Arsenal travel to Aston Villa on Sunday for their final WSL game for five weeks. They still have two Champions League group games to play subsequently to this but given the injury situation to this point, there has been a feeling for quite some time that Arsenal are trying to get over the line into the New Year as unscathed as possible so that they can get players back and regroup.
Leah Williamson started for Arsenal for the first time since September on Wednesday night, while fellow centre-half Rafaelle got her first minutes in the same time frame from the bench. In the forward positions, however, the Gunners have begun to look leggy, which is unsurprising. Frida Maanum, Steph Catley, Katie McCabe and Lia Walti have each played every minute of the last six games, Lotte Wubben-Moy has played every minute of the last ten.
— arseblognews (@arseblognews) December 8, 2022
Injuries to Kim Little and Beth Mead have called for a recalibration in the team while injury to Lina Hurtig has robbed the team of attacking depth. Mana Iwabuchi has been an unused sub for the last four games now, which has removed another layer of attacking talent, albeit voluntarily in the (strange) case of Iwabuchi.
Carla Ward’s Aston Villa side will be smarting from their recent 5-0 defeat at Old Trafford, but in Kenza Dali, Alisha Lehmann, Kirsty Hanson and Rachel Daly they have a strong front four- three of those players were procured in the summer. Villa were going reasonably well, powered by Daly’s goals, prior to the capitulation in Manchester, they will be a dangerous opponent for Arsenal.
Lina Hurtig (hamstring) is unavailable, with Kim Little (knee) out until the New Year. Beth Mead (ACL) is out until next season and Teyah Goldie is in the latter stages of recuperation from an ACL injury picked up in March.
GOALKEEPERS: 1.Zinsberger, 18.Marckese, 40.Williams
DEFENDERS: 2.Rafaelle, 3.Wubben-Moy, 5.Beattie, 6.Williamson, 7.Catley, 16.Maritz, 26.Wienroither, 62.Reid
MIDFIELDERS: 8.Nobbs, 12.Maanum, 13.Wälti, 15.McCabe, 23.Iwabuchi, 61.Earl
FORWARDS: 11.Miedema, 19.Foord, 25.Blackstenius, 59.Agyemang
A WORD FROM THE BOSS
She (Rachel Daly) has been tremendous. Since she has come back it has felt like she has scored with every chance. Villa is a good team, with a lot of different threats. Rachel Daly has been phenomenal so far this season but it’s not only her, unfortunately it is not as easy as taking her out, we need to focus on Villa as a whole team.
I think Villa have been progressing since the spring, we played very well when we beat them at Boreham Wood (in May) but before that game, they were a really strong team and they were close to getting points from Chelsea at Kingsmeadow, it was the final minute that decided that game. We have massive respect for Aston Villa, we see them as one of the teams that is developing most in the league and Carla Ward is doing a tremendous job, we know they will be motivated on Sunday and we need to match that.
LAST TIME OUT
When the teams met at Villa Park last October, four second half goals were enough to give Arsenal the points thanks to goals from Mana Iwabuchi, a Kim Little brace and a golaço from Katie McCabe. The most recent meeting of the sides saw the Gunners overpower Villa with a 7-0 rout over Villa at Meadow Park in May. On that occasion, Miedema scored twice, Mead, Wubben-Moy, Blackstenius and a Rachel Corsie own goal contributed to Villa’s downfall.
Like a lot of teams in the WSL’s middle class, Aston Villa focused on defensive organisation last season and built on their maiden WSL season in 2021, in which they survived relegation on the final day of the season. Last season, they consolidated and finished in 9th place, which represented good progress under highly rated coach Carla Ward, who moved across the city from Birmingham to join them last summer.
What most of the teams in that middle rung of teams lack is a reliable goal scorer, a problem which Villa solved emphatically with the purchase of England’s Rachel Daly from Houston Dash during the summer. Daly, who plays as a full-back for the Lionesses, has long been a consistent striker in the NWSL. She has scored half of Villa’s 16 goals in all competitions so far this season.
Villa are making a bid for “the best of the rest” title earned by Tottenham in the last campaign, in that fifth spot outside the league’s ‘big four.’ It’s exactly where they sit in the table at the moment and what separates them from the teams around them, like Spurs, Everton and West Ham, is the goals of Rachel Daly, together with the creativity of Hanson, Lehmann and Dali.
The #BarclaysWSL's Player of the Month for November…
🌟 @RachelDaly3 🌟
— Aston Villa Women (@AVWFCOfficial) December 8, 2022
PLAYER TO WATCH
When Beth Mead and Kim Little were ruled out with injuries recently, there was a section of Arsenal fans quietly muttering to themselves ‘we need peak Miedema here.’ Three games later and she has certainly responded. As well as scoring all of Arsenal’s last three goals, match winners against Juventus and Everton and a late equaliser away at Juve, her performances have been much closer to the player we all know.
Arseblog News spoke to Miedema earlier this week about her decision to ask club and country for a break in November and she is clearly reaping the benefits. Jonas Eidevall purred about her performance during the crucial Champions League victory against Juventus on Wednesday.
“The weight of her passes and touches is extraordinary… If we are finishing better we would have talked about her having multiple assists in these games, not only scoring goals.” Arsenal will again look to Miedema on Sunday and McCabe has operated more like a fourth midfielder than a third forward from the right, allowing Miedema to push on and become that third forward instead.
Subs: 5.Beattie, 6.Williamson, 8.Nobbs, 18.Marckese, 23.Iwabuchi, 26.Wienroither, 59.Agyemang
HOW TO CATCH THE GAME
The match takes place at Villa Park on Sunday at 4.15pm and will be shown live on Sky Sports in the UK.
We will have the usual post-match reaction from Jonas Eidevall on the site on Sunday evening. There will be an Arsenal Women Arsecast out on Tuesday looking ahead to the Lyon game.