Analysis of Arsenal Women’s Passion – (Or is it aggression?)

Passion or Aggression? by Christine Allen

“I don’t know how we play the sport without that passion.” Former Arsenal and Lioness midfielder Fara Williams counters on an episode of the Boots Balls and Bras podcast.

Hosted alongside Bex Smith and Eartha Pond, Boots, Balls and Bras is an insightful, educational and entertaining podcast, produced by three footballers (retired or not, once a player always a player) who have their finger on the pulse when it comes to all things salient in the women’s game – both past present and future.

In standard BBAB format, through sometimes heated and frank discourse, our hosts are discussing the following:

  • Whether ‘passion’ is simply mislabelled/misunderstood as ‘aggression’ and in of itself, a perfectly natural by-product of a player and managers desire to win.
  • If a surge in physicality on the pitch and outbursts on the side-lines is to be expected given the ever-increasing popularity of the WSL – the subsequent financial investment raising the stakes if a club dare fails.
  • And finally, whether the increase in the latter is a sign that the culture of the men’s game is tainting the women’s.

“You want to win, right?,” Williams continues in her trademark blunt delivery which with her unrivalled knowledge of the women’s game, is accepted (if not welcomed) by both colleagues and listeners alike. “Things are going against you and whatever – those natural reactions happen. I’m not saying they’re correct and I know that some behaviours can be controlled… but that’s high performance. Kelly [Smith] was a high performer – you can get under their skin because they want to win. They’re winners. I don’t think you can take that out of people”.

“I genuinely think that you can still have a ton of passion,” Bex Smith, as ever the calm voice of reason, counter argues,  “[for example] be a really loud coach…but there is a line in what we say, how we act and we have to be respectful to each other.”

Another Smith who is in attendance for episode three of BBAB is Kelly Smith.

The former Lioness and Gunners powerhouse has detailed her own struggles with controlling her temperament on the pitch within her autobiography ‘Kelly Smith Footballer – My Story. `

“I will admit that I am one to react sometimes and I have had to learn to deal with that.” She admits between its pages.

However, Smith has an interesting take on the psychology behind why some players act out more aggressively than others – the injustice of being hacked to pieces, with no consequences for the offender, being one.

Smith makes the point that players with insane dribbling skills (cue a chorus of ‘Beth Mead’s on fire, your defence is terrified na na na na na na na’) are often the first to retaliate aggressively.

“It is often the case that the flair player gets sent off for reacting to something that has gone unpunished.” She reflects, “…. sadly, I am now used to being marked heavily and kicked a lot.”

“I actually believe that most if not all of the top elite players in both men and women’s football have that.” Smith then continues, “We can flip at any time. I certainly have that, and it has been shown enough in my career.”

Back to BBAB, the podcast trio, with Smith as their guest, go on to discuss the merits versus disadvantages of a coach who makes their presence felt on the side-lines.

“Managers that I’ve played for, that you can hear on the side – for me they get the best out of you…if you lose that, you lose the game a little bit.” Williams warns.

“You want to hear your manager saying the right things,” Smith agrees. “Egging you on but you don’t want to see them get sent off because then you’re without them for a couple of games.”

When it comes to in team communication, it would seem that a heated dressing down from a fellow player can too often be that game-changing push that a player who is perhaps cruising through the gears needs in order to shift into sixth.

“Lucy shouted at me during a training game over a year ago because I didn’t control a ball and look after it,” Our star Arsenal forward, who is set to return from ACL injury for pre-season training, Beth Mead, confides to The Guardian. “She shouted at me: ‘I expect you to do better because I know you can do it.’ It really stuck with me. If Lucy’s shouting at me, she’s trying to get the best out of me because she knows that’s what I’m capable of.”

As part of the Lionesses 2023 World Cup media build up, a number of beautiful and diverse images have been released by sponsors Nike with the striking caption “Leaders like Never Before.”

While the women who play football not only now, but in previous generations, are most certainly leaders – (in fact, their importance at this particular juncture in the history of the women’s game cannot be understated) are we in danger of placing players so high up on a pedestal that they are afraid to get a little dirty (within reason) on the pitch?

Are sponsors and the media adverse to transmitting to the masses, a well-timed slide tackle that former Arsenal player, DVD, would be proud of, due to their desire to keep the perception of women’s football as snow white? Can’t the female game represent progress, purity, technicality, aggression and attitude?

After all, aggressive styles of play, which are inherent in every competitive individual, are going nowhere – nor should they.

The day a player stops hunting down a ball that they’ve lost, is the day that they should probably retire.

Food for thought? What do you think?

Christine Allen who is a member of the Dublin Arsenal Supporters Club.

Follow Christine on Twitter.

Do you want to read more about the Arsenal Women’s Team? Follow Just Gooner Women on Twitter for regular updates on the Gooner Women!

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