Arsenal have to dust themselves down after Monday’s heart-breaking extra-time defeat to Wolfsburg in the Champions League semi-finals with Leicester visiting Meadow Park in the WSL on Friday evening. The Gunners have suffered yet another ACL injury with Austrian right-back Laura Wienroither rupturing hers during the Wolfsburg match.
It further depletes a squad that has been riddled with injuries this season. However, Arsenal have little choice but to crack on. They currently sit in 4th in a four way fight for both the league title and Champions League qualification (the top three qualify for the competition next season) and every game is a must-win.
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Leicester are a team revitalised under Willie Kirk after a strong January transfer window, Leicester, who had 0 points after 9 games, now have 13 points from their last nine games. The Gunners, meanwhile, have little room for rotation given injuries and played an energy sapping 120 minutes against Wolfsburg on Monday evening.
The returns of Gio and Jodie Taylor ease some of the shortage, especially in the forward positions with Caitlin Foord still out. Leicester are in-form and fighting for WSL survival, they will be a tough opponent but dropped points here will almost certainly cost Arsenal Champions League qualification for next season. The stakes remain incredibly high.
Caitlin Foord is still out with a hamstring injury, however, Stina Blackstenius is fit after having to come off against Wolfsburg with a quad injury. Laura Wienroither joins Beth Mead, Vivianne Miedema and Leah Williamson in nursing an ACL injury but Gio and Jodie Taylor return to the squad after not being registered for the UWCL squad. Kim Little (hamstring) is also out.
GOALKEEPERS: 1.Zinsberger, 14.D’Angelo, 18.Marckese, 40.Williams
DEFENDERS: 2.Rafaelle, 3.Wubben-Moy, 5.Beattie, 7.Catley, 16.Maritz, 29.Goldie, 62.Reid
MIDFIELDERS: 12.Maanum, 13.Wälti, 15.McCabe, 21.Pelova, 22.Kuhl, 60.Harbert, 61.Earl
FORWARDS:, 17.Hurtig, 20.Gio, 25.Blackstenius, 27.Taylor, 59.Agyemang
6.Williamson, 9.Mead, 10.Little, 11.Miedema, 19.Foord, 26.Wienroither
A WORD FROM THE BOSS
“We have tried to say, ‘what emotions and feelings do we want to carry forward?’ What can help us to become a stronger team and what do we need to get rid of to be ready for the challenge against Leicester? That is sports, you are not entitled to anything because you did something yesterday.
“What is important is today and, for us, tomorrow against Leicester, that is where we need to put 100% of our focus. They recruited heavily in the winter, they had a really strong January transfer window, which I think has really improved their quality, I think that has been the main factor (in Leicester’s improvement).”
LAST TIME OUT
When the teams met in November Arsenal ran out 4-0 winners with Frida Maanum, Caitlin Foord, Steph Catley and Stina Blackstenius on the scoresheet. In the equivalent fixture last season, the score was exactly the same, with Jordan Nobbs, Vivianne Miedema and a brace from Frida Maanum completing the scoring.
Leicester have turned their season around in double quick time and given the WSL its first proper relegation fight in many years. At the winter break after 11 games, the Foxes sat on 0 points and looked doomed. However, under Willie Kirk, who took over from Lydia Bedford (now on the Arsenal coaching staff) they have taken 13 points of the last 27 available.
They have improved defensively but they also enjoyed a strong January transfer window, with Bayern goalkeeper Janina Leitzig, Courtney Nevin, Ruby Mace, Natasha Flint and Remy Siemsen all coming in. Leicester have been more enterprising under Willie Kirk, with the Leicester boss saying his approach to the game at Meadow Park will not be ultra defensive.
“The best way to approach this game is to be aggressive and attack-minded. We’re in a jovial place, and we’re confident heading into this game on Friday. Not conceding early is really important in giving yourself a chance against the top teams in the league.” Leicester have put themselves in a position where they are no longer favourites to go down and can come into the game, at least, a little lighter.
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PLAYER TO WATCH
Jodie Taylor and Gio were not registered for the UWCL squad. Taylor was not registered because she was not signed until late March, Gio was left out since Arsenal could only register three of their four January additions. Omitting Gio always felt like an odd decision given that back-up goalkeeper Sabrina D’Angelo was registered.
That decision was, in my view, punished with Caitlin Foord injured for both legs of the Champions League semi-final, with Arsenal forced to throw a half-fit Lina Hurtig into the fray in the second leg when they really could have used Gio. However, both return for this game and whether one or both start remains to be seen.
But they should and probably will have to utilise each player to some extent to take some heat off players like Katie McCabe and Victoria Pelova, who played 210 and 209 minutes respectively across the semi-finals, while Stina Blackstenius had to come off early in the second leg due to a quad strain. Taylor and Gio relieve the pressure on the frontline and how they are used will be key in this game.
Subs: 1.Zinsberger, 5.Beattie, 17.Hurtig, 18.Marckese, 20.Gio, 25.Blackstenius, 29.Goldie, 59.Agyemang.
HOW TO CATCH THE GAME
The game takes place at Meadow Park on Friday evening at 7.30pm, the game will be shown live on Sky Sports Football in the UK.
We will have match reaction from Jonas Eidevall on the site on Friday evening.