenal will be playing 4-5-1, but they won’t be going forward, at least. And they don’t when make a good start immediately pinning City back and looking to get at them down the left, two dangerous crosses coming over but missing everyone out.
Full-time: Reading 1-2 Manchester United
Back at Reading, Tobin Heath has just picked up on a poor clearance to ping from distance, just past the post. They’re into the final minute of injury-time now, and it’s over! United now have 23 points from nine games; Chelsea, who already lead at Brighton, have 17 from seven, Arsenal have 19 from eight and City have 15 from eight.
This is a huge game for Georgia Stanway, who has the chance to cement herself as her team’s first-choice centre-forward. Carney days that when she first got picked for England, she irritated some of the older players by smashing them about in training, exactly the kind of thing you love to hear, and that she is “so tenacious” but “so lovable”.
You’d take that as an epitaph.
Gareth Taylor said that after the international break, they looked at five games in 15 days and have won two now. Having Hemp back is like a new signing, and they need to manager her and their expectations in the right way. His team always seem themselves as title contenders and they’re trying to stay in touch with the leaders, but it’s almost the halfway point. Finally, he talks about how well he knows Jen Beattie, who’s been diagnosed with breast cancer and his team are wearing t-shirts in honour of her today, which shows the solidarity in women’s football.
GOAL! Reading 1-2 Manchester United (Ladd 83)
That – a header from a bundled-on corner – was coming. If United can hang on, they’ll be top at the end of the weekend.
On BT, we’re watching tape of Kim Little, who’s such a player. Then we move onto Miedema, who’s criticised herself for perhaps being too laid back, and who Karen Carney says needs to perform against the better teams [insert snide comment about Arsenal here].
Reading-United is still 1-1. If it stays like that, that’ll be a decent start to the game for both sides.
Arsenal selection thoughts: Not much to say here. They’re unchanged following last weekend’s win over Birmingham, so we can expect to see Miedema playing through the middle. It’s a sort of Messi situation really – players like her tend to find themselves on the wing because they’re so skilful and quick, but actually, they’re so good you want them in the middle of the pitch so that they’re on the ball as often as possible.
City selection thoughts: City bring in Greenwood for Bonner in the middle of their defence, and give Lauren Hemp her first start of the season after returning from injury. That means Georgia Stanway will play through the middle, and Ellen White has to settle for a spot on the bench.
Manchester City (a non-negotiable 4-3-3): Robeuck; Bronze, Houghton, Greenwood, Stokes; Walsh, Mewis, Weir; Kelly, Stanway, Hemp. Subs: Bardsley, Taieb, Scott, White, Bonner, Park, Coombs, Morgan, Beckie.
Arsenal (an almost non-negotiable 4-3-3): Williams; Maier, Williamson, Beattie, McCabe; Little, Gut, Roord; Mead, Miedema, Foord. Subs: Zinsberger, Stenson, Catlrey, Evans, Nobbs, Van de Donk.
Millie Turner has deflected Jess Fishlock’s shot past Mary Earps. It’s Reading 1-1 Man United!
It’s only December, but already this has the feel of a crucial match. it’s now four seasons since City last won the title, and a defeat today would would widen the gap between them and Arsenal to seven points. Nor is that all – they’d also be a fair way behind Manchester United, who currently lead Reading 1-0, and Chelsea, who kick-off at Brighton in half an hour.
The truth is that neither of today’s teams have been quite at it so far this season, not quite Nick Cushing’s team and not quite Gareth Taylor’s team. Their close-passing style is very nice when it works, but when it’s disturbed they struggle to find a way, and don’t quite have the individuals able to redeem things. They’ve got a lot of work to do.
Arsenal, meanwhile, have recently diverged from the all-out attacking style that has has made them such a pleasure to watch, but circumstances are now swinging in their favour. Kim Little is back, Jordan Nobbs is working her way back, Beth Mead is a class act and Vivianne Miedema might just be the best player in the world. If they play well they’re incredibly hard to stop, and if they play badly their best players are still incredibly hard to stop. This should be a belter.
Kick-off: 2.30pm GMT