After a three-and-a-half week winter break, Arsenal Women are back in WSL action at Birmingham on Sunday with a chance to go seven points clear at the top of the table- albeit having played a game more than Chelsea, whose match against Spurs on Friday was postponed due to a second covid outbreak in three weeks in the Chelsea camp.
The Gunners travel to bottom of the table Birmingham who are without a win this season. With a Champions League quarter-final and Conti Cup quarter-final on the horizon, it’s a big second half of the season ahead for Arsenal. But with a four-point lead at the summit of the table, the WSL title is the prize they are currently in the box seat for.
They will have to do without some key players for this match due to a mixture of injuries, covid and the Asia Cup but coach Jonas Eidevall came out swinging on the subject of postponements and expressed his unhappiness with a lack of transparency over the reasons that Arsenal’s most recent WSL game against Brighton just before Christmas was postponed.
It’s a big month ahead for the club with WSL games against Manchester City (a), Manchester United (h) and Chelsea (a) on the horizon. Arsenal will be bolstering their squad with a couple of signings during January, with announcements likely soon. For now, they must focus on the job in hand and that means three points against relegation fighting Birmingham at St. Andrews.
Leah Williamson (hamstring) and Tobin Heath (calf) are still out, with coach Jonas Eidevall only saying that both are expected to be back and playing before the mid-February international break. Caitlin Foord, Lydia Williams and Steph Catley are unavailable as they are at a FIFA mandated pre Asia Cup training camp with Australia in Dubai. Jonas Eidevall says he has some players unavailable due to covid but refused to confirm the identities of the players. Manu Zinsberger and Noelle Maritz return after missing the game against Hoffenheim in December due to illness. Anna Patten has joined Aston Villa on loan for the remainder of the season.
Available squad (as far as I know!)
GOALKEEPERS: 1.Zinsberger, 24.Stenson, 28.Cull
DEFENDERS: 3.Wubben-Moy, 5.Beattie, 16.Maritz, 20.Boye, 22.Schnaderbeck, 29.Goldie
MIDFIELDERS: 8.Nobbs, 10.Little, 12.Maanum, 13.Wälti, 23.Iwabuchi, 33.Hussein
FORWARDS: 9.Mead, 11.Miedema, 14.Parris, 15.McCabe, 37.Jupp
A WORD FROM THE BOSS
“For the Australian players, Australia are having a pre-tournament camp in Dubai from 10th January which we are obliged to release the players for by FIFA rules. That meant they could not have taken part in the Birmingham game because they wouldn’t be able to report in Dubai in time, so we took the decision to give them a few days more holiday in Australia before joining up directly for the camp.
“Japan and Mana Iwabuchi is a little bit different because they have agreed they don’t need her at the pre-tournament camp. So I would rather have her here in London playing two games for us and then she joins Japan for the Asia Cup (on 17th January). As soon as it finishes, or they get knocked out, they will all be on the first plane back to England to join us.”
LAST TIME OUT
The last time Arsenal played away at Birmingham, the game was played at the FA’s St. George’s Park facility due to concerns over Birmingham’s former home at Solihull Moors. The Gunners ran out 4-0 winners with a double from Caitlin Foord, a goal from Vivianne Miedema and a stoppage time effort from Lisa Evans.
Birmingham are battling with Leicester City to avoid relegation to the Championship. The Blues managed to survive by two points last season in a tumultuous campaign which saw the players publicly rebel against the ownership due to concerns over poor facilities. The FA stopped them from playing at their usual home ground at Solihull Moors for three games due to concerns over the standard of the facilities too.
Not much has changed this season, Birmingham still have the smallest squad in the league and lost promising goalkeeper Hannah Hampton and coach Carla Ward to local rivals Aston Villa during the summer. Though they have now moved their home games to the men’s ground, St. Andrews. Last time out, Birmingham were beaten at home by relegation rivals Leicester in a very damaging defeat for their survival prospects.
💬 DC: “Louise is our leader, our vocal leader as well. She is going to be huge for us going into the second-half of the season, just how she leads the team, not just the younger players.” pic.twitter.com/ae7qRoL4Lp
— Birmingham City Women (@BCFCwomen) January 7, 2022
The Blues recently sacked manager Scott Booth after only four months in the job and he has been replaced by Darren Carter in the hotseat. However, Arsenal will be greeted by a friendly face on Sunday (though she probably won’t be too friendly while the game is going on!) with Birmingham skippered by former Gunners defender Louise Quinn, who was a key part of the 2018-19 title winning team.
PLAYER TO WATCH
With Steph Catley unavailable for the next month, Katie McCabe will be expected to play left-back in every game- assuming she stays fit! McCabe has moved between left-back and the left-wing so far this season, where she has notched up five assists, joint best in the division with Fran Kirby. Whether she plays at left-back or on the left-wing, McCabe’s game only changes subtly.
She also has four goals so far this season (one a penalty) so that total might dry up in the coming weeks as she plays in a more defensive role. However, in this game, Arsenal can expect to have plenty of the ball and McCabe’s thrusts from deep will be a key factor in trying to open up a Birmingham side likely to defend deep.
PREDICTED LINE-UP #NOMORERED
Subs: 13.Walti, 20.Boye, 22.Schnaderbeck, 23.Iwabuchi, 24.Stenson, 28.Cull, 29.Goldie, 33.Hussein, 37.Jupp.
HOW TO CATCH THE GAME
The game takes place at St. Andrews at 2pm on Sunday and tickets are available on the gate, away supporters should sit in PFW or PFC in the West Paddock, seats are £10 adults and £7 concessions. In the UK, the game is being shown live on Sky Sports. Check your regional WSL broadcaster if you are not in the UK, if your region doesn’t have one, the game will be free to view on the FA Player app.
Travelling up to Birmingham on Sunday? 👋
⏱ Arrive earlier than usual
✅ NHS Covid pass or negative test
🤩 Enjoy the game!
Here's everything you need to know 👇
— Arsenal Women (@ArsenalWFC) January 5, 2022
We will post the line-up an hour before kickoff on Arseblog News and we will also have post-match reaction from Jonas Eidevall on the site on Sunday afternoon, followed by the usual post-match reaction video later on Sunday. We are expecting some transfer news relatively soon and will arrange an Arsenal Women Arsecast once everything is confirmed.