Last weekend saw an FA Women’s Super League first as Arsenal conceded five goals in what became a second-half demolition at the hands of rivals Manchester City.
In fact, it was the first time Arsenal had conceded five in any game since a Marta-inspired Umeå IK bagged six almost a decade ago in 2008.
It’s not been the start to the season Arsenal wanted, defeat already leaves them playing catch up to their rivals and it could have been zero points had they not completed a late turnaround on the opening day against Birmingham City.
Striker Beth Mead is still relatively new to the twists and turns that come with playing for a top team; the 22-year-old joined the Gunners at the start of 2017 after a successful spell with Sunderland.
And Mead admits there’s been plenty of talking done at their London Colney training ground this week in order to right the wrongs.
“Arsenal have high expectations as a club and the game at the weekend wasn’t good enough,” said Mead. “We’ve sat down for quite a lot of meetings to talk about what went wrong and what we need to work on. Our girls are frustrated, it wasn’t a great mood when we came back in but the girls are good enough to get back into the right habits and get back on track.”
What was more puzzling about the result was Arsenal had ended Manchester City’s unbeaten run as recently as the Spring Series, keeping a hard-fought clean sheet in a 1-0 win that should have inspired confidence going into the weekend’s match.
Arsenal also got the better of Nick Cushing’s side in a preseason friendly, and were well in the game at 2-2 until three quick-fire goals from the hosts ended the match as a contest.
Mead hopes moving forward they can put it aside as a “freak” result. “I think we can, it’s frustrating because we had a good Spring Series and a good preseason, we played Man City and performed well.
“We were a bit frustrated and it was one of those days where no individual had a bad game, we just didn’t click as a team, and things went wrong. There’s areas we can improve and we know that but we have to make sure that was just a blip really.”
Arsenal may have the perfect opportunity to bounce back this weekend when they host Bristol City at Borehamwood.
Willie Kirk’s side play good football and picked up three points against Yeovil Town last weekend, but a hefty 6-0 defeat to Chelsea on the opening day will give Pedro Losa room to believe that it should be a similar story for his side.
“I think it’s a good chance to bounce back,” said Mead. “Bristol are a good footballing side, they like to play football, and we’ve watched a lot of clips on them. We know we’re in for a tough game but we know what we need to do and most of all we know we need to get a result.
“Bristol are a good technical team but all teams have weaknesses and we hope we can open up their weaknesses this weekend.”
Arsenal has proven to be a very different challenge for a talented forward still making her way in the game. Very often the main focal point of Sunderland’s attack no matter what the division, Mead is now part of an all-star squad, especially up front.
The striker is vying for a place alongside the likes of Danielle Carter, Jodie Taylor, Vivianne Miedema, Heather O’Reilly, and Lisa Evans, but she believes she can already feel her improvement as a player despite being at the club less than 12 months.
“As a player, I knew I needed to move on,” she said. “I hit a line at Sunderland, they built my foundations but I needed to push on and it’s making me a better player being at Arsenal.
“I have to work hard in every training session on every little aspect of my game to ensure I’ll play or start. I know I won’t start every game but I’ll do my best and that’s all I can do right now. But I feel better as a player, I’m in a good place with my football.”
And Mead accepts the competition for places is a challenge any footballer has to embrace in order to improve.
“I had high expectations coming here and knew what I needed to do — you need to adapt to it. Don’t get me wrong, it can be frustrating for any player because you want to be playing and that’s what a manager wants, but I’m loving it here.”
She added, “I’m relishing the challenge, I’ve got to keep pushing on and hopefully me improving as a player helps the team as well.”
It’s now coming up to five years since Arsenal won England’s major domestic title, but the club have managed to win the SSE Women’s FA Cup and Continental Cup in recent years.
Despite that, however, with the players assembled by Losa over the past few years, it will now be seen as a huge failure should Arsenal once again fail to trouble the two Champions League spots on offer to clubs in the FA WSL.
And the 22-year-old is aware that anything else would be a failure come the end of the season.
“It would be a major disappointment, we want to reach the Champions League. Arsenal are a team who wants to win trophies, we want to win leagues and that’s the Arsenal way, but we haven’t managed it lately.”
A potential upturn in form for Mead could also merit a long-awaited arrival into the England squad for a Women’s World Cup qualifying campaign that only got underway last month.
Despite her form at Sunderland, Mead was never a regular candidate for selection under Mark Sampson. She was called up for the China Cup in 2015, but is still awaiting her first cap.
Mead admits she has aspirations for the senior England squad, and hopes a fresh start under Mo Marley may eventually yield a call-up.
“It’s a level playing field a little bit now,” she said. “Mo’s obviously in at the moment, I think if players are performing they might have a chance of getting in.
“It is my mindset of course, I want to play for my club and start games and, hopefully if I do that, might kick-start my international career.”