If you’re feeling a sense of deja vu reading this preview, you’d be correct. At the fourth time of trying, Arsenal Women will attempt to play Aston Villa this weekend in the WSL. The first match was postponed because of Arsenal players having to self-isolate because of a COVID-19 case in the squad. Postponements followed because of a waterlogged and frozen pitch respectively. With the temperature in Walsal forecasted to be a balmy 15 degrees celsius, the pitch at Walsall’s Bank’s Stadium, where Aston Villa Women play, should not be an issue (famous last words).
For Arsenal, the situation remains the same as it did when the teams were last scheduled to play: having taken 1 point from 9 in 2021, only Champions League qualification is 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. Aston Villa remain in a somewhat perilous position, four points ahead of bottom Bristol City for the only relegation spot in the league. Their danger is Mana Iwabuchi, who scored a sensational winner against Tottenham, and who Arsenal tried to sign last season.
Aston 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.
Arsenal’s team news is better than it was before the international break. Jen Beattie and Jordan Nobbs both played during the international break, and should be fit to start. Kim Little is probably a week away, while Caitlin Foord has returned to some parts of training and is being monitored, having suffered a knee injury in the defeat against Manchester City. Steph Catley returned to running outside, but is still about a month away from returning to action.
Player to watch: Jill Roord
Jill Roord notably started the WSL season with hat tricks in back to back games, but has scored one goal in seven games since. In scoring hat tricks, Roord took advantage of space afforded to her by the movement of Vivianne Miedema, with Roord essentially playing as a second striker—a similar role that Caitlin Foord takes up from wide positions. Foord did not start in the two games that Roord scored a hat trick in, and is unlikely to start on Sunday after returning from a knee injury. Roord, then, will have the second striker role all to herself, and with Jordan Nobbs likely to start, Arsenal will have another creative player, allowing Roord to make runs into the box, into scoring positions.
Predicted XI: 1. Zinsberger; 16. Maritz, 6. Williamson, 5. Beattie, 15. McCabe; 13. Wälti, 7. Van de Donk, 14. Roord; 9. Mead, 11. Miedema, 8. Nobbs
Substitutes: 18. Williams, 24. Stenson, 3. Wubben-Moy, 4. Patten, 17. Evans, 19. Foord, 20. Maier, 21. Gut
WHAT: Aston Villa Women vs Arsenal Women, Women’s Super League
WHERE: Bank’s Stadium, Walsall
WHEN: Sunday, February 28th 6:00 AM PST | 9:00 AM EST | 2:00 PM GMT
WATCH: FAPlayer.TV (streaming)