Why are Arsenal letting Miedema go and will they regret it?

Vivianne Miedema is rightly regarded as one of the best players in the world. With 172 appearances in the Women’s Super League (WSL) for Arsenal, 125 goals, 50 assists, two Golden Boot awards, one league and three Continental Cup titles, as well as being shortlisted for the Ballon d’Or three times (2019, 2021 and 2022), the stats speak for themselves.

But it is the end of an era. After seven years at Arsenal, the WSL’s all-time top scorer is set to depart after the final game of the season against Brighton & Hove Albion on Saturday.

Sources told ESPN that Arsenal chose not to offer her a new contract, while WSL rivals Manchester City are interested in signing the 27-year-old Netherlands international on a free transfer once her deal ends.

But why did the Gunners opt to let one of their fan favourites leave, potentially for direct competitors? And might they regret it?

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A unique player

It is hard to describe Miedema’s ability; there is something ethereal, otherworldly, about her skills. When a ball is at her feet it feels like magic will happen, and it often does with the kinds of spectacular goals she scores. She is an elite No. 9 and skilful No. 10 rolled into one, but it’s her finishing that makes her stand out.

“She’s unique in women’s football,” Netherlands international and former Arsenal teammate Jill Roord told UEFA. “She’s one of a kind; an absolute killer. You see it in men’s football — players who are so cool in front of the goal — but I don’t think anybody else in women’s football has that to her extent.”

With an all-time WSL record of 125 goals, as well as the record for the most goals in a single WSL season (22), Miedema’s ability to finish is second to none. She joined Arsenal from Bayern Munich off the back of winning Euro 2017 with Netherlands and made a splash almost immediately, becoming the first player to ever reach 50 WSL goals (in just her 50th game) by the 2020-21 season.

Miedema is not one for the spotlight or personal awards, though, and seldom celebrates her goals out of respect for opponents. Off the pitch she advocates for player welfare, mental health and equal opportunities for young girls; on it, she gets joy from elevating the skills of those around her and works hard to spot passes, find space and create goal-scoring opportunities for others. She doesn’t need to score or assist, or even really be at the heart of the game, to have an impact.

“She just sees things a lot earlier,” Joe Montemurro, who coached Miedema at Arsenal from 2017 to 2021, told The Athletic after the announcement that she would be leaving the club. “If you give her that room, she can be very effective. She has the weapons to play all those areas, whether it’s back to goal, coming from outside in, starting from a lower position. When you’ve got a player of that calibre, let her make the decision in the moment.”

Two seasons of trauma

It has been a slightly different story for Miedema over the last two seasons, though. Off the back of a difficult Euro 2022 campaign — where she openly spoke about contracting COVID-19 and struggled with the after-effects during the tournament — she began to regain her usual prolific form before suffering an anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) injury in December in a Champions League game against Lyon.

That ruled her out for 10 months and it came just a month after her partner and Arsenal teammate, Beth Mead, suffered the same injury. During their recovery, Arsenal filmed a documentary about their journey back to full fitness — which helped to shine a light on an all-too-common injury in the women’s game — but while Mead had eight goals and three assists from 19 games on her return, Miedema suffered several setbacks along the way and struggled with her rebab.

She eventually made her return to the pitch in Arsenal’s 2-1 win over Bristol City in October 2023, but picked up another issue in February that required surgery and only recently started playing again.

With one goal in eight matches this season, it’s clear that the prolonged recovery has prevented her recapturing her best form with Arsenal. Having been unable to use her skills for the past 16 months, it is possible that her injury spell played a role in the club’s decision to let her go, but they may regret allowing her to join City. One source told ESPN that it would be “stupid” to allow Miedema to head to a WSL rival, knowing just how good she will be once fully fit again, but it looks like that is what is going to happen.

“Arsenal clearly have a plan that doesn’t include Viv,” Arsenal men’s legend Ian Wright wrote on X. “We can judge that plan in the next few seasons. Just like we can judge Viv getting back to the levels that made her one of the best players in the world.

“Viv can go to City and make us regret it. Arsenal as a club (not just the manager!) have to have conviction in their ability to get the big decisions right, put the club first and be judged on it by all of us. There is risk and opportunity for both sides.”

Why Arsenal struggled to keep her

Montemurro relished having Miedema in his side because her natural inquisitive nature and football-centric brain made for riveting tactical discussions.

“I absolutely loved working with her because we used to challenge each other,” Montemurro told The Athletic. “I’d say: ‘No, that’s not right.’ She’d go: ‘Yes, it is, it’s right.’ Tactically, the way we wanted to approach things, we would have great discussions about how we could improve. I really loved those discussions. She’s really an intelligent thinker in terms of the way she sees the game.

“We had a lot of banter, it was always a lot of fun. She was an amazing listener and an amazing person wanting to bring the game to the next level. She had a massive impact. I definitely grew as a coach.”

But while Montemurro and Miedema had a great relationship, she does not seem to be as close with current manager Jonas Eidevall. One source told ESPN that the pair have not always seen eye to eye when discussing football, and that has caused friction. After games, the duo have often been seen talking things through, sometimes in a slightly more heated way than usual.

There’s also a school of thought which suggests Miedema does not fit into Eidevall’s style of play, or future plans. While she is a world-class No. 9 and No. 10, Miedema’s return from injury complicated Arsenal’s forward line as striker Stina Blackstenius was already competing for a starting spot with Alessia Russo following her high-profile summer signing from Manchester United.

Regardless, given Arsenal fell underwhelmingly short of expectations this year, it seems strange to not concentrate next season’s attack around the player who has netted the most goals in their history and should be entering the peak years of her career.. It would be somewhat understandable if she was in her 30s, but she’s still only 27.

“I think it’s an absolutely shocking decision by the club to be honest,” former Arsenal striker Ellen White told BBC Radio 5 Live’s Women’s Football Weekly. “I just think it’s shocking that they haven’t shown her the love to want to keep her at the club … She is 27. If she wants to continue to play she could play for a number of years and she still has records to break. It’s just outrageous.”

Arsenal will never have another player quite like Miedema because there is no other player like Miedema. Only time will tell if the club regret their decision to let her leave so easily.

What she could bring to Manchester City

Once a player of Miedema’s calibre becomes available as a free agent there is interest from every top club in Europe. But sources have told ESPN that WSL rivals Manchester City are the favourites to sign her.

While Miedema is still under contract with Arsenal, City can’t make a formal approach or communicate with her directly until June 1, when she enters the final month of her contract. Foreign clubs can enter negotiations now, but it remains to be seen if any will be able to tempt her away from England.

City would be good fit for Miedema. Two of her Netherlands international teammates, Roord (who was ruled out for the season with an ACL injury) and Kerstin Casparij, are thriving under manager Gareth Taylor at City. And forming strong partnerships with the pair in the WSL could help Miedema back into her national side as she has been periodically absent since suffering her injury in December 2022.

Taylor has been able to renew the contracts of some of City’s top talent, including England forwards Lauren Hemp and Jessica Park, and the leading WSL goal scorer Khadija “Bunny” Shaw. Their attack is already the second most prolific in WSL (with 59 goals behind Chelsea‘s 65) and Miedema’s addition would make it even more potent. If she joins it will be a scary prospect for the rest of the league to face.