Why Tobin Heath is Arsenal's perfect superstar
By Mac Johnson (Senior Writer)
Ladies, gentleman, all of you wonderful readers, my heart is positively bursting with national pride. I can't stop humming the 'Star-Spangled Banner,' I'm craving barbecue, and I might even get an American flag tattoo. I'm feeling that happy!
It's not every day, after all, you get to see an American sign for your beloved Arsenal. Kelly O'Hara was the first, and she was joined by Heather O'Reilly for the 2017-18 season. Though I loved both dearly, a newer wave of American ladies have made the voyage across the pond to test their mettle in the UK of late.
Abby Dahlkemper, Crystal Dunn, Rose Lavelle, Carli Lloyd, Sam Mewis, Christen Press, Alex Morgan—bona fide superstars, not to mention World Cup winners—each made moves to one of Manchester City, Chelsea, Manchester United, or Tottenham, between 2017 and the present. Just as the WSL has exploded into popularity, especially in America, Arsenal have fallen off the baggage train in regards to bringing world-class talent across from the States.
That's all over now though. Making a shock move from the red half of Manchester, Tobin Heath has broken Arsenal's duck, and I for one am ecstatic, if you couldn't tell. But just who is our new signing, and what can she bring to the team?
Tobin Heath: World-Class Pedigree
It's not as if Arsenal's exceptional women's side are short on international talent. Dutch icon Vivianne Miedema leads the line, alongside England's Nikita Parris and Beth Mead, and Mana Iwabuchi, formerly of Bayern Munich. Caitlin Foord, Steph Catley, and Lydia Williams were exceptional for Australia at the World Cup this summer, and Leah Williamson, Jordan Nobbs, and the legendary Kim Little have all graced the England team regularly. Katie McCabe is fantastic for Ireland, and Frida Maanum is a sight to behold when playing for her home nation of Norway.
But the United States have that something special, an x-factor if you will. They've played 50 World Cup games since the tournament's inception, winning four of the eight on show, and they've only ever lost four times, including twice in the most recent tournament. And Tobin Heath has been at the center of much of that success.
She made five starts from six appearances in the 2015 World Cup, and a further six starts from six appearances in 2019. She can often function as the glue in the women's National Team, able to feature across the entire front line, and in the midfield to boot. Now 33, she debuted nationally in 2008, as a 19-year-old in the Olympics, which she won.
Nobody else in the squad can boast a rostrum like Heath—two Olympic wins, two World Cups, plus a second place medal, two SheBelieves cup wins, and two Confederations Cups. It's utter madness, frankly, and she's been a key cog in the team throughout. Domestically, she's been just as impressive, with a trio of third-place NWSL medals sitting pretty next to a pair of second places, earned over seven seasons with the Portland Thorns, where she tallied 12 goals and 24 assists over her tenure, despite battling serious injuries.
And her statistical profile is just as impressive. I've encompassed the highlights below, but it's a field of green. Even at 33, she's still an elite goalscorer and provider, especially from set-pieces, and thrives in all sorts of, though it's relatively clear she's best-suited to teams with a high level of ball-progression, where she can drift and float around the wings, functioning as a creator in pockets of space, whether her intention is to shoot or set up a teammate. Credit to FBREF, these stats are taken over the last year, including her time at Manchester United and with the national team. It's an impressive benchmark.
Tobin Heath: What can we expect?
Contrary to what I can only assume to be public expectation, Heath will not be a locked-in starter in this Arsenal side. We have a glut of talent at the moment, especially at her position, and of a younger age. With new head coach Jonas Eidevall still sorting out his squad, there will certainly be time, but a barnstorming 3-2 win at the weekend without Heath named in the squad, the true potential of this Arsenal side has been unfurled.
Last year, at Manchester United, she earned seven starts from eight appearances. In a 22-game season, that's nothing to scoff at, but neither did she start every game. Three United players started all 22 matches, and fellow American Christen Press started 14. Press, for reference, is two years Heath's junior.
Youth and vitality is as important to the modern game of football as is talent, and though Heath has much of the latter, the former is shading away from her slowly. But that's why she's the perfect superstar to augment this Arsenal squad. She provides cover in many of our weaker areas, while her own weaknesses—they are few, but extant—fall precisely where the squad is strongest.
We're young, quick, and vibrant, but can often lack spine, and are susceptible to being overpowered by teams with star power across the board. New coach Eidevall will hopefully have something to say on that score, but Heath's leadership has the further potential to strengthen that spine. With the loss of Danielle Van De Donk earlier this summer, her natural charisma and vocal style will be of crucial importance in the Arsenal dressing room.
Expect her to bring notable off-the-bench cameos, and lead the line in most non-league competitions, but also to provide meaningful experience and know-how in the dressing room. Oftentimes, a young and talented squad can need that slight injection of veteran experience and leadership, and though Heath still has a while to go in her career, I predict she'll make more of a bit-part contribution this season, especially if her contract extends for more than one season.
At the same time, she certainly will not function as an advisor to the team, or anything of that sort. She's as hungry for success as ever, and will fight tooth and nail to bring this Arsenal team back to the top. Not to mention, she is a big name, and one very well-known in the ever-expanding American markets. It's an astute pickup for a number of reasons, which extend on and off the pitch.
And it's an especially sweet deal for me, as an American. Tobin Heath is one of my all-time favorite players, as a long-time USA women's supporter, and seeing her live when the Thorns came to Washington DC to face the Spirit, which is my local NWSL side, was a magical experience. This Arsenal women's side has started to bring me as much joy as the men's side that I fell in love with so long ago, and Heath's acquisition is the icing on the cake. I'm so excited for this season.