Arsenal Women play their final WSL game of 2022, as they travel to the Midlands to face 5th placed Aston Villa at Villa Park. Here are three things to watch for.
Can Arsenal contain Rachel Daly?
Rachel Daly was Aston Villa’s big summer signing, and one who has put Villa at the top of the rest of the WSL. Broadly speaking, the midtable of the WSL have teams that are well-organized and have a good defensive shape. The big difference between Aston Villa, Tottenham, and Everton is that Aston Villa have a striker who scores goals. Rachel Daly was often prolific in the NWSL, with Houston, and she’s the joint top scorer in the WSL this season, with 8 goals, albeit with 3 from the penalty spot. Still, 5 non-penalty goals puts her level with Sam Kerr (and Frida Maanum). Daly can drop deep to knit play, but she feasts on crosses, with service coming from Alisha Lehmann and Kirsty Hanson. Kenza Dalí joined in the summer and has added creativity to Villa’s midfield. Villa are third in the WSL in crosses into the penalty area per game, with Hanson, Lehmann and right back Sarah Mayling playing the most per game. Mayling is also Villa’s top progresser from the back.
Arsenal’s switches of play
Arsenal have had a tactical rejig in recent weeks. With Beth Mead out and Lina Hurtig out, and Mana Iwabuchi not favoured, Katie McCabe has been the right winger almost by default, as soon as she wasn’t required at left back. McCabe plays as an inverted winger on the right hand side, which is contrary to how Beth Mead plays on the right. McCabe will act almost as a third central midfielder or #10, which allows Vivianne Miedema to push higher up. As a result, there’s space on the right hand side. On Wednesday, Stina Blackstenius exploited that space to set up Miedema’s winner against Juventus, with Blackstenius’ cross set up by a dink from Leah Williamson. Williamson is unlikely to start, having started midweek, but Rafaelle Souza should return. Rafaelle has the ability to play diagonals, but also plays longer passes down the wing or into the channel.
Blackstenius needs a goal
Stina Blackstenius assisted Vivianne Miedema’s winner against Juventus, but she hasn’t scored in over a month for Arsenal, last netting against Leicester City. In this four match scoreless run, Blackstenius has had chances, but just hasn’t been able to convert, with an xG from the four games of 1.6. Shots haven’t been lacking; she’s taken 13, and has been somewhat unlucky, having hit the woodwork, but Arsenal will need her to find her scoring boots again. Essentially, the underlying numbers are fine, but with two crucial games after Villa, against Lyon and Zurich in the Champions League, a goal for Blackstenius would be very valuable heading into the final stretch of matches in the year.
Player to watch: Laura Wienroither
Laura Wienroither has wrestled the starting right back role from Noëlle Maritz, and has done nothing to cede the role. There’s a new challenge for Wienroither now, though; with McCabe ahead of her, there’s more space for Wienroither, but also more passing and creative responsibility. One thing Wienroither is very good at doing is being a direct player, including getting into the attacking and final third. With Arsenal’s switches of play, that could be a route to goal, with build-up play down the left.
Predicted lineup (4231): 1. Zinsberger; 26. Wienroither, 3. Wubben-Moy, 2. Rafaelle Souza, 7. Catley; 12. Maanum, 13. Wälti; 15. McCabe, 11. Miedema, 19. Foord; 25. Blackstenius
Substitutes: 18. Marckese, 5. Beattie, 6. Williamson, 8. Nobbs, 16. Maritz, 23. Iwabuchi, 59. Agyemang
WHAT: Aston Villa Women v Arsenal Women, Women’s Super League
WHERE: Villa Park, Birmingham
WHEN: Sunday, December 11th 8:15 AM PDT | 11:15 AM EDT | 4:15 PM GMT
WATCH: Paramount+ (US, streaming), Sky Sports (UK)