Arsenal Women will take on Chelsea at a sold out Meadow Park in a match that will have huge implications on the WSL title race. Chelsea beat the Gunners 2-1 in the return fixture in October, handing Arsenal their only loss this season. Since then, Arsenal have been perfect, with 8 straight wins, 27 goals scored compared with 2 against, and have climbed to the top of the table, sitting three points ahead of Manchester City and four points ahead of Chelsea, who have a game in hand. If Arsenal are to win the league, though, getting a result against Chelsea, be it a win or a draw, will be vital, especially as the Gunners’ next game in the WSL after Chelsea will be against Manchester City.
The fixture has been billed as a superstar battle between Vivianne Miedema and Sam Kerr, who officially joined Chelsea earlier this month. That, however, does a disservice to the other members of the team, even if Chelsea manager Emma Hayes, in what can only be termed as classically-Chelsea, called Arsenal a “one-woman team” [NARRATOR: they are not]. Indeed, Chelsea’s top performer this season has been Bethany England, who has formed a dangerous partnership with Kerr, and Chelsea have a wealth of attacking options available to them, which you can read more about here.
As for Arsenal, it has been notable that of the six goals they have scored in 2020, only one has had a contribution from Vivianne Miedema. That, in part, is because the midfield is starting to chip in more regularly with goals: Kim Little got the winner against Reading in the Continental Cup, Jordan Nobbs, who is starting to look closer to her best, picked up two in two weeks, and Danielle van de Donk, who opened the scoring against Chelsea in October, has also chipped in. Indeed, Arsenal, much like Chelsea, are far more than their star attacking player. Lia Walti, Leah Williamson, Lisa Evans, Katie McCabe and Kim Little are crucial to how Arsenal build play from the back, create overloads, and switch quickly from one side to the other, with overlaps from the fullbacks, McCabe and Evans, allowing Arsenal to outnumber the opposition.
When the two met last time, Arsenal manager Joe Montemurro was displeased with how Arsenal fell away in the second half, saying that the team didn’t stick to their principles. In the face of Chelsea pressure, Arsenal were forced back, and denied the ball in threatening positions higher up the pitch, with Chelsea playing quickly and directly to the forwards. That will likely be Chelsea’s game plan on Sunday, but Arsenal are in better shape to handle pressure than they were in October. In October, Arsenal’s one change was to bring on Jordan Nobbs, who was quite rusty, for Lia Walti, who was also quite rusty; indeed, Walti completed only 81.6% of her 38 passes, which is low for a player of her quality, who routinely has a pass completion rate in the high 80s and low 90s.
Arsenal will have Beth Mead available after injury, with Mead having started in the Continental Cup midweek, having been a substitute in last weekend’s win against Brighton. Jen Beattie and Katrine Veje are unlikely to be reintroduced in such a high-profile game. Tabea Kemme has retired, and Danielle Carter is a long-term absence. Arsenal remain interested in Caitlin Foord, but have to negotiate a price with Sydney for the Matilda striker, much as Everton did with Brisbane for Hayley Raso.
Player to Watch: Leah Williamson
Leah Williamson is the player to watch for multiple reasons. She will have her hands full with Chelsea’s strike partnership of Kerr and England. Williamson has passed most tests as a centre back, but the combination of England’s physicality and Kerr’s pace and relentless running will be a big ask of her and Viki Schnaderbeck, who is likely to deputize for Beattie. Williamson will also be crucial to Arsenal’s attacking play. Having registered 3 assists in her last two WSL games, Williamson’s attacking value has been in plain sight. Yet it is not just assists, but Williamson’s capability at playing through lines, getting the ball to Lisa Evans on the right, and Arsenal’s midfielders. Teams have taken notice, and have stuck players on Williamson to mark her out of the game. Yet, in doing so, this allows Kim Little, among others, to get possession deeper, with Williamson as a decoy. Either way, if Arsenal are to be successful going forward against Chelsea, Williamson will likely have a big role to play.
Predicted XI: Zinsberger; Evans, Williamson, Schnaderbeck, McCabe; Walti, Little, Nobbs; Mead, Miedema, Van de Donk
Arsenal v Chelsea
Sunday, January 19, 2020
KO: 2:00 PM GMT/9:00 AM EST/6:00 AM PST
TV: BT Sport (UK only)