Arsenal play at home to Manchester City in the WSL on Sunday lunchtime, riding the crest of a wave that saw them eliminate Bayern Munich from the Champions League quarter-finals at Emirates Stadium on Wednesday evening. It was a huge night in the recent history of the club given they haven’t qualified for a Champions League semi-final since 2013.
However, while they were toiling away against Bayern, losing Kim Little (certainly) and Katie McCabe (maybe) to injury in the process, Manchester City were at home with their feet up. Gareth Taylor’s team are in very good form recently too, a mixture of not having Champions League games to contend with and having recovered from losing their entire midfield and first choice right-back last summer means they are the form team in the WSL.
— arseblognews (@arseblognews) March 31, 2023
Arsenal have to find the balance between riding the high of Wednesday night while not allowing it to draw too much of the lactic acid from their legs. The Gunners and City met twice in February with Arsenal winning the home game in the Conti Cup semi-final but losing the league game in Manchester just three days later.
The top four in the WSL are separated by just three points at the moment and Arsenal are three points behind City with a game in hand. Needless to say, whoever wins this game will have the upper hand (the game in hand is away at Brighton) in terms of league finish but, the way the WSL top four is at this moment in time, any team could just as easily finish 4th, outside of the Champions League qualification places, or win the title.
Katie McCabe is in contention to be in the squad for this game, McCabe went off on Wednesday night after a bang on the foot and left the stadium on crutches and in a boot. The good news is that a scan showed no sign of a break so it’s a heavy bruise. Kim Little limped out of that game after 12 minutes and she is set for a longer spell on the sidelines. Gio (dead leg) faces a late fitness test but Jodie Taylor is available again after being ineligible for Wednesday’s game against Munich. Steph Catley (foot) is out. Beth Mead and Vivianne Miedema are both out with ACL injuries.
GOALKEEPERS: 1.Zinsberger, 14.D’Angelo, 18.Marckese
DEFENDERS: 2.Rafaelle, 3.Wubben-Moy, 5.Beattie, 6.Williamson, 15.McCabe, 16.Maritz, 26.Wienroither, 29.Goldie
MIDFIELDERS: 12.Maanum, 13.Wälti, 21.Pelova, 22.Kuhl
FORWARDS:, 17.Hurtig, 19.Foord, 20.Gio, 25.Blackstenius, 27.Taylor, 59.Agyemang
A WORD FROM THE BOSS
“It’s about staying focused. That is one of the things we learn from playing lots of games that take a lot of emotion. How do we recover? How do we refresh to be prepared to perform again. So far we have been very good at that but it doesn’t mean anything for the future if you don’t continue to do it. Getting that balance right when you are winning or losing, you can have a day to celebrate or a day to sulk but, after that, you need to get back to reality and there is work to do. We have done that well but we need to continue to do it well.
“We have had a strong momentum during this whole block even if the results have not been there, like the first leg in Munich and the FA Cup game against Chelsea. We felt our performances were good and that builds a lot of self-confidence. Strong performances don’t guarantee the results that you want but it is a factor you can control and more often than not it will lead to the result and the score will take care of itself. Performances build self-confidence and momentum and it is up to us to do that again against Manchester City and we need to do that because they are a very strong team.”
LAST TIME OUT
When the teams met in the WSL last month, City were 2-1 winners thanks to first half goals from Lauren Hemp and Chloe Kelly with Rafaelle replying for the Gunners in the second half. The teams met at Meadow Park three days earlier in the Conti Cup semi-final and Stina Blackstenius scored the winner two minutes into extra time to seal the victory for Arsenal. In this fixture last season, Arsenal won 5-0 with goals from Kim Little (2), Vivianne Miedema, Katie McCabe and Leah Williamson.
In the WSL, City are on a run of five straight wins, which takes in victories at home to Arsenal and Chelsea and they are 14 unbeaten since losing their first two games of the campaign against Aston Villa and Chelsea. However, they have gone out of both domestic cups in the last month, with Arsenal knocking them out of the Conti Cup and Aston Villa eliminating them from the FA Cup.
They are on a run of six straight away wins in the league too, though that run includes none of the top five and City have lost at Villa and Chelsea this season. However, City have taken advantage of their lack of European involvement this year to strongarm their way into the title race. In the early part of the campaign they were reeling from the loss of Weir, Walsh, Stanway and Bronze, as well as the retirement of Ellen White.
Gareth Taylor and his players will have been happy to see Chelsea and Arsenal go through in the Champions League to potentially distract them from the title race. City took full advantage of a leggy looking Chelsea side last weekend, deservedly beating them 2-0 at the Academy Stadium. Arsenal will need to be careful, especially with City’s front three of Hemp, Kelly and Shaw, possibly the most lethal frontline in the division.
"I'm not too sure if it says what he thinks about his No.9s".#MCFC head coach Gareth Taylor responds to Jonas Eidevall's "City relies on one player to score all their goals" comment.#AFC take on City on Sunday afternoon in a huge #BWSL clash. pic.twitter.com/nFaboUsdoN
— Anton Toloui (@SkyAnton) March 31, 2023
PLAYER TO WATCH
Leah Williamson has performed a couple of star turns in midfield in recent weeks. A five star display at home to Reading earlier this month set the tone but she truly shone in that position against Bayern Munich on Wednesday. Leah started the game at centre-half but injury to Kim Little meant she pushed forward into midfield with Lotte Wubben-Moy coming on.
Williamson acquitted herself brilliantly, forming part of Arsenal’s ravenous high press and laying on a sumptuous back-flicked assist for Frida Maanum for the opening goal. With Kim Little out, a situation that is likely to be the case for some weeks, Williamson will likely be pushed back into central midfield with Lotte Wubben-Moy partnering Rafaelle in defence.
She will have her share of penalty box defending to do in this game in any case, City keep their front three of Shaw, Hemp and Kelly pushed up high. So much so that, without Lia Wälti, Jonas Eidevall played three centre-halves in both the games against Manchester City in February. How Williamson performs in a midfield berth could come to define Arsenal’s run-in.
Subs: 5.Beattie, 14.D’Angelo, 16.Maritz, 17.Hurtig, 18.Marckese, 22.Kuhl, 27.Taylor, 29.Goldie, 59.Agyemang.
HOW TO CATCH THE GAME
The game will be played at Meadow Park on Sunday at 12.30pm and will be broadcast live on BBC Two in the UK.
We will have match reaction from Jonas Eidevall on the site shortly after the game, we will also have a new Arsenal Women Arsecast Mailbag edition for you during the international break.