Arsenal Women travel to Manchester on Sunday, looking to stop an extremely poor run of form. Arsenal have only won one game since November, a run that has seen them go out of the Conti Cup, scrape through in the Champions League, and lose some ground in the WSL, although Arsenal remain top. Perhaps more concerning, in their last six games, Arsenal have scored five goals, with four coming in one game, against Leicester City. It doesn’t get any easier this weekend, as Arsenal face a rejuvenated Manchester City, who have won six straight in all competitions. Arsenal will not only need a good performance, but very much need a win to sustain their title challenge.
Arsenal beat Manchester City 5-0 earlier this season, but that was a different Manchester City—and, in many ways, a different Arsenal, who were still a new proposition under Jonas Eidevall. Arsenal’s struggles as of late have largely been down to teams working Eidevall’s approach out, and Arsenal not having the capability to adapt. Recent results have seen Arsenal struggle to break teams down who sit deep and deny Arsenal the capability to counter-attack, and it doesn’t help that Arsenal’s pressures are down, with the loss of intensity creating fewer counter-pressing moments.
Manchester City, though, may give Arsenal opportunities to play on the counter attack, if Arsenal can play beyond City’s pressure. City have been buoyed by the return of Steph Houghton and Lucy Bronze, with Houghton giving presence to City’s back line, and Bronze adding a strong attacking dimension with her play from right back. Most of City’s attacking threat this season has been from the outstanding Lauren Hemp on the left hand side, but Bronze will add variety. City have also brought Georgia Stanway back into a central area, and bar goalkeeper, with Ellie Roebuck still out injured, City essentially have their first-string XI—something they did not have at the start of the season.
Leah Williamson and Tobin Heath made their return from injury during Wednesday night’s defeat to Manchester United, and both will be important as Eidevall tries to impose a better playing structure on Arsenal’s attacking play. New signings Stina Blackstenius and Laura Wienroither made their debuts. Arsenal’s third new signing, Rafaelle Souza, could be involved, as could Lia Wälti and Lotte Wubben-Moy, who missed the defeat on Wednesday. Mana Iwabuchi, Caitlin Foord, Steph Catley, and Lydia Williams are all on international duty.
If Tobin Heath starts, she could be the key to unlocking Arsenal’s attack. With Iwabuchi gone, Heath is the only Arsenal wide attacker who can’t be classified as a wide forward, and the only one who, playing on the left, has the capability to go on the dribble inside and open up different spaces. Eidevall was effusive of Heath, saying “For me, the way we played at home to Hoffenheim I still rate as our best performance so far this season and she was a big part of that performance.” So far at Arsenal, when she has played, Heath has done well to produce overloads on the left, combining with Katie McCabe, Vivianne Miedema, and a midfielder. It’s those overloads that can create space on either the outside or in the inside, and Arsenal’s overloads haven’t been as effective as of late.
Predicted lineup (4-2-3-1): 1. Zinsberger; 16. Maritz, 6. Williamson, 5. Beattie, 15. McCabe; 10. Little, 12. Maanum; 14. Parris, 8. Nobbs, 77. Heath; 11. Miedema
Substitutes: 24. Stenson, 2. Rafaelle, 3. Wubben-Moy, 9. Mead, 13. Wälti, 20. Boye, 22. Schnaderbeck, 25. Blackstenius, 26. Wienroither
WHAT: Manchester City Women vs Arsenal Women, Women’s Super League
WHERE: Academy Stadium, Manchester
WHEN: Sunday, January 23rd 10:45 AM PST | 1:45 PM EST | 6:45 PM GMT
WATCH: NBC Sports Live Extra (US, streaming), atafootball.com (US, streaming), Sky Sports (UK)