Arsenal open the 2021-22 WSL campaign against the defending champions, Chelsea, at the Emirates Stadium. Arsenal have not beaten Chelsea since October 2018, but there is renewed optimism this season, following Jonas Eidevall’s appointment as head coach during the summer, and an impressive transfer window.
Arsenal’s signing of Tobin Heath on Friday captured headlines, but while the American international will not be available, Arsenal’s other additions will be. Mana Iwabuchi, Nikita Parris, and Frida Maanum are the highlights, with all three already impressing over the course of the three Champions League games Arsenal have played so far this season. Indeed, Arsenal are coming off of a 3-0 win against Slavia Praha on Tuesday, and the competitive action could serve the Gunners well.
Of course, Chelsea are a different class to the competition Arsenal have faced so far this season. In previous meetings, Arsenal have struggled against Chelsea’s press, and becoming press resistant is something that Arsenal will have to be better at if they are going to have a substantial impact in the title race. This is a process that Eidevall points to as tactical, through positioning, but it is also notable that in the summer market, Arsenal have added players who have the technical capacity to be press resistant.
Chelsea lost only once last season—surprisingly, to Brighton—and were the league’s top scorers, backed by Golden Boot winner Sam Kerr and Fran Kirby. Those two are the obvious threat, but so is Pernille Harder, who, by her very high standards, had an underwhelming beginning to life in the WSL. There is still a sense that Emma Hayes is trying to fit all of her players together, but Chelsea have the deepest and strongest squad in the league, and are favourites to win the league for a record third time.
While Chelsea’s attack, midfield and central defence are very strong, their one area of weakness is the two full backs. Barcelona took full advantage in the Champions League final, and while Barcelona out-classed Chelsea overall, it was the positions of right back and left back where Chelsea can be vulnerable, especially with Maren Mjelde, Chelsea’s usual right back, out after suffering an MCL injury.
Tobin Heath is unavailable, as she is still in the United States. Jordan Nobbs remains out with an ankle injury, while Viki Schnaderbeck is also still recovering from a knee injury suffered in November.
Player to watch:
Katie McCabe has largely played a more attacking role under Jonas Eidevall, starting at left-wing in Arsenal’s last two matches. She also started at left-wing in the 2-1 pre-season victory over Chelsea, where she scored. McCabe, of course, delivered 11 assists in the WSL last season and scored 4 goals, playing almost exclusively as a left back. But, with Chelsea playing either Niamh Charles, a winger, at right back, or Jess Carter, a centre back, McCabe could allow Arsenal to exploit the wide spaces, and dovetail with Steph Catley from left back. Jonas Eidevall’s Arsenal puts a little more priority on crossing than Joe Montemurro did, as well as utilizing counter-attack and counter-pressing, and in a transitional game, McCabe’s pace and delivery from wide could be a lucrative route to goal.
Predicted XI (4231): 1. Zinsberger; 16. Maritz, 6. Williamson, 5. Beattie, 7. Catley; 13. Wälti, 10. Little; 9. Mead, 23. Iwabuchi, 15. McCabe; 11. Miedema
Substitutes: 18. Williams (GK), 3. Wubben-Moy, 4. Patten, 12. Maanum, 14. Parris, 19. Foord, 20. Boye
WHAT: Arsenal Women vs Chelsea Women, FA Women’s Super League
WHERE: Emirates Stadium, North London
WHEN: Sunday, September 5th 4:30 AM PDT | 7:30 AM EDT | 12:30 PM BST
WATCH: ATAFootball.com (subscription required), NBC Sports Live Extra (online), NBCSN (Delayed, check local listings), Sky Sports (UK)