Arsenal kick off the group stage of the Women’s Champions League with a daunting task: a trip to the home of the current European champions, Barcelona. Barcelona beat Chelsea 4-0 in May to lift the trophy for the first time, and while Arsenal, unlike any other English team, have won the Champions League in club history, the Gunners will be firm underdogs.
If Arsenal’s record in the WSL this season is excellent, with maximum points and a goal difference of 14, Barcelona’s is exemplary. They’ve scored 35 goals and conceded once in five games. They not only beat Chelsea in the final last year, but also Manchester City over two legs en route. Their side is made up of some the best players in the world, and they keep the ball incredibly well, with strong, quick ball movement, and a good pressing game. They can be vulnerable on set pieces and quick counter-attacks, but as their record over the last two seasons show, it’s very hard to take advantage because of their quality on and off the ball.
For Arsenal, then, this is a measure of where they are as a side. Beating Chelsea and City will have reestablished confidence, but playing Barcelona twice in the newly-established group stage will give Jonas Eidevall and co a better understanding of how Arsenal match up against the best team in Europe. The rest of the group is made up of Hoffenheim and HB Køge, and Arsenal should be favorites to finish second in the group. Progress in the Champions League, then, will not be determined by tomorrow’s match against Barcelona, but some pride might be.
Team news: Arsenal will have everyone available aside from Malin Gut, who is out for the whole season, and Simone Bøye Sorensen.
Key player: Choosing Vivianne Miedema might be a cop out, but Miedema’s involvement will give you a clue of how well Arsenal are doing. While many coaches will say they’re happy to let Miedema have the ball away from goal, that shows an ignorance of the creative quality she brings to play. What you really want to know is what Miedema is doing when she receives possession. Is she isolated, or can she combine with forward players? If Arsenal are able to get the ball to Miedema in dangerous positions, either close to goal or with runners going beyond here, they could strike a threat on the counter-attack. If Miedema is coming deeper and deeper to get the ball, but without runners, and without really getting the ball, then Arsenal are doing poorly. We saw too much of the latter in big games for Arsenal last season.
Predicted XI (4-2-3-1): 1. Zinsberger; 16. Maritz, 6. Williamson, 5. Beattie, 7. Catley; 13. Wälti, 12. Maanum; 9. Mead, 10. Little, 15. McCabe; 11. Miedema
Substitutes: 18. Williams (GK), 3. Wubben-Moy, 4. Patten, 8. Nobbs, 14. Parris, 19. Foord, 22. Schnaderbeck, 23. Iwabuchi, 77. Heath
WHAT: FC Barcelona Femení vs Arsenal Women, UEFA Women’s Champions League
WHERE: Estadi Johan Cruyff, Barcelona
WHEN: Tuesday, October 5th 12:00 PM PDT | 3:00 PM | 8:00 PM BST
WATCH: DAZN YouTube