Arsenal Women face Manchester City Women on Saturday lunchtime with their faint hopes of Champions League qualification still alive. The Gunners trail City in second place by four points, a victory at Meadow Park this weekend and the gap will be down to a single point with two games to play.
City’s shock 1-0 defeat to Liverpool on Tuesday evening has thrown their title ambitions into disarray as Chelsea overtook them in top spot by beating Birmingham on Wednesday. City’s form has deserted them in the spring, picking up only 7 of the last 21 WSL points available, losing the Conti Cup Final to Arsenal, the FA Cup semi-final to Chelsea and the Champions League semi-final to Lyon.
Their small squad has been stretched to breaking point, but the same could be said of Arsenal, who fell to a disappointing 3-0 defeat to Birmingham last weekend, before losing the FA Cup Final to Chelsea at Wembley. Injuries and winter departures have taken their toll on Montemurro’s side, with Leah Williamson telling me that the mental and physical toll of a slow start to the season had finally caught up last weekend.
The match will also represent club captain Alex Scott’s final home match prior to her retirement this summer. Alex joined Arsenal at the age of 8 and has 6 league titles, 7 FA Cups and scored the winner in the 2007 Champions League final in the red and white. Alex is retiring to focus on her media career and she will be guaranteed a warm send-off from the home crowd.
Arsenal will again be without Josy Henning, Lauren James and Anna Filbey through injury. Swedish right-back Jessica Samuelsson was a surprise inclusion on the bench at Wembley after six months out with a foot injury, but she won’t be fit enough to start. Alex Scott is unlikely to be in the squad for her farewell match, citing a lack of match fitness.
For City, Melissa Lawley and Esme Morgan were not part of the squad that lost to Liverpool on Tuesday, while Pauline Bremer is a long term injury absence with a knee complaint. Both teams look tired and are at a low ebb as Chelsea sweep towards the double, Saturday’s game will come down to who best deals with disappointment and fatigue.
LAST TIME OUT
The Gunners defeated City 1-0 in the Conti Cup Final thanks to a Vivianne Miedema goal back in March. But in the reverse fixture, Arsenal were soundly beaten- conceding three in the final thirteen minutes as they succumbed to a 5-2 defeat at the City Academy. The defeat spelled the beginning of the end for previous boss Pedro Losa, who left the club a few weeks later.
PLAYER TO WATCH
Scottish schemer Kim Little won Player of the Match for her performance in March’s Conti Cup Final and she will need to take control of the midfield if the Gunners are to prosper on Saturday. Little has been utilised on the right side of a diamond on midfield, she was moved into the centre by Montemurro on Wembley, with Nobbs shunted out to the right.
It did not go well, as Chelsea’s four strong attack swarmed Arsenal’s midfield. Montemurro is still trying to work out the relationship between Nobbs and Little in midfield. For my money, Kim’s goal threat makes her an ideal number 10, with Nobbs a box to box number 8, but Montemurro has preferred to fit them both into a diamond. It worked against City in March and it will need to work just as effectively this weekend.
1.van VEENENDAAL, 18.EVANS, 6.WILLIAMSON, 16.QUINN, 3.MITCHELL, 20.JANSSEN, 7.VAN DE DONK, 8.NOBBS, 10.LITTLE(c), 23.MEAD, 11.MIEDEMA. Substitutes; 9.Carter, 13,Moorhouse, 15.McCabe, 17.O’Reilly, 25.Samuelsson, 26.Kuyken, 29.Cooke.
HOW TO CATCH THE GAME
The match is being screened live on BT Sport in the UK, with a 1215pm kickoff. If you fancy coming down in person, tickets are available on the gate at Boreham Wood’s Meadow Park for £12 adults and £6 concessions.
We will have immediate reaction from a player on Arseblog News on Saturday afternoon and next week, we will also have an exclusive farewell interview with Gunners captain Alex Scott, for whom Saturday is her final home match before retirement.