Arsenal Women kick off the defence of their WSL championship on Sunday with a home fixture against West Ham United. The Gunners played West Ham recently, in a behind-closed doors pre-season friendly, winning 2-0. West Ham caused Arsenal problems last season—scoring five of the thirteen goals Arsenal conceded in the league—but Arsenal won both meetings in the league, and beat West Ham in the group stage of the League Cup.
West Ham made the final of the FA Women’s Cup last season, and finished 7th in the league in their first season. Their manager, Matt Beard, won the Super League in 2013 and 2014 at Liverpool, before managing the now defunct Boston Breakers in the NWSL, where he coached Rose Lavelle, among others. West Ham lost a number of players during the close season: Scottish striker Jane Ross joined Manchester United and defender Ria Percival joined Tottenham, among others. Yet they also made a number of astute, young signings, and retained the Swiss attacker Alisha Lehmann, who scored 6 goals in the league last season.
Arsenal have a number of injuries: Tabea Kemme and Danielle Carter have both suffered new knee injuries, while Lia Wälti is still recovering from knee surgery. Jordan Nobbs has come back, but it is unclear if she’ll be match fit enough to start. With Jill Roord, Kim Little, and Danielle van de Donk all available, it’s unlikely Arsenal feel the need to start Nobbs on Sunday. The absence of Wälti has meant the Joe Montemurro has had to rotate in defensive midfield, especially with Dominque Bloodworth leaving at the end of last season. Viki Schanderbeck and Leah Williamson both played in defensive midfield, and Roord and van de Donk played as a midfield pivot towards the end of preseason.
The big question for Arsenal this season is how Montemurro handles the extra games that Arsenal will have, something that happens right away, as Arsenal play West Ham, Fiorentina and Manchester United in 8 days. At the end of September, Arsenal have a League Cup tie, Fiorentina, and Brighton in a week. Being able to rotate and manage the squad will be crucial.
In that sense, the signings are useful; Leonie Maier effectively replaces Jess Samuelsson, who spent most of her Arsenal career injured, and Jen Beattie replaces Janni Arnth, who only spent half a season in North London. Beattie is more suited to Arsenal’s style of play, and will let Montemurro rotate between Quinn, Williamson, and Beattie, and give him the tactical flexibility to play three at the back. In attack, Arsenal have many options: the world class Miedema, Beth Mead, who led the FA WSL in assists last season, and Katie McCabe, who scored 5 and assisted 8 last season, and can play across the midfield and at full back. Lisa Evans, who was primarily a right back last season, can play more games in a right-wing position with the addition of Maier.
Montemurro’s side has always been flexible, building from the principles he has instilled in his year and a half at the club. Last season, they couldn’t be stopped in the FA WSL, even by injury. This season, with the addition of the Champions League, it is the flexibility, size and quality of the squad that will determine how successful Arsenal are.
Arsenal Women v West Ham United Women
FA WSL, Meadow Park
Sunday, September 8, 2019
2:30 PM BST/9:30 AM EDT/6:30 AM PDT
TV: BT Sport 1 (UK only)
Stream: FA Player (free—n.b. audio only in UK)