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Manchester United v Arsenal Women: three things to watch for

Arsenal look to recover from last week’s defeat.

Arsenal FC v Liverpool FC - Barclays Women’s Super League Photo by Visionhaus/Getty Images

Arsenal Women face a tough challenge on Friday in the WSL, as the Gunners travel to face last season’s runners-up, Manchester United. Arsenal got off to the worst possible start in the WSL on Friday, with the shock home defeat to Liverpool. In a greater context, Arsenal have not played well in the three games this campaign. While there are explanations—the international break between the Champions League qualifiers and the start of the WSL season, for example—Arsenal already face a game that they cannot lose. Here are three things to watch:

Alessia Russo’s return to Manchester

Alessia Russo returns to her old club. She’ll undoubtedly get booed given the manner of her departure—leaving on a free transfer to league rivals—but Russo will be more concerned about her whole performance. Despite high praise from Jonas Eidevall about her quality in training, Russo didn’t have the greatest game against Liverpool. She only took one shot and got shut out of the match as Liverpool funneled Arsenal wide to play the early cross.

The return of the back four?

Arsenal played a back three against Liverpool, as they did at the end of last season. Perhaps that was in an effort to maintain relationships from last season, as Arsenal have two new centre backs to bring into the squad, but the system did not really work. In essence, it deprived Arsenal of a central presence, with Frida Maanum and Caitlin Foord both playing in the inside channels on the right and left side, which Liverpool were happy with. It was actually not a surprise performance; Arsenal’s back three system has been far better as a counter-attacking system than when the Gunners have had to hold the initiative, and thus, it could be a reasonable solution for the trip to Manchester. Likely, though, after a poor performance, Eidevall will look for another midfielder to attempt to impose the game.

Pelova or Lacasse?

The trip to Manchester comes too soon for Beth Mead, who will not be part of the matchday squad. Cloe Lacassé started on the right last week, but as a makeshift right wingback. Victoria Pelova came on, replacing Lacasse, but Caitlin Foord went to right back while Pelova went to the right #10 role, looking to give Arsenal more central access. There was perhaps too much directness with Arsenal’s attack last week, especially once Liverpool stopped allowing the Gunners to run in behind. One solution would be to play Pelova on the right: her ball retention skills and ability to lay off and create could give Arsenal central access even when Frida Maanum looks to go behind and score.

Predicted lineup (4231): 1. Zinsberger; 16. Maritz, 28. Ilestedt, 7. Catley, 15. McCabe; 10. Little, 13. Wälti; 21. Pelova, 12. Maanum, 19. Foord; 23. Russo
Substitutes: 14. D’Angelo (GK), 3. Wubben-Moy, 5. Beattie, 17. Hurtig, 22. Kühl, 24. Lacasse, 25. Blackstenius, 27. Codina, 32. Cooney-Cross

WHAT: Manchester United Women vs Arsenal Women

WHEN: Friday, October 6th, 2:30pm EDT/11:30am PDT/7:30pm BST

WHERE: LSV, Leigh

HOW TO WATCH: CBS Sports Network (US, TV), Sky Sports (UK, TV)