Arsenal face Manchester United at Meadow Park in a season defining game on Friday evening. They trail their visitors by six points in 3rd place- the final Champions League qualification place but have a game in hand and a vastly superior goal difference. Winning this game keeps Champions League qualification in Arsenal’s hands, anything else keeps it firmly in United’s hands.
The Gunners have put together consecutive 4-0 away wins against Aston Villa and Birmingham City after an interrupted and unhappy start to 2021. They have some rhythm, however, United corrected their course with a 3-0 win over Aston Villa last time out having suffered consecutive losses against Reading and Manchester City.
— arseblognews (@arseblognews) March 18, 2021
In the reverse fixture, United were good value for their 1-0 win as the Gunners struggled to play past their high press. Like Arsenal, Casey Stoney’s side have been hit with a succession of training ground injuries of late, Ivana Fuso, Tobin Heath and Leah Galton are all unavailable while Christen Press missed the 3-0 victory over Aston Villa. Kirsty Smith and Lauren James are back for United, however.
This is, put simply, a must win game for Arsenal. Finishing 3rd and qualifying for the Champions League would have been the absolute minimum expectation at the beginning of the season, finishing outside of the top three would represent under delivery considering the level of talent in the squad. Arsenal also need to correct their record in big games and they don’t come much bigger than this one.
A WORD FROM THE COACH
Joe was asked by Molly Hudson from The Times about the injury situations at both Arsenal and Manchester United this season and asked whether part of the solution lies in player recruitment. “We obviously have to look at a little bit of robustness in regards when looking at players who maybe historically have been involved in international tournaments and a lot of Champions League games where they’re able to back up games.
“There’s no doubt that holistically we can look at little details even in terms of when we look at players and their history and what sort of injury and whether they’re reoccurring scenarios so we can all do things always better. I think you have to get into these situations to make things better at times, so it’s important that we assess these situations and we can be better.”
Jen Beattie is not available after suffering a recurrence of a calf problem, while Steph Catley (hamstring) and Viki Schnaderbeck (knee) are still out. Joe also told Arseblog News that they had concerns over one other player but was not forthcoming on the identity of that player. Kim Little could come back into the team after coming off the bench against Birmingham last time out. In that Birmingham game, Montemurro fielded Miedema as a number 10 behind Caitlin Foord at centre-forward and he may be tempted to repeat that experiment here.
Arsenal face Manchester United tomorrow in a must-win game
Having started Miedema behind Foord against Birmingham, here's my analysis why they should do the same again
– Miedema's touches in 'big' games
– Her progressive ability
– Distracting defences https://t.co/NAFdWdy8rl
— JPH (@jessyjph) March 18, 2021
LAST TIME OUT
United were 1-0 winners in the reverse fixture in November thanks to a late goal from Ella Toone. The last time the sides met at Meadow Park was in the 2019 Conti Cup semi-final when a Vivianne Miedema brace was enough for a 2-1 win for Arsenal.
United started the season with fantastic momentum and headed into Christmas in 2nd place just behind Chelsea. The resurgence of Manchester City, as well as defeats to Chelsea and Manchester City since the New Year have seen them fall back into the race for the final Champions League qualification spot. United have certainly turned the WSL’s big three into a big four this season.
“We’re going to need a high level of performance if we’re going to get something out of the game on Friday night but I know the players are capable of that,” Casey Stoney told the Manchester United website. “We’re in a good space, we know we’re capable of beating them, we’ve done it already once this season. We also know they are a very good team and defensively we’re going to have to be very organised. We’re going to have to use the ball well when we’ve got it.”
🎥 On the agenda in @CaseyStoney's pre-Arsenal catch-up:
— Manchester United Women (@ManUtdWomen) March 18, 2021
PLAYER TO WATCH
With Jen Beattie injured, Lotte Wubben-Moy will likely take her place in the centre of defence. Lotte played in the game in November at right-back. One of the reasons Joe was so keen to bring Jen back to Arsenal is her calmness in possession and it’s a trait Lotte will certainly be working on. She has excellent pure defensive attributes and is no slouch on the ball- especially when it comes to carrying the ball out from the back.
United are likely to put her under a lot of pressure on the ball and how she either uses the dribble or left-back Katie McCabe to exit from those situations will be key. United are also likely to field Lauren James upfront and her trickiness in the dribble is a key weapon for the away side, as we saw with her excellent equaliser against Chelsea recently.
Subs: 4.Patten, 7.van de Donk, 14.Roord, 17.Evans, 18.Williams, 20.Maier, 21.Gut, 24.Stenson.
HOW TO CATCH THE GAME
The match takes place behind closed doors at Meadow Park and kicks off at 6.30pm on Friday evening. The game is live on BT Sport 2 in the UK, Opus Sports in Australia, the NBC app in the US (precise channel tends to be confirmed on the day of the game), Sportsnet in Canada, Spark Sport in New Zealand, SABC Sport in South Africa, V Sport in Norway, Sweden and Finland, Viaplay in Denmark and Iceland, AtaFootball in Germany and Italy, Charlton Sport in Israel, Canal 521 in Central America and the FA Player app (free to download on your phone or tablet) everywhere else.
We will have post-match reaction from Joe Montemurro on the site on Friday evening as well as an analysis piece on the site over the weekend. We will also have the usual build-up to the match away at Tottenham next weekend.