Arsenal travel to Chelsea on Wednesday evening for the opening game of their Continental Cup group stage. Questions abound over Arsenal’s record in games against big opponents with two defeats to Chelsea already in 2020- one in the final of this competition last season- as well as a pair of defeats away at Manchester City and against Paris Saint Germain in the Champions League.
This is not the most important game Arsenal will play against Emma Hayes’ side this season but there is a need to correct this big game record. Montemurro’s side performed excellently against Chelsea in the Conti Cup Final in February but were left to rue missed chances but even a draw on Wednesday evening (in the event of a draw both teams keep their point with a penalty shootout to determine who gets an extra point) would represent progress.
Another game, another goal from @JordanNobbs8 ?
What. A. Performance. ? pic.twitter.com/fhtVlrfxgR
— Arsenal Women (@ArsenalWFC) October 4, 2020
The second place in this Conti Cup group are not guaranteed progression to the quarter-finals, although six points against fellow group opponents Spurs and London City Lionesses should be enough to see them through as one of the best group runners-up. Usually Arsenal’s Conti Cup groups are a formality but that’s not the case this season.
Arsenal might be heartened by Chelsea’s slow start- they were held by Manchester United and lost to Everton in the Cup, while they only managed to beat lowly Birmingham by a solitary goal on Sunday. However, all of those games were away and they remain formidable at Kingsmeadow. As a counterpressing outfit, they relish matching themselves up against the Gunners’ possession based style.
Joe Montemurro suggested that captain Kim Little was in contention for this game, after leaving the field with a thigh injury against Manchester City last week but she didn’t feature in the training photos published by Arsenal on Tuesday. Neither did Jordan Nobbs, who was substituted with cramp during the 3-1 win over Bristol City. Lisa Evans awaits the results of a scan but will not be available for this game, Steph Catley and Lydia Williams will not return until after the international break. Jill Roord (knee) is still out.
LAST TIME OUT
Chelsea defeated the Gunners 2-1 in the Conti Cup Final in February thanks to a stoppage time winner from Beth England. England had earlier given the Blues the lead with Leah Williamson equalising in the 85th minute. The last time the Gunners went to Kingsmeadow last October, they took the lead through Danielle van de Donk but lost the game 2-1 thanks to second half goals from Beth England and Maria Thorisdottir.
Chelsea have caused a stir in women’s football with their recent transfer business. Australian striker Sam Kerr arrived in January and she has been joined by Danish forward Pernille Harder, one of the world’s best players. They also drafted the likes of Melanie Leupolz, Jess Fleming and Niamh Charles this summer, giving them the biggest squad in the WSL.
Hayes’ challenge has been to integrate new players and keep her big squad happy. So far she hasn’t quite nailed accommodating Harder, Kerr and England as well as Fran Kirby, who has started the season in great form. However, Chelsea have so much talent and Hayes’ high press has proved to be kryptonite for Arsenal in recent encounters.
‘Three points matter and I focus on winning.'
Emma Hayes' reaction after yesterday's victory! ?
— Chelsea FC Women (@ChelseaFCW) October 5, 2020
PLAYER TO WATCH
Jen Beattie has returned from a lower back injury and the return is well-timed. She was badly missed in both defeats to Chelsea earlier in 2020. When Hayes’ side took Arsenal apart at Meadow Park in January they scored from three crosses- two of which were headed in and Beattie’s aerial prowess proved difficult to replace.
England and Kerr like to drag centre-halves out to the channels with their running and Beattie and McCabe at left-back will need to be nice and in-tune to keep those spaces compact. Jen is also an excellent passer from the back and Chelsea will put her under plenty of pressure as she looks to start Arsenal’s build-up play.
Subs: 3.Wubben-Moy, 8.Nobbs, 20.Maier, 21.Gut, 24.Stenson, 30.Mace
HOW TO CATCH THE GAME
Kickoff is at 7pm at Kingsmeadow and the game will be played behind closed doors. At time of going to press there are no plans for this game to be broadcast but the whole match will be made available to watch on the FA Player app on Thursday morning. I will be at the game so you can follow me for updates on twitter @Stillberto if you like.
We will have the usual post-match reaction from Joe Montemurro on the site on Wednesday evening and all of the usual build-up and reaction for Sunday’s WSL game away at Brighton.