Arsenal travel to Kingsmeadow on Sunday lunchtime knowing a win all but qualifies them for the Champions League preliminary rounds in September. Of course, winning at Kingsmeadow is hardly something they can take for granted. Since winning 5-0 there in October 2018 the Gunners have not won there in five attempts in all competitions.
The Gunners, of course, are also enormously depleted by injuries with over half of their usual starting eleven sitting this game out. It’s going to be a tall order to get any kind of result but Jonas Eidevall’s side have gritted their teeth and pulled a lot of strong results out against big teams despite an unprecedented injury crisis.
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When the teams met in the Conti Cup Final in March, Arsenal were the victors with a 3-1 win just seven days after losing to the same opposition in the FA Cup at Kingsmeadow. But Eidevall is under no illusions that this game will be the same, suggesting in his pre-match press conference that Emma Hayes’ side will adapt and not play in the same fashion as they did at Selhurst Park.
Arsenal have changed since that day too, reverting to a 3223 formation mainly out of necessity to accommodate for injuries but Eidevall’s side have played this shape enough times now for Hayes and her analysts to have a good idea of how the system works. That said, the absence of Lia Wälti does mean Eidevall will have to adapt again and that perhaps gives Arsenal a little unpredictability going into this game.
Lia Wälti misses the final two games of the season with an ankle injury but, thankfully, one that doesn’t look to threaten her participation in the World Cup this summer. Lina Hurtig should return to the squad following a foot injury. Leah Williamson, Beth Mead, Vivianne Miedema and Laura Wienroither are all out with ACL injuries and Kim Little is out with a hamstring problem.
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
MIDFIELDERS: 12.Maanum, 15.McCabe, 21.Pelova, 22.Kuhl, 61.Earl
FORWARDS:, 17.Hurtig, 19.Foord, 20.Gio, 25.Blackstenius, 27.Taylor, 56.Godfrey
Unavailable: 6.Williamson, 9.Mead, 10.Little, 11. Miedema, 26.Wienroither, 59.Agyemang, 62.Reid
A WORD FROM THE BOSS
“It is part of the discussion between EFA and FIFA to give players protected time after the club season finishes before being released for their national teams. But we also need to get that balance right between having the players in the national teams with sufficient time to prepare so you don’t have too little preparation time, because you might get injured for that reason.
“So it is about balance but it is also about even better preparation for reality. We can think whatever we like about the schedule, the number of games or how competitive the games are but the direction the game is going in, it is not going to be less competitive. It is not going to be fewer games. It is going to be the opposite, it is going to be more games, more competitive games.
“That is what we need to prepare, on an organisational level, to prepare the players individually to cope with that. That is where we are heading. The problem I can feel is things are happening so fast that we are sprinting in that direction with less preparation time and it is an even tougher job to prepare everyone for those demands. But that is what we need to do, I don’t think we can slow the development of the game, we just need to prepare better for it.”
LAST TIME OUT
When the teams met in the Conti Cup Final in March, Arsenal won the game 3-1 after falling behind to an early Sam Kerr goal, strikes from Stina Blackstenius, a Kim Little penalty and a Rafaelle header gave the Gunners the trophy. A week earlier, the teams played at Kingsmeadow and goals from Sophie Ingle and Sam Kerr led to a 2-0 win for Chelsea.
Chelsea know a victory in this game takes them very, very close to a fourth consecutive WSL title having also won the FA Cup last weekend. The Blues will say an emotional goodbye to captain Magda Eriksson and Pernille Harder before the game, with both players out of contract and set to join Bayern Munich this summer.
Chelsea will hope those pre-match presentations can spur them on but the return of Harder is a big boon for the Blues, who have been reliant on a(n admittedly top quality) front three of Reiten, James and Kerr this season without much room for the sort of rotation Chelsea’s squad usually affords them.
Generally, the pattern of these games is often that one of the teams learns from a defeat and adapts for the next encounter. Given Arsenal’s deserved win over Chelsea in March expect Hayes to have something up her sleeve. The Blues rested Reiten, James, Perisset, Mjelde, Cuthbert and Leupolz against West Ham on Wednesday, which ought to give you a good indication of how the Chelsea starting line-up might look come Sunday.
Six incredible years to look back on.
— Chelsea FC Women (@ChelseaFCW) May 18, 2023
PLAYER TO WATCH
In a period where Arsenal have needed the senior players they have left to step up, few have responded to that call more resoundingly than current captain Katie McCabe. McCabe has been outstanding during the spring, both as a leader and a player in her own right and Arsenal are going to need her to once again lead her team with the sort of fearlessness that has been her hallmark in the red and white.
With Lia Wälti unavailable, Arsenal have to rejig the midfield box shape they have been playing in recent weeks. The 3223 system has two sixes and two tens, essentially, with wing-backs wide of that box shape. Katie McCabe has played as a left wing-back in recent weeks, a role she is well accustomed to with her country.
With Wälti out and Catley back, it is likely that Catley will assume the left wing-back role, with Pelova dropping into the right six position and McCabe playing as a right ten. Her versatility and ability to play in several different roles has always been a key trait of her Gunners career but once again, she is almost certainly going to be asked to switch roles once more.
Subs: 1.Zinsberger, 17.Hurtig, 18.Marckese, 20.Gio, 22.Kuhl, 27.Taylor, 29.Goldie, 50.Doe, 56.Gregory.
HOW TO CATCH THE GAME
The game takes place at Kingsmeadow at 12.30pm on Sunday. The game is being shown live on BBC Two in the UK.
We will have the usual match reaction from Jonas Eidevall on the site on Sunday afternoon.