Arsenal face Olympique Lyon at the Emirates in the UEFA Women’s Champions League on Thursday, knowing a point will take Arsenal through as group winners. Arsenal beat Lyon 5-1 in France on matchday 1, and as a result, any result other than a five goal loss will mean Arsenal will qualify for the round of 16. Here are three things to watch for:
Arsenal were in a similar position last season—needing anything but a four goal defeat to Hoffenheim, Arsenal lost 4-1, with their Champions League participation in the balance. There’s still one more match to go after Thursday’s match against Lyon, against Zurich on the 21st of December. Should Arsenal lose against Lyon and win against Zurich, Arsenal would win the group. But while not needing to win, whereas Lyon do, can be freeing for Arsenal, it could also be complicating, and it’ll be interesting to see if Arsenal have learned from a year on.
How do Lyon defend?
In the return fixture, Lyon had a makeshift back four. In the game, Lyon left lots of space behind their two fullbacks, space that Arsenal consistently exploited through Beth Mead and Caitlin Foord. Mead is of course injured, and has been replaced by Katie McCabe. Until Sunday, McCabe had been used as an inverted winger, but on Sunday, she and Foord were directed to get behind the fullbacks more, with Villa leaving their two fullbacks exposed. Arsenal could utilize the same approach if Lyon play the same way. There will be two further distinctions from the return fixture: Arsenal will have Vivianne Miedema as the #10, with Frida Maanum dropping deeper, and more significantly, Lyon have had some players return to full fitness, with Vanessa Gilles and Delphine Cascarino available.
Arsenal can see light at the end of the tunnel when it comes to their injury crisis. Leah Williamson and Rafaelle Souza have returned, Lina Hurtig has recovered from a hamstring injury, and Kim Little was back in training, over a month ahead of schedule. It means Arsenal could have some depth as they finish off the year, and could give some players a needed break: Lotte Wubben-Moy, Katie McCabe, Caitlin Foord, and Steph Catley have played nearly every single minute since the September international break.
Predicted lineup (4231): 1. Zinsberger; 26. Wienroither, 6. Williamson, 3. Wubben-Moy, 7. Catley; 12. Maanum, 13. Wälti; 15. McCabe, 11. Miedema, 19. Foord; 25. Blackstenius
Substitutes: 18. Marckese (GK), 2. Rafaelle, 5. Beattie, 8. Nobbs, 10. Little, 16. Maritz, 17. Hurtig, 23. Iwabuchi
WHAT: Arsenal Women v Olympique Lyonnais, Uefa Women’s Champions League
WHERE: Emirates Stadium, North London
WHEN: Thursday, December 15th 12:00 PM PDT | 3:00 PM EDT | 8:00 PM GMT