Arsenal kick off their WSL season against defending champions Chelsea at Emirates Stadium on Sunday. It doesn’t get much bigger than that- though Arsenal of course did manage to create quite the frisson this week with the signing of USWNT star Tobin Heath. Heath won’t be available for this game but her signing seriously bolsters the Gunners’ attacking options.
For now, the focus is getting the season off to a good start and Arsenal will feel they have a physical advantage over the visitors, having played three competitive Champions League qualifiers already during August. Chelsea, like Arsenal, had a lot of players away at the Olympic Games in Japan but, unlike Arsenal, they didn’t bring them straight back into the swing of competitive football. Arsenal ought to be a step above early season form and fitness.
The one you’ve all been waiting for…
Welcome to The Arsenal, @TobinHeath ❤️
— Arsenal Women (@ArsenalWFC) September 3, 2021
That said, Chelsea are defending champions and they are favourites to land the WSL title once more and one look at their squad shows you why. They have the kind of individual quality that wins games whether they are controlling them or not. Arsenal haven’t beaten Emma Hayes’ side since the 5-0 drubbing at Kingsmeadow in 2018, losing four and drawing once against them in the WSL in that time and losing three cup ties to them as well- all away from home.
Arsenal have also effectively surrendered home advantage to play this game at Emirates Stadium and away from the more familiar confines of Meadow Park. Jonas Eidevall’s side then travel to Prague for the second leg of their final Champions League qualifier on Thursday night and they take a 3-0 lead with them to the Czech Republic.
WANT TO KNOW MORE?
If you are a newcomer to the Arsenal Women’s team, I wrote a player-by-player squad profile here.
New signing Tobin Heath is still in the US and won’t be ready to make her debut for the next couple of games. Jordan Nobbs (ankle), Malin Gut (ACL) and Viki Schnaderbeck (ankle) will all miss this game while Fran Stenson has joined Brighton on loan for the season. Frida Maanum, Nikita Parris, Simone Boye and Mana Iwabuchi are all in line to make their WSL debuts for Arsenal.
GOALKEEPERS: 1.Zinsberger, 18.Williams, 28.Cull
DEFENDERS: 3.Wubben-Moy, 4.Patten, 5.Beattie, 6.Williamson, 7.Catley, 16.Maritz, 20.Boye, 29.Goldie
MIDFIELDERS: 10.Little, 12.Maanum, 13.Wälti, 23.Iwabuchi
FORWARDS: 9.Mead, 11.Miedema, 14.Parris, 15.McCabe, 19.Foord
LAST TIME OUT
This match finished in a 1-1 draw at Meadow Park last November. Beth Mead gave Arsenal a 1-0 lead after 85 minutes only for a cross to cruelly deflect off Lotte Wubben-Moy into the Gunners net to secure a point for Chelsea in stoppage time. The teams also met in a pre-season friendly at Emirates Stadium in July, which Arsenal won 2-1 thanks to goals from Katie McCabe and Freya Jupp.
Chelsea won the FAWSL and the Conti Cup last season, retaining both trophies in the process. They also made it to the Champions League Final before losing 4-0 to Barcelona. They are the team to beat in England at the moment and this summer, they have added Manchester United attacker Lauren James and highly rated young PSV Eindhoven defender Aniek Nouven to their ranks.
Arsenal struggled to play past Chelsea’s high press in recent seasons and their results against Chelsea are the single biggest reason that the Gunners have gone trophyless in the last two seasons (though they can still win last season’s FA Cup, which was delayed due to covid and will conclude in the autumn). Chelsea are the toughest opponents that Arsenal could have asked for on the opening day.
“Arsenal have history of great teams and winning long before I was the manager of Chelsea,” Emma Hayes said in her pre-match press conference. “They have always stood tall across Europe and in this country and they have done in every season that I have been here. Our games have always been an incredible battle and I don’t expect Sunday to be any different.
“It’s a new manager, he’s got new ideas and a lot of new players to integrate. I don’t have a lot of new players to integrate but I haven’t had the same level of time with them that’s he’s had. Them playing European games have helped them to prepare going into the season but I’m the sort of person to manage whatever situation we have and I’m pretty sure we will present ourselves in the best possible way on Sunday.”
'I'm raring to go and I know that the players are.' – Emma Hayes 💪
— Chelsea FC Women (@ChelseaFCW) September 3, 2021
PLAYER TO WATCH
Arsenal have a lot of choices at centre-half but I think Jen Beattie will get the nod alongside Leah Williamson in defence due to her ability in the air. In Sam Kerr, Chelsea have one of the biggest aerial threats in the league, despite her slightly diminutive stature. Nine of Kerr’s 21 strikes in the WSL last season were headers. She is excellent at finding space when crosses come into the area.
Beattie’s job will be to not lose her when Chelsea work the ball wide because Jen is Arsenal’s most aerially dominant player, winning 2.29 headers per 90 in last season’s WSL. Beattie is also a valuable component in Arsenal’s playing out from the back, placed on the left-side of the defensive trio, she is very good at arcing the ball up the left-touchline for Katie McCabe. She will need to be able to play around Chelsea’s high press too.
Subs: 3.Wubben-Moy, 4.Patten, 7.Catley, 12.Maanum, 14.Parris, 18.Williams, 20.Boye.
HOW TO CATCH THE GAME
The game kicks off at 12.30pm at Emirates Stadium, tickets are £12 adults and £6 concessions and are available here. In the UK, the match is being shown live on Sky Sports Premier League from 11.30am. The game will be screened, one way or another, in every territory in the world. This article will show you where in the ‘I can’t get to the games, where can I watch on TV or online?’ section.
We will have post-match reaction from Arsenal manager Jonas Eidevall on the site shortly after full-time. We will also have all of the usual build-up and reaction to the games against Slavia Praha on Thursday and Reading on Sunday.
For extra reading, I spoke exclusively to Gunners defender Anna Patten about the game and the season ahead.