Arsenal Women are in desperate need of three points on Sunday, as they travel to Bank’s Stadium to play Aston Villa. The Gunners have taken 1 point from 9 in 2021, including two damaging defeats this week to Manchester City and Chelsea. Manchester United’s defeat against Manchester City, though, means Champions League qualification is back in the Gunners’ hands, should they win all of their remaining 9 fixtures. While a trip to Aston Villa would ordinarily be pretty much a banker for Arsenal, the Gunners have taken 1 point from their last 4 away games, and thus Arsenal need a win for confidence boosting purposes as much as anything, should the fixture take place. Walsall, with whom Villa share the ground, have had their match for Saturday postponed because of a frozen pitch, with the same reason causing Arsenal’s trip to Villa two weeks ago to be postponed.
Villa have played three fixtures since Marcus Bignot took control as interim manager, while Gemma Davies remained as head coach and her coaching staff stayed in situ. While an odd situation, Villa have won one and lost once since the move, losing to Chelsea, and then beating Tottenham 1-0 through a sensational Mana Iwabuchi goal. Iwabuchi, a former teammate of Manuela Zinsberger, Leonie Maier, Lisa Evans, and Vivianne Miedema at Bayern Munich, is Villa’s key player, and in the 1-0 win against Spurs she played in a midfield role off of Villa’s two strikers, Diana Silva and Stine Larsen, as they switched to a 3-5-2. That move may have been one to solidify Villa’s defence; Villa have conceded the joint second most goals, the third most shots per 90 minutes, and the third most touches in the attacking third and penalty box.
Villa do lead the league in pressures per 90 minutes, but they are very much in the middle of the pack in successful pressures, highlighting that they spend a lot of time out of possession. This should allow Arsenal to better build up play, and frankly, if Arsenal are to have any real chance of overtaking Manchester United they will not only need to beat Aston Villa, but to win convincingly. Some legs may be heavy after a run of three games in 7 days, though Aston Villa will be in an odd situation after their midweek fixture against Birmingham was postponed because of a frozen pitch 5 minutes before kickoff.
Team news: Steph Catley and Viki Schanderbeck are long-term absences. Jen Beattie and Kim Little both picked up injuries in training last week, as did Jordan Nobbs. Nobbs, though, returned to the bench and played fifteen minutes against Chelsea. Caitlin Foord is likely to be out with a knee injury, which Joe Montemurro described as not being “drastic,” after her knee swelled up during a recovery session on Monday.
Player to watch: Beth Mead
Without Caitlin Foord, Arsenal have lost a big goal-scoring threat from the left-hand side. Foord’s role this season has often been as a second number 9, taking up central spaces when Vivianne Miedema drops deep, or floats wide, much as Foord did in scoring Arsenal’s equalizing goal in the 2-1 loss to City.
While that second striker role can also be provided by Jill Roord, there will be more asked of Beth Mead. Mead, who started as a central striker, has become more winger than wide forward—her expected goals per 90 minutes is only in the 51st percentile for wingers. That is one of the biggest differences between Mead and the likes of Lauren Hemp and Chloe Kelly, who were both named to the England squad, ahead of Mead, who was dropped from the team, with England’s interim coach, Hege Riise, calling for more consistent performances. Moving to an inside forward role may allow Mead to have more impact on the scoresheet, and could get her back into the England set-up.
Predicted XI: 1. Zinsberger; 16. Maritz, 6. Williamson, 3. Wubben-Moy, 15. McCabe; 13. Wälti, 7. Van de Donk, 14. Roord; 17. Evans, 11. Miedema, 9. Mead
Substitutes: 18. Williams, 24. Stenson, 4. Patten, 8. Nobbs, 20. Maier, 21. Gut
WHAT: Aston Villa Women vs Arsenal Women, Women’s Super League
WHERE: Bank’s Stadium, Walsall
WHEN: Wednesday, February 14th 6:00 AM PST | 9:00 AM EST | 2:00 PM GMT
WATCH: FAPlayer.TV (streaming)