Thursday, February 29, 2024

Arsenal v Aston Villa Women Preview

Arsenal enter their final game of the WSL season in 3rd place with a three point lead over Manchester City in 4th. A point will guarantee them the final UWCL qualification spot, although with their goal difference advantage over City, it would require Arsenal to lose to Aston Villa, Manchester City to beat Everton and for a 12-goal swing to occur in City’s favour to unseat Arsenal from third.

They face an Aston Villa side who have been a breath of fresh air in this season’s WSL. But for Arsenal, given the injury crisis that has engulfed the squad during the campaign, getting over the line into 3rd with a trophy and a UWCL semi-final tucked under their arm has to be considered a strong achievement.

Of course, some of that good feeling has been dampened a little by the news that Brazilian defender Rafaelle is likely to be playing her final game for the club with a move to the NWSL likely. That said, Arsenal are well on the case already with additions and Norwegian midfielder Frida Maanum is expected to extend her contract.

For now, Arsenal have a game to play and a job to do against Aston Villa and they will want to finish strongly. There has been a feeling- even if it hasn’t translated into performances- that the last couple of months have been about getting over the line and into one of the UWCL qualification spots. With the first UWCL round taking place just two weeks after the World Cup Final, there will be little chance for rest.


Leah Williamson, Beth Mead, Vivianne Miedema and Laura Wienroither are all out with ACL injuries, while Kim Little misses out with a hamstring problem and Lia Wälti is out with an ankle injury. Rafaelle is set to play her final game for the club. Michelle Agyemang, Laila Harbert and Katie Reid are in contention again after England’s Euro U17 tournament ended at the semi-final stage on Tuesday.

Available squad
GOALKEEPERS: 1.Zinsberger, 14.D’Angelo, 18.Marckese, 40.Williams
DEFENDERS: 2.Rafaelle, 3.Wubben-Moy, 5.Beattie, 7.Catley, 16.Maritz, 29.Goldie, 50.Doe, 62.Reid
MIDFIELDERS: 12.Maanum, 15.McCabe, 21.Pelova, 22.Kuhl, 60.Harbert
FORWARDS:, 17.Hurtig, 19.Foord, 20.Gio, 25.Blackstenius, 27.Taylor, 56.Godfrey, 59.Agyemang
Unavailable: 6.Williamson, 9.Mead, 10.Little, 11. Miedema, 13.Wälti, 26.Wienroither

I’ve been very proud of the group and for their performances but there is one performance left and we are not jumping ahead to anything. We need to be very good in order to finish the way that we want against a very tough opponent in Aston Villa. They’ve been excellent this season and that’s where we need to put our focus.

Even if we have put in a lot of strong performances this season, we can’t feel entitled to do that on Saturday, we need to do it all again. We need to prepare, focus and bring energy and once we have done that, I hope that it can be a season to be proud of. It’s a very exciting time for women’s football, there has been a lot of investment but there’s more to come and the competition will be very high. It’s about embracing that, doing your best with it and the future will be bright as well.

When the teams met in the reverse fixture in December, Arsenal overcame an early Kirsty Hanson goal to win 4-1 with an own goal from Rachel Corsie and goals from Vivianne Miedema, Katie McCabe and Jordan Nobbs. In the Conti Cup quarter-finals at Meadow Park in January, Arsenal were 3-0 winners thanks to a brace from Frida Maanum and a goal from Caitlin Foord.

Aston Villa scored just 13 WSL goals last season, the lowest total in the league. Fast forward to this season and they have more than trebled that total with 45. An exciting summer saw them land stellar attacking talent such as Kenza Dali, Kirsty Hanson and WSL top scorer Rachel Daly, with Arsenal legend Jordan Nobbs joining the group in January.

With Sarah Mayling and Maz Pacheco joining attacks from full-back, Villa have been a fun, attacking style of play. Even against the league’s big guns, they have made the decision to take the game to their opponents, as illustrated by their 4-3 win over Manchester City on the first game of the WSL season.

There have been more goals in Aston Villa games than any other team- their 3-3 draw with Liverpool last weekend was a case in point. They play on the front foot, attack through wide spaces and, in Daly, they will almost certainly have the first Golden Boot winner to emerge from outside the league’s top four since Ellen White with Birmingham City in 2017-18. Villa have been one of the success stories of the WSL season.

Most eyes at Meadow Park will be on Rafaelle in what is very likely to be her final game for the club. Since joining 18 months ago she immediately forged a reputation with supporters as a world class central defender. Strong in the fundamentals of defending- duels, aerial challenges, interceptions, Rafa added a sprinkle of drive and creativity too.

She has a 92% dribble success rate in the WSL this season, the best in the division by a distance. Her distribution off her left foot is first class but so too is her ability to carry the ball forward and beat opponents in tight spaces. In the eyes and hearts of Arsenal fans, Rafa was under appreciated outside of Meadow Park but pretty much unanimously considered a world class operator.

Top class left-footed centre-halves are rare in women’s football and replacing her, especially with Leah Williamson out for a good chunk of next season, is going to be incredibly tough. The player herself will, I think, find the exit tough too. At the very least, the home fans will be able to show her plenty of love and expect her chant to be a regular feature throughout the game from the Meadow Park faithful.


Subs: 1.Zinsberger, 17.Hurtig, 18.Marckese, 20.Gio, 22.Kuhl, 27.Taylor, 29.Goldie, 56.Godfrey, 59.Agyemang

The game takes place at a sold out Meadow Park at 2.30pm on Saturday, the game will be streamed live on the FA Player app which is free of charge, you just need to register an account.

We will have match reaction on the site from Jonas Eidevall on Saturday afternoon. The next episode of the Arsenal Women Arsecast will also feature an absolutely top tier guest, so be sure not to miss it.

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Bill Hall

I bet Rachel Daly would love to join the gunners this summer 😉

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