Arsenal Women host Aston Villa tomorrow afternoon at Emirates Stadium. Arsenal did respond to the opening weekend’s loss against Liverpool last week, with a 2-2 draw against Manchester United, but the Gunners need to find their first win of the season against Carla Ward’s Aston Villa, who finished 5th last season. Like Arsenal, Villa are off to a disappointing start to the season, but have last season’s Golden Boot winner in Rachel Daly, as well as former Arsenal midfielder Jordan Nobbs. In short, Villa have threats to hurt Arsenal. Arsenal could be welcoming back Beth Mead to the matchday squad.
Here are three things to watch for.
It’s been a theme of this season, but how Arsenal shape up will be a continued factor. Arsenal have now used a back three in every game they’ve played this season, either to see the game out or to start the game. One factor is the newness of the centre back pairing, and I think another factor is Jonas Eidevall wanting the leadership and experience of Jen Beattie to start the season. For that reason, I think Arsenal will use a back three tomorrow, but we will likely see that change in next week’s fixture against Bristol City.
Against Manchester United, Eidevall went with a different midfield: Kim Little and Alessia Russo were both the wide 10s, while Victoria Pelova played in central midfield. Lots of Arsenal’s play was directed to Little in the first half, with Arsenal looking to get her into space further up the pitch. After an hour, Frida Maanum came on. Maanum hasn’t had the best start to the season, and to an extent, the double 10 roles don’t really suit her. Maanum’s game is built on running into pockets of space and then shooting or crossing, but those pockets have been harder to find as one of the two 10s, because she’s forced to stick to a part of the pitch. If Arsenal persist with the system, there’s a legitimate question about whether it works best for Maanum, and if not, whether Arsenal can afford to leave out her goals and assists.
Building from the back
Arsenal’s build up play for the back hasn’t been great to start the season. It was always likely to be an issue, with Rafaelle Souza leaving Arsenal, and Arsenal losing Leah Williamson for the first half of the WSL campaign (at least). The ball playing abilities of both are exceptional, and difficult to replace, and the lack of training time with the whole group for their replacements, Amanda Ilestedt and Laia Codina, have exacerbated the issue. Arsenal like to build into midfield before going wide again, with either the full backs playing into midfield, the centre backs playing into midfield, or the centre backs playing diagonals into the wide areas. Against Manchester United, Arsenal went very direct: Codina, Beattie, and Ilestedt all attempted more medium (passes between 15-30 yards) passes than short passes (passes between 5-15 yards). There were however, some positive signs. Ilestedt completed 5 progressive passes, and some of Codina’s passing was quite sharp.
Predicted lineup (3421): 1. Zinsberger; 28. Ilestedt, 5. Beattie, 27. Codina; 16. Maritz, 10. Little, 13. Wälti, 15. McCabe; 21. Pelova, 19. Foord; 23. Russo
Substitutes: 14. D’Angelo (GK), 3. Wubben-Moy, 7. Catley, 9. Mead, 12. Maanum, 17. Hurtig, 24. Lacasse, 25. Blackstenius, 32. Cooney-Cross
WHAT: Arsenal Women vs Aston Villa Women
WHEN: Sunday, October 15th, 9:00am EDT/6:00am PDT/2:00pm BST
WHERE: Emirates Stadium, North London
HOW TO WATCH: Paramount+ (US, streaming), BBC One (UK, tv), BBC iPlayer (UK, streaming)