Jill Roord continued to rise to the pre-season challenge of her manager, Joe Montemurro, by scoring her second hat-trick in two games, as Arsenal swept aside a broken West Ham following the dismissal of captain Gilly Flaherty.
The embarrassing 9-1 scoreline was another indication of a growing gap in quality in the WSL. It was also another statement result for Arsenal, after their 6-1 defeat of Reading on the opening weekend, that will help to quieten those who have been quick to omit them from title race contention.
Montemurro may not have recruited the World Cup winners and player-of-the-year contenders of their rivals, but defender Leah Williamson provided some pre-game food for thought. “It’s easy to look at new as shinier and maybe better,” she said. “But keeping that consistency in a football team, especially through the spine of the team, is really important and the key to success sometimes.” It showed.
If the presence of fans, sun and a relaxed Montemurro reading a book in the stands pre-match had provided an air of calm, it was quickly shattered by an intensity that has been present in each of the five previous meetings between these teams.
The West Ham manager, Matt Beard, said it was an “honour” to host one of the pilot test events at the women team’s new Dagenham & Redbridge home. Two hours before kick-off, walking towards the ground with groups of fans trickling down the pavement felt eerily normal. A taste of normal, though, that may not last as stronger Covid restrictions come in.
Arsenal may have bettered the Hammers each time they have met but this London derby has never been straightforward, with West Ham taking the lead in two of their three league encounters.
It did not take long for the pace of Adriana Leon and Alisha Lehmann on the wings to test the Arsenal defence, with England forward Rachel Daly’s physical presence up front epitomising a battling rough-and-tumble intent. The home team racked up three bookings early on, including young centre-back Grace Fisk for a late challenge on Australian Steph Catley, who had to be replaced by Katie McCabe at right-back.
Frustrated by the pace of the game, Montemurro could be heard shouting to his players to slow things down. In the 23rd minute the somewhat frustrated Gunners found a breakthrough through Roord, who picked up McCabe’s pinpoint delivery and guided it into the far corner. West Ham’s reply was quick. After a scrappy round of keep-ball in the box Kenza Dali collected the ball on the edge of the area, opened her body up and smacked her effort into the bottom corner.
As if angered by the goal, Arsenal poured forward with intent. Jordan Nobbs was twice blocked by a combination of Fisk and goalkeeper Mackenzie Arnold in quick succession before Vivianne Miedema was played through one-on-one, only for Arnold to fall gratefully on the ball.
A minute later Miedema had her revenge, blasting Beth Mead’s cross high into the net from close range. A furious Flaherty, convinced the England winger was offside, received her second yellow for dissent, and a captain-less West Ham collapsed.
Miedema clattered the woodwork after successfully rounding Arnold at second asking, but it was not long before a combination of Mead, Roord and then Kim Little provided Arsenal’s third. Then it was Mead’s turn, as she collected the ball on the right and struck high into the far corner.
Three goals in four minutes in the second half added to the home ground humbling of Beard’s team. Roord, first, diverted from a McCabe cross, Miedema rocketed another into the roof of the net and then her compatriot completed her hat-trick with by sweeping low into the corner from just inside the box.
Williamson and substitute Caitlin Foord provided the final nails as Arsenal showed no mercy.