The job of a captain is to galvanise your team, to lead from the front and to set an example. Jordan Nobbs’ return to the Arsenal side yesterday embodied all of these traits, and may even have helped resurrect the Gunners’ seemingly sunken ambitions of qualifying for the Champions League.
Arsenal recorded their first Women’s Super League victory in four attempts on Sunday, as four second-half goals were enough to beat a spirited and resilient Aston Villa side.
Vivienne Miedema scored her 13th league goal of the season, Katie McCabe struck a sumptuous effort from 25 yards and Lisa Evans’ towering header late on was a reminder of her qualities as a forward.
No goals were more satisfying, however, than Nobbs’ finish on her return to the side. Having started the season exceptionally — with three goals and three assists across the first five matches — a persistent quad strain has proved increasingly troublesome and seen her feature just four times since the beginning of October.
It was a characteristically high-class performance from Nobbs yesterday, who was at the centre of almost everything good about Arsenal’s display. There was more energy, more movement, and most importantly, more belief than we’ve seen from Arsenal in a long while, with this shift in performance level no doubt indicative of how much influence Nobbs has on this side.
With nine goals against West Ham and six against both Tottenham and Reading, only Man City and Chelsea have scored more goals than Joe Montemurro's side this season. Indeed, given the Gunners’ array of international players — including the league’s top scorer, Vivianne Miedema — questions over Arsenal’s recent form has never concerned a lack of squad quality.
Arsenal have, in actuality, picked up points where expected for the most part this season. Their four losses have come against Chelsea, Man United, and Man City on two occasions. But, in this way, there seems a growing sense that a team with so much talent, who on paper should be able to compete with all three ahead of them, lack the mental toughness to win games when it matters.
For this reason, Nobbs’ return is all the more vital. Arsenal have faced both Man City and Chelsea without either Nobbs or regular captain Kim Little, and the lack of leadership was evident. Against Villa however, with Nobbs seemingly back at full-fitness, that leadership was there in abundance.
Had Manchester United taken their chances to extend their lead over Arsenal, there would ostensibly be no way back. A season that started so well, which promised so much, dissipated away into a campaign filled with nothing but disappointment.
But United did not take these chances, and so Arsenal find themselves with an unanticipated burst of momentum leading into the latter stages of the season. Each game is now essentially cup final territory for Montemurro’s team, starting with Birmingham on the 7th March.
The biggest of these cup finals, though, is the game against United the following week. Win, and Champions League football begins to look like an increasing reality. Lose, and the dream of third place may well be gone as quickly as it resurfaced.
Speaking after the game against Villa, Montemurro stressed that his team “Have the football, have the players, have the belief and have the preparation” to beat any side moving forward. The real question, then, is have they got the nerve?