Pioneers, record-breakers and title hunters. Arsenal, England’s most successful women’s team, hosted a new Women’s Super League record crowd of 47,367 at the Emirates Stadium as they powered to a 4-0 win over their north London rivals, Tottenham, to extend their early lead at the top of the table.
There was a real buzz around north London. Tube trains were littered with red and white hours before kick-off as the crowd swarmed towards the ground. For those who had tasted England’s Euros triumph at Wembley in July, there was hope and hushed whispers. Were they about to witness some more history?
Just 10 minutes before kick-off there were nervous faces, with the stands still patchy, but the flow of fans trickling down the aisles didn’t stop.
“Across every club there’s a responsibility to engage with the fans and make it something everyone wants to be a part of,” said the Tottenham manager, Rehanne Skinner, after Arsenal topped the previous record crowd of 38,262, set in November 2019 in the reverse fixture at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium. “It’s a fantastic achievement today, I’m glad the record’s been broken. It’s probably stood for too long to be honest – there’s been a little delay with Covid – but it’s obviously something we all want to build on.”
The Arsenal manager, Jonas Eidevall, said: “This game is the best advertisement there can be for people coming. That’s what it’s about. For people to come here and feel proud of the team and the players and wanting to support. We really felt that with the supporters here today. We hope as many of them come back and they bring a friend and then it’s a sell-out.”
The gap between these two sides has been shrinking year-on-year. Last season Tottenham took a first point off the Gunners and could feel aggrieved at not having collected all three, after Vivianne Miedema’s 90th-minute strike cancelled out a second-half goal from Rachel Williams (who swapped Spurs for Manchester United in the summer). That game, which punctured Arsenal’s winning start to the season, took place at the Hive, where Spurs played their home games before moving to Leyton Orient’s Brisbane Road. At the Emirates later that season, though, Arsenal comfortably delivered a 3-0 win as they battled to remain in the title race.
The expectation that Tottenham are ready to push on and challenge for a place in the Champions League is a testament to their coherence since Skinner joined in November 2020.
This campaign has not begun as brightly with a disjointed, and at times overly defensive, performance against Leicester City papered over by two cracking goals from the full-back Ashleigh Neville and the new recruit Drew Spence to earn a 2-1 win. But against Arsenal that hesitancy and confusion at the back, with the team drifting between a back three, four and five, was brutally exposed.
It took five minutes for Arsenal to allay any fears that the club’s perfect day could be ruined by an upset on the pitch, and to lift the record crowd into full voice. The captain, Kim Little, drifted the ball to Beth Mead and the in-form forward sent a pass in search of Caitlin Foord in the middle. Instead, the ball was accidentally side-footed back to her by the Spurs defender Molly Bartrip and Mead curled it round the goalkeeper Becky Spencer.
It was the loud ocean roar before the tsunami of Arsenal attacks to come, and those seated in the Clock End could perhaps almost feel disgruntled at the lack of action in close range.
There was one shot for the visitors in the first half, with Celin Bizet spying the goalkeeper Manuela Zinsberger off her line and launching a weak and off-target effort from 35 yards, but they were still in the game.
The sucker punch from the Gunners came with a minute of the half remaining. Spencer played the ball out to Eveliina Summanen with Miedema bearing down. The Dutch forward dispossessed Summanen before slipping the ball low past Spencer.
In the second half it was more of the same, with Arsenal dominating possession in front of a crowd that mixed old and new. The next two goals were worked from set pieces, with the Brazilian centre-back Rafaelle Souza powering home at the far post from a corner before Miedema – whose new contract was arguably Arsenal’s best bit of business this summer – glanced past Spencer from Steph Catley’s cross after she collected Mead’s short corner.
The win on the pitch was as comprehensive as the win off it was in the stands. Arsenal worked hard for this record crowd. The campaign to fill the stadium began at the start of the year when they were writing budgets. Now the gauntlet has been laid down. Which club will be the first to sell out their main stadium for a domestic game?