Wednesday, April 24, 2024

Arsenal v Chelsea Women Preview

THE LOWDOWN
Arsenal take on Chelsea at Emirates Stadium on Sunday in a huge clash at the top of the WSL. Jonas Eidevall’s side trails Chelsea by three points. If Chelsea can extend that gap to six points, the reality is that it’s going to be very difficult for the Gunners to make up that deficit in the second half of the season. A draw keeps Chelsea as favourites but within reach, an Arsenal win and it’s on. Like Donkey Kong.

It feels early in the season for such a decisive game for Arsenal’s title hopes but Chelsea have been flying in the early part of the season and there is very little room for error after losing the opening match at home to Liverpool. There are only 22 league matches which has always created little room for mistakes and attached an outsized importance to top of the table head to heads.

If Arsenal can keep the race alive into the second half of the campaign, they have a far more favourable schedule than Chelsea, who are competing in the Champions League and Eidevall’s side, who have added eight new players over the last two transfer windows, have been progressing slowly into the season and improving with each week that passes.

But the reality is that this Chelsea side is so relentless they do not allow room for the growth of their opponents. The match will take place in front of a sold out crowd or damn close to it at the Emirates and we will surely witness another record WSL crowd. These are very positive developments for Arsenal and for women’s football but the result and its consequences will be uppermost in the minds of Arsenal staff and fans come Sunday lunchtime.

TEAM NEWS


Lina Hurtig will miss the game after withdrawing from the Sweden squad with a slight injury earlier this week. Other than that, Jonas Eidevall has no new casualties. Leah Williamson, Laura Wienroither and Teyah Goldie are recovering from ACL injuries and will not be available.

Available squad
GOALKEEPERS: 1.Zinsberger, 14.D’Angelo, 40.Williams
DEFENDERS: 3.Wubben-Moy, 5.Beattie, 7.Catley, 16.Maritz, 27.Codina, 28.Ilestedt
MIDFIELDERS: 10.Little, 12.Maanum, 13.Walti, 15.McCabe, 21.Pelova, 22.Kuhl, 32.Cooney-Cross, 53.Lia
FORWARDS:, 9.Mead, 11.Miedema, 17.Hurtig, 19.Foord, 23.Russo, 24.Lacasse, 25.Blackstenius
Unavailable: 6.Williamson, 17.Hurtig, 20.Gio, 26.Wienroither, 29.Goldie

A WORD FROM THE BOSS
‘I think Chelsea have a really good dynamic on the pitch and they have really developed a way so that they can sustain attacks and they have many different ways that they can score goals. I think you saw a team that was maybe more dependent on a few individual players two and a half seasons ago, but now you see the number of various line-ups that they have been playing this season and they’ve still been able to have really high consistency and high levels in their performance.

‘It shows that it’s more of a team thing rather than an individual player thing, which is a point where most teams want to go to and that’s a part about them that impresses me, but it doesn’t mean that they’re unbeatable, it just means that we need to be very good. Our focus is on the performance and that’s what you can control. That’s always the case when you try to prepare the team and what we need to put our focus on, the things that we can control.

‘The future, we don’t have 100 percent control over that. We don’t know what’s going to happen over the rest of the games coming after this game, but we can control our performance in this game here and will need to put 100 percent of our focus into it. Like I said, if we focus on playing as well as possible, that’s going to give us the best chance of winning.’

LAST TIME OUT
The teams met back in May at Kingsmeadow and Chelsea defeated an injury ravaged Arsenal 2-0 with goals from Guro Reiten and Magda Eriksson. In the reverse fixture in January at Emirates Stadium, Arsenal took the lead through a Kim Little penalty only for Sam Kerr to head home an 89th minute equaliser. Eidevall’s side defeated Chelsea 3-1 in the Conti Cup Final in March with goals from Stina Blackstenius, Kim Little and Rafaelle.

THE OPPOSITION
Chelsea have won their last six WSL games on the bounce, racking up 25 goals in the process. With Emma Hayes now in her last season at the helm, Chelsea are an incredibly strong team with a very settled structure and squad of players. They have won the last four WSL titles which underscores their strength.

They will be without captain Millie Bright in defence who has been a constant of their success over the last few years but Guro Reiten returns from injury and Sam Kerr was spared a trip to Canada with the Australian National team during the international break as she has been managing a foot injury. Arsenal had five players involved in that Canada v Australia double header in North America.

Chelsea can afford to draw this game though it is very doubtful that they will play for a draw, they will know a victory would shove Arsenal firmly into the chasing pack. They do have a busier schedule than Arsenal with three Champions League group games to play before the end of January and the Gunners will want to make sure they stay in sniffing distance of the defending champions to capitalise on any impact that busy calendar might have.

PLAYER TO WATCH


So much of this match will be defined by how the respective midfields line-up. For the first time in several years, Arsenal’s central midfield does not pick itself. Kim Little and Lia Wälti have had the midfield double pivot on lockdown for five years now. But Kyra Cooney Cross and Victoria Pelova have emerged as sincere challengers for those positions. In the most recent match against West Ham, Pelova and Cooney-Cross were preferred to Little and Wälti.

But the more senior pair were just working their way back from injury. Who Eidevall chooses in the engine room will reveal a lot about his approach to this game. Little and Wälti are experienced controllers who regulate the temperature of a game. Pelova and Cooney-Cross are more all-action, driving into opposition territory and spreading play quickly to the wings.

So far this season, Little and Wälti and Pelova and Cooney-Cross have come as pairs but obviously there is the mix and match option for Eidevall too. With such a big squad, team selections this season have depended on the game plan and the attributes Eidevall believes best suit the plan. Who lines up in central midfield will depend on what that plan is.

If you would like a more in-depth audio preview for the game, I spoke to broadcaster, journalist and Chelsea fan Jessy Parker Humphreys about the game on this week’s Arsenal Women Arsecast, which you can find here.

PREDICTED LINE-UP

Subs: 5.Beattie, 10.Little, 11.Miedema, 12.Maanum, 14.D’Angelo, 24.Lacasse, 25.Blackstenius, 27.Codina, 32.Cooney-Cross

HOW TO CATCH THE GAME
The match takes place at Emirates Stadium on Sunday at 12.30pm and is being screened live on BBC Two.

COMING UP
We will have a full transcript of Jonas Eidevall’s post-match press conference on Arseblog News an hour or so after full-time. We will also have a matchday vlog available for people to watch on Monday.

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Fun Gunner

Great preview, thanks, Tim.
Yup. Must-win game, and not just for the points.

chig

Not expecting the highest quality game in the first fixture after international break but should be entertaining nonetheless when it’s these two teams.

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