It’s fourth versus second in the WSL on Sunday, as Arsenal face Manchester City. Having won the last three league encounters at Meadow Park, and a Conti Cup semi-final, Arsenal will be looking to beat City in Manchester for the first time since the 2017 WSL Spring Series. Jordan Nobbs won the match that day with a superb free kick in the 75th minute. Nobbs scored the last time Arsenal played Manchester City, in the delayed 2019-20 FA Cup semi-final in November, when Arsenal lost 2-1.
Since winning in the FA Cup, Gareth Taylor’s side have won two of three in the league, moving ahead of Everton into 4th place, two points behind Chelsea in third and four points behind Arsenal in second. Arsenal, of course, are a point over Manchester United who lead the league.
City were dominant when they last played Arsenal, suffocating the Gunners with their pressing. They’ve shown themselves to be an excellent pressing team at times, doing so against Everton last weekend, and in the first half against Manchester United last month. Yet City can be vulnerable: Manchester United came back from 2-0 down, Chelsea were fairly ruthless, and Göteborg in the Champions League were able to get at City for periods of the first leg tie this past week, before City were able to again reassert their dominance.
Indeed, when Arsenal last played City the Gunners had opportunities to expose City but essentially didn’t commit to playing through City quickly. Having figured out a way to play through Chelsea’s pressure last month, if Arsenal are to get a result in Manchester, which they desperately need to strengthen their title credentials, then they will have to be braver in possession than they were the last time these two met.
Arsenal will also have to figure out a way to nullify Manchester City’s power. Sam Mewis was the difference in the FA Cup fixture, with the American midfielder easily getting the better of Danïelle van de Donk, who was detailed to mark her in November. With City also fielding Lucy Bronze, their right hand side could be their source of playing out of pressure, before looking for quick switches to the left for Georgia Stanway, or looking to play through the right-hand axis of Bronze and Chloe Kelly, City’s joint-top scorer. Ellen White will also be a threat, and City have thrived off of crosses in recent victories against Arsenal.
Noëlle Maritz remains out, while it will probably be too soon for Viki Schnaderbeck. Lia Wälti is also a doubt. Wälti suffered concussion over international break and while she has passed all the necessary tests, Joe Montemurro said, “there are a couple of things we’re still just not sure of and we won’t take any risks.” Losing Wälti is unfortunate—she made a huge difference to Arsenal’s midfield structure when they last played Manchester City—but Malin Gut is growing into the #6 role. Katie McCabe is in line to make her 100th Arsenal appearance, and Lydia Williams, who looks to have supplanted Manuela Zinsberger as Arsenal’s #1, should remain in goal.
Player to watch: Jordan Nobbs
Jordan Nobbs made her first appearance in an Arsenal shirt in two months when she came off the bench in last week’s 3-0 win against Birmingham. While no injury comes at a good time, Nobbs’ last injury—a hamstring—came after Nobbs had entered a period of excellent form, having scored three goals in her last three games, against Tottenham, Manchester City, and Bristol. Nobbs’ three goals came from central positions, but she started the season, and came off the bench last week, in a wide position. This enables Joe Montemurro to get an extra creative presence in the team, but also means he can add more power out wide.
With Nobbs playing out wide, that means Arsenal can best utilize Jill Roord. Roord has been in excellent goal-scoring form this season, and is a good carrier of the ball, as well as being very safe in possession and progression. Her creative numbers, though, are not at the level of Nobbs or Little—but having Little through the middle and Nobbs wide allows Roord to make an impact in the final third.
Predicted lineup (4-3-3): 18. Williams; 17. Evans, 6. Williamson, 5. Beattie, 15. McCabe; 21. Gut, 14. Roord, 10. Little; 19. Foord, 11. Miedema, 8. Nobbs
Substitutes: 1. Zinsberger, 3. Wubben-Moy, 7. Van de Donk, 9. Mead, 12. Catley, 20. Maier, 30. Mace
WHAT: Manchester City Women vs Arsenal Women, Women’s Super League
WHERE: Academy Stadium, Manchester
WHEN: Sunday, December 13th 6:30 AM PST | 9:30 AM EST | 2:30 PM GMT