Arsenal travel to Bath on Sunday to take on Matt Beard’s resurgent Bristol City side in the WSL. The Gunners have won their last four games without conceding- the first time they have managed the feat since the top-flight was rebranded as the WSL in 2011. Bristol have turned what looked a certain relegation in the winter into a proper basement battle.
They sit 10th in the table, however, Aston Villa and West Ham beneath them have two games in hand on Bristol. Arsenal are in a similarly tight battle for the final Champions League qualification spot. They are currently 4th, three points behind Manchester United in 3rd (the top 3 qualify for the Champions League in the WSL) but with a game in hand and a vastly superior goal difference.
It has been a pleasure to work with you Joe. You are a very special coach and an even better person. Thanks for all your confidence in me over these years. Wishing you nothing but the best! Let's get our last job done together and finish the season on a high ❤️@MontemurroJoe pic.twitter.com/m3atPs2Qa9
— Lia Wälti (@liawaelti) March 31, 2021
Of course, this is Arsenal’s first game since the announcement on Wednesday that coach Joe Montemurro will be stepping down at the end of the season. Finishing 3rd does not represent success for a club of Arsenal’s stature but it is a tangible target and an opportunity for the coach to leave a welcome gift for the next manager, whoever they may be.
Montemurro told me that he made his decision in February, most likely after the chastening defeats to Manchester City and Chelsea. That he has announced the decision now, while Arsenal are in a good run of form, hopefully further galvanises the team to win all of their remaining games and take that final Champions League spot for next season.
A WORD FROM THE BOSS
“I’ll miss everything, I’ll miss the Arsenal water bottles! I’ll miss everything that this club stands for but the biggest thing is to come to a place where people want to learn and grow and be better and we feed off each other. We made this into a place where everyone wanted to be here and be a part of what we are doing. I hope a good base has been created and the next people coming in will be able to take it to the next level.
“I still get starry eyed walking into these rooms and seeing the Arsenal crest everywhere and seeing Liam Brady Square every day (at Hale End). Sometimes I have to stop myself and wonder if it’s all really happening. Is it real that this club has employed me to look after one of its elite teams and represent this club? All I did was to try to represent the club in the best way possible and in the way that it deserves. To be an Arsenal fan is something special and to work for Arsenal is something special. I can’t put into words what it means.”
Jen Beattie is still out with a calf problem, while Steph Catley won’t be ready until after the international break having undergone surgery on her hamstring in January. Leah Williamson ought to be available- she was an unused substitute against Spurs due to a dead leg she picked up in training.
Lisa Evans expects to spend the next four weeks in a protective boot due to an achilles injury, while Viki Schnaderbeck is still a few weeks away from fitness as she continues to recover from a knee ligament injury. Beth Mead returns following her one-match suspension. Fran Stenson is unavailable due to a thumb injury.
LAST TIME OUT
Arsenal were 3-1 victors in the reverse fixture back in October. Bristol took a shock lead through Abigail Harrison, before Jordan Nobbs’ equaliser. Second half strikes from Caitlin Foord and Vivianne Miedema gave the Gunners the points. The last time Arsenal played away at Bristol City was October 2018 when goals from Leah Williamson, Jordan Nobbs and a brace from Vivianne Miedema were enough for a 4-0 Gunners victory.
Since Matt Beard took over as maternity cover for manager Tanya Oxtoby, Bristol have upped their game and have turned what looked a certain relegation into a dog fight, dragging Aston Villa and West Ham down into the equation. They have become harder to beat, drawing their last two games 1-1 with Birmingham and Spurs. They were also 3-2 victors over Reading recently.
Bristol have become a more attacking outfit under Beard, where they previously relied solely on star striker Ebony Salmon, now the likes of Molly Pike and Charlie Wellings are supporting the sought after Salmon much more effectively. That said, they have been beaten 6-0 by Chelsea and 3-0 by Manchester City recently. This is a game that Arsenal should win and win well.
“We’re in a difficult position, however we’re in a much better position than we were two weeks ago. We’re on the up, it’s now about us continuing that momentum and hopefully we can pick up more points and have other results go our way,” said Bristol goalkeeper Sophie Baggaley. “When we played them [Arsenal] last time round, it was probably our best performance from the first half of the season so we know we can compete against them.
💬 “As a team we have progressed massively since the first half of the season and if we’re all on our game we can really test Arsenal on Sunday and hopefully get something from the game.”
— Bristol City WFC (@bristolcitywfc) April 1, 2021
PLAYER TO WATCH
I wonder whether Joe has stumbled upon something with Lia Wälti in the left centre-back role. All of Arsenal’s centre-backs are right footed, Wälti is too but she is the most ambi-dextrous player in the WSL with Fara Williams. At Spurs, 58% of her passes were with her left foot as Arsenal overloaded the left-flank.
While Arsenal will expect to dominate the ball again on Sunday, Wälti’s more defensive qualities will be called upon. Bristol’s main weapon in attack is Ebony Salmon’s ability to run the channels as the Vixens go from back to front quickly. Lia can expect a few foot races with Salmon as Arsenal push up the pitch and expect to assert dominance.
Subs: 1.Zinsberger, 3.Wubben-Moy, 4.Patten, 14.Roord, 20.Maier, 21.Gut, 29.Goldie.
HOW TO CATCH THE GAME
The game takes place at Twerton Park and kicks off at 2pm on Sunday, the match will be played behind closed doors. The game will be shown live on the FA Player app, which is free to download. Just register an account here.
We will have match reaction from Joe Montemurro on the site on Sunday evening, as well as the usual match analysis piece on the site on Monday. Next week we will also have a new Arsenal Women Arsecast discussing Joe Montemurro’s decision to step down at the end of the season. That is being recorded on Wednesday and will be available soon after.