Arsenal Ladies have won the 2018/19 Women’s Super League (WSL) with a game to spare, edging out title rivals Manchester City.
While Liverpool and Manchester City battle it out in the men’s version of the game, the WSL draws to a close on Saturday 11th May with the title rivals facing off in the last game of the season, but Arsenal have already clinched the title to win the WSL for the first time in 7 years.
The Gunners sit top of the table, 4 points ahead of City. On Easter Sunday, in a somewhat nervy affair, they played their then-game in hand at home to Everton at Borehamwood, Hertfordshire, edging the contest 2-1, although were fortunate Dutch international midfielder Daniëlle van de Donk wasn’t sent off for physically shoving the referee.
That meant all Arsenal had to do last weekend was beat Brighton & Hove Albion away. Producing champagne football, Arsenal crushed Brighton 4-0, leaving Manchester City to seek some measure of consolation for another second place league finish in a row in tomorrow’s FA Cup final against West Ham. Such is the dominance of the title-challenging teams this season, City could go through the season unbeaten but still finish as the runners-up.
The WSL was created 8 years ago with the intention of developing a fully professional top league in English domestic football and semi-professional second division. It has undergone numerous changes over that time period, including switching from being a summer league to playing during the winter season, and not all clubs have found the transition process easy. For example, criteria for being in the WSL when initially formed was that the ladies team was linked to a men’s club. This controversially led to Lincoln Ladies’ relocation and rebranding to become Notts County Ladies FC and then in 2017 this club folded. In just late March, table-propping Yeovil Town LFC filed for administration. The fate of Yeovil reflects how the new format has led to football clubs with weak men’s teams increasingly get squeezed out by those who have high-flying men’s clubs and can outspend their rivals. The two clubs coming up for the 2019/20 WSL season being Tottenham Ladies and Manchester United underlines this.
The FA also controversially promoted this year’s runners-up Manchester City in 2013 even though they’d finished 4th in the second division the year before! The victims of this move, Doncaster Rovers Belles, earnt promotion to the WSL in 2017-18 but decided for financial reasons due to their main sponsors withdrawing to drop out of the WSL structure and be relegated to the third league level for this season. In their first game of the 2018/19 season, they fielded 9 players aged 16-17 years old.
On the flip-side, the 2018/19 season has for the first time seen all WSL clubs field fully professional squads. True, the highest salaries in the league amount to about £35,000 a year (what Manchester City defender Kevin De Bruyne earns in less than 1 day) and don’t yet challenge the highest paid women’s football club of Lyon who regularly pay their players €135,000 a year. However, salaries are going upward, attendance too (though from a low base) and it’s arguable that the increasing professionalisation of English domestic football has more than any other factor led to the Lionesses’ development into genuine World Cup contenders in 2015 and this year.
A significant amount of credit for Arsenal’s title success should go to Dutch international star, Vivianne Miedema (pictured above). Appearing in every WSL game, the Dutch striker has netted 22 goals to average more than 1 goal per game and won the Professional Footballers’ Association Player of the Year on Sunday. As for Manchester City, England captain Steph Houghton and striker Georgia Stanway will have played a major part in their success this season. Having played in the Champions League, won the women’s equivalent of the League Cup and being the favourites to win the Women’s FA Cup tomorrow, City are still able to reflect on a highly successful season.
After the end of the WSL season, attention will rapidly turn for many of the players to the small matter of the Women’s World Cup, kicking off in France on 7th June. England and Scotland will begin their campaigns by playing each other on 9th June.