Arsenal Women face Manchester United on Friday night in a match Arsenal simply have to win. The Gunners are six points behind Manchester United, but with a game in hand. With a far superior goal difference, should Arsenal win, Champions League qualification will be in their hands. If Arsenal do not win, Champions League qualification will remain in Manchester United’s hands.
Casey Stoney’s team have been the surprise package of the WSL, leading the league at Christmas. A drop of form, losing against Chelsea, Manchester City, and at home to Reading, have seen them fall out of the title race, but Champions League football would be a significant coup for a team who are only in their second season in the WSL.
In the reverse meeting, Manchester United deservedly won, although it took 80 minutes until Ella Toone scored on the counter attack. In the match, Manchester United pressed Arsenal out of the game, with the Gunners registering their lowest expected goals count for the season. If that sounds familiar, it’s because it is, and while Joe Montemurro insists that Arsenal have a plan for Manchester United’s high press. One solution, though, may be dropping Vivianne Miedema into a #10 role, as Arsenal did last week. In the reverse fixture, Miedema had to drop deep to receive possession, but doing so removed presence in the forward line. With Caitlin Foord in a central role, Arsenal can both get Miedema more involved, while also retaining the chance to play more directly. It also means that Miedema, who is an exceptional ball carrier, can help break United’s press.
Manchester United have had their own injury problems, having lost Tobin Heath and Leah Galton, and having seen Alessia Russo suffer a setback. They welcome Lauren James back, though, as well as Kirsty Smith, and go into the match with their first choice midfield and central defence pairing largely intact. And, if Christen Press is fit to start, the American could give Arsenal’s defence a lot of trouble.
Arsenal will be without Jen Beattie, and there’s another player that could be out, though Montemurro wouldn’t say who. Steph Catley and Viki Schnaderbeck remain long-term absentees.
Player to watch: Lia Wälti
In the reverse fixture, Lia Wälti had the second fewest touches in the middle third of any match she’s played this season, and the fewest in any start. In the fixture, she had one more touch in the defensive third than the middle third, and usually, Wälti has more touches in the middle third. This is because she is the second line of progression for Arsenal: if Leah Williamson doesn’t play through midfield, Arsenal usually end up building through Wälti. In the reverse fixture, Manchester United’s pressing kept Arsenal from playing behind their first line, and Arsenal’s best moments came when Williamson or Miedema carried the ball forward. If Arsenal are to beat Manchester United, they’ll need to play through midfield more—and Wälti is key to that.
Predicted lineup: 18. Williams; 16. Maritz, 6. Williamson, 3. Wubben-Moy, 15. McCabe; 13. Wälti, 10. Little; 9. Mead, 11. Miedema, 8. Nobbs; 19. Foord
Substitutes: 1. Zinsberger, 24. Stenson, 4. Patten, 7. Van de Donk 14. Roord, 17. Evans, 20. Maier, 21. Gut
WHAT: Arsenal Women vs Manchester United Women, Women’s Super League
WHERE: Meadow Park, Borehamwood
WHEN: Friday, March 19th 11:30 AM PST | 2:30 PM EST | 6:30 PM GMT
WATCH: NBC Live App (streaming), ATAFootball.com (streaming), BT Sport (UK)