Arsenal play Aston Villa in the WSL on Sunday in their last game at Meadow Park for the 2021-22 season (the final home game, against Spurs on Wednesday, will be played at Emirates Stadium). The Gunners have three games remaining and trail WSL leaders Chelsea by four points, albeit with a game in hand.
Arsenal have to win their final three games, at home to Aston Villa and Spurs before travelling to West Ham on the final day, and hope that Chelsea slip up away at Birmingham or at home to Manchester United. First things first, however, Arsenal have to negotiate Villa, a team who held Arsenal to a 0-0 draw in this fixture last season.
Villa went close to holding Chelsea to a draw at Kingsmeadow in March only to lose in stoppage time and held Manchester United to a 0-0 last week. They won’t be an easy nut to crack this Sunday and Carla Ward will have her Villains side set up to defend and frustrate. Their defence will be held together by former Gunner Anita Asante, who retires at the end of the season.
Arsenal’s home record this season has been close to exemplary, with only Manchester United leaving North London with anything at all following February’s 1-1 draw. Jonas Eidevall’s side have to focus on themselves and not worry about the permutations elsewhere, all they can do is win their games and hope for a favour from either Birmingham or Manchester United.
Defender Rafaelle is not yet ready to return to the side after seven games out with a muscle injury, so Lotte Wubben-Moy will continue at the heart of the defence. Winger Tobin Heath left the club this week after a hamstring injury finished her season and her contract was due to expire at the end of the season. Anna Patten has returned from her loan spell with Aston Villa due to glandular fever, which has curtailed her season.
GOALKEEPERS: 1.Zinsberger, 18.Williams
DEFENDERS: 3.Wubben-Moy, 5.Beattie, 6.Williamson, 7.Catley, 16.Maritz, 20.Boye, 26.Wienroither
MIDFIELDERS: 8.Nobbs, 10.Little, 12.Maanum, 13.Wälti, 15.McCabe, 23.Iwabuchi
FORWARDS: 9.Mead, 11.Miedema, 14.Parris, 19.Foord, 25.Blackstenius
A WORD FROM THE BOSS
“It will be a tough match, the recent results Villa have had show that they are a really, really resilient side who have denied top teams in the league table. They don’t score many goals against Villa, against teams like Tottenham, Chelsea and Manchester United they were very, very solid and difficult to break down. That means we have to attack really well and come into the game with the perfect attitude.
“I hoped that we would be in the title race this season. When we started the season we knew we had a long and tricky path in Europe if we wanted to go all the way, which we did. We started with playoffs in Russia which feels very, very distant now. We knew we had two FA Cups to play this season, we knew we had possibilities but also a lot of games.
“We knew we had to handle that and we knew that, previously, we had some problems with injuries in previous seasons. We have been focusing on those challenges. I think being well in the title race with three games to go is progress, so let’s enjoy being in it with of course, the pressure to win. That is the way we are going to get experience of playing in important games in the future is to play them now.”
LAST TIME OUT
When the teams met at Villa Park in October, Arsenal ran out 4-0 winners thanks to goals from Mana Iwabuchi, a Kim Little brace and a long-range lob from Katie McCabe. In this fixture last season, the Gunners were held to a 0-0 draw on the final day as Aston Villa escaped relegation.
Aston Villa were promoted to the WSL in 2020 and their plan was very much to survive, initially and then to build from that base. That is exactly what they have done. They survived relegation on the final day of last season but, this year, they have not been anywhere near the precipice. They currently sit in eighth but 13 points above the drop zone.
They replaced coach Gemma Davies and brought in Carla Ward from Birmingham City, as well as good players like Remi Allen and Hannah Hampton in goal. Villa have benefitted from Birmingham’s slide from the top echelon of women’s football in England and hoovered up a lot of the talent in the Midlands as a result.
The next question for Villa will be how they drag themselves to the upper tier of the WSL’s middleweights, as Tottenham have managed this season. Next season they will likely target 5th place but so will Spurs, West Ham, Reading and Everton. Aston Villa are well on the way to establishing themselves in the WSL’s middle class.
— Aston Villa Women (@AVWFCOfficial) April 29, 2022
PLAYER TO WATCH
Since February, the team has taken on a very settled look with a core of 13-14 players starting most of the games. Left-back Steph Catley falls squarely into the settled team, starting 10 of the last 12 matches since the conclusion of the Asia Cup. The Australian is regularly among the most creative Arsenal players recently.
Only Vivianne Miedema and Katie McCabe better her for assists per 90 this season in the current squad, her expected assists per 90 (XA) is only bettered by Iwabuchi, Foord, Mead and Miedema, all of whom play in the forward line. After an injury ravaged opening season in London, Catley is demonstrating why she is regarded as one of the finest left-backs in the world.
Subs: 5.Beattie, 12.Maanum, 14.Parris, 18.Williams, 19.Foord, 20.Boye, 23.Iwabuchi, 25.Blackstenius, 26.Wienroither.
HOW TO CATCH THE GAME
The game kicks off at 2.15pm on Sunday at Meadow Park, tickets are available here at £8 adults and £4 concessions if purchased before 2359 on Saturday. Otherwise, they are available on the gate at £12 adults and £6 concessions.
Hopefully you saw our exclusive interview with Vic Akers on the 15th anniversary of Arsenal’s Champions League win on Friday. We will have the usual post-match reaction from Jonas Eidevall on the site on Sunday afternoon, as well as the post-match video from pitchside at Meadow Park.