Arsenal Women travel to Kingsmeadow on Sunday to face Chelsea Women, making for the first real test of the new campaign. Chelsea finished third last year, but handed the Gunners one of their two defeats last season, and are unbeaten thus far in the new campaign. Arsenal won at Kingsmeadow 5-0 last season, really announcing themselves as title contenders. While a similar margin of score is unlikely, Arsenal will want to lay down a marker in the defence of their title.
Fixture congestion for Sunday’s opponents is one reason why the start of Chelsea’s season was so stunted last year; having won the league in 2017-18 by 6 points, Chelsea won one of their opening six fixtures last year, not only putting themselves in too far a hole to defend the league, but also meaning they missed out on Champions League qualification by 5 five points. Without the toll of Champions League football, Chelsea look stronger this season.
Chelsea only added Guro Reiten over the summer, having lost Karen Carney to retirement and Hedvig Linndahl to Wolfsburg, but still manage to feature a rich attacking unit of Reiten, Erin Cuthberg, So-yun Ji, Beth England, and Fran Kirby. Chelsea do have some injury question marks—Kirby pulled out of international duty with England, as did Millie Bright—but Chelsea have been dominant thus far, having been unlucky to draw with Brighton, having created a lot of chances.
Joe Montemurro will have to contend with returning international players, and fixture congestion. With Slavia Praha in the Women’s Champions League on Wednesday, there will be some rotation necessary. Furthermore, the availability of both Jordan Nobbs and Lia Walti for a full 90 minutes will be questionable, with both having played for their national teams as they continue to come back to full fitness following injury.
When Arsenal played Chelsea last year, the Gunners were happy to sit a little deeper, and play through Chelsea on the counter-attack, letting Chelsea have more of the ball. This wasn’t a sacrifice of principles, but rather, a way for Arsenal to open Chelsea up between the lines, playing quick, counter-attacking football and exploiting space. With Lisa Evans playing a more attacking role, Arsenal have real pace in the wide areas, and the ability to play quickly through the midfield, especially with Vivianne Miedema’s playmaking and goal-scoring abilities.
Player to Watch: Kim Little
Arsenal’s captain opened the scoring when the two met last year, but also left the match on crutches after a horrendous, and unpunished challenge by Drew Spence. Little wouldn’t return until January, and has only really come back to the high level that she’s capable of in recent weeks.
A big part of that has been her partnership with Vivianne Miedema. The two have linked up frequently, with Little playing the final ball for Miedema, or Miedema dropping off, allowing the likes of Little, Jordan Nobbs, Jill Roord and Danielle van de Donk to run behind. It was this exact type of move that saw Little open the scoring against Brighton two weeks ago.
Chelsea Women v Arsenal Women
Sunday, October 13, 2019
KO: 3:00 PM BST/10:00 AM EDT/7:00 AM PDT
Stream: FAPlayer.TV (UK audio only)
TV: BT Sport (UK only), NENT (Scandanavia), Sky Mexico (Central America, Dominican Republic)