After beating Aston Villa last weekend, Arsenal travel to St. George’s Park to face Birmingham City, looking to keep the pressure on Manchester United. 6 points behind Manchester United, Arsenal have two games in hand, and are very much in no-win territory.
Arsenal only won their first game of 2021 at the fourth attempt, but it took nearly an hour to break down a resolute Aston Villa defence. Carla Ward’s Birmingham should be no different: when the two met in December, it took Arsenal 57 minutes before Caitlin Foord headed home Katie McCabe’s cross. With Hannah Hampton, Birmingham have an excellent shot-stopper, and as a result Birmingham have the 5th best defensive record in the league, despite giving up the third most shots.
Birmingham will be able to call upon Arsenal’s loanee Ruby Mace. Mace, who joined Birmingham on loan at the end of the January transfer window, has played at centre back for Birmingham, and has won praise from Carla Ward for how she reads the game. Against Manchester City, Mace was Birmingham’s best passer, completing 86.7% of passes—only one other player, Georgia Brougham, another center back, completed above 70% of passes. Birmingham go long and generally look for top scorer Claudia Walker.
Arsenal may be helped by the venue change for this fixture. Having had several games postponed due to a frozen pitch, the FA have deemed Birmingham’s home ground, Damson Park, as not meeting requirements, and moved last week’s fixture to St. George’s Park, England’s training center, before moving this week’s fixture to the same ground. That Birmingham are having to play at St. George’s is a stark reminder of the haves and have nots in the WSL; that they enter the weekend 5 points clear of the relegation spot, having not had a full complement of players when Carla Ward took over this past summer, is a testament to the job that Ward has done at the club. They are not an easy team to beat, and Arsenal will have to build on the second half of last week’s win to get a result.
Kim Little could be in contention to start. Steph Catley and Viki Schnaderbeck remain out, with Catley due back at the beginning of April.
Player to watch: Jordan Nobbs
With a goal last week, Jordan Nobbs kept up her impressive run: she has scored in her last three WSL starts, and has scored or assisted a goal in every start this season. Unfortunately for Arsenal, Nobbs has only started five league games this season, but that level of productivity is just one way that Arsenal miss her. Arsenal also miss her range of passing and drive with the ball, which is notable even when played out of position, on the left hand side of Arsenal’s front three, rather than her natural central midfield position. Two of Manchester City’s four goals against Birmingham last week were scored by midfield players making late runs into the box, which Nobbs provides even from a left-sided position.
Predicted lineup: 18. Williams; 16. Maritz, 6, Williamson, 5. Beattie, 15. McCabe; 13. Wälti, 7. Van de Donk, 14. Roord; 9. Mead, 11. Miedema, 8. Nobbs
Substitues: 1. Zinsberger, 24. Stenson, 3. Wubben-Moy, 4. Patten, 10. Little, 17. Evans, 19. Foord, 20. Maier, 21. Gut
WHAT: Birmingham City Women vs Arsenal Women, Women’s Super League
WHERE: St George’s Park, Burton upon Trent
WHEN: Sunday, March 7th 6:00 AM PST | 9:00 AM EST | 2:00 PM GMT
WATCH: FAPlayer.TV (streaming)