After nearly three weeks without club football, Arsenal Women are back in business with the League Cup final against Manchester City.
There is no doubt that the Citizens are huge favourites to win the Cup, but there is a glimmer of hope as their last two League results yielded a draw and a defeat.
Birmingham also took them to extra time in the FA Women’s Cup, and seem to have a formula to disrupt their system. I am not sure Arsenal can approach the game in the same way as Marc Skinner’s side, though.
Arsenal are more likely to take the game to City, Chelsea style, as the two teams share similar attacking intents and habits.
The biggest difference between the two squads is the strength in depth available to Emma Hayes compared to Joe Montemurro.
Both teams will aim to control the game with their passing and attacking gameplan and it should be a very open match with many chances created on the night.
Next, key points…
There will be two major factors in this final – tiredness after the international period, as players have been flying around the world to the USA, Portugal, Spain and Cyprus, and injury returns as both sides have missed key players who were unable to go on international duty.
Arsenal have a slight advantage in terms of travel and player-rest as no Arsenal players went to the USA while City lost nine to Atlantic travel.
All Arsenal players involved in tournaments stayed in Europe and played between one and four games overall.
Regarding injuries, City have such a big squad that they can name a full complement of seven players on the bench these days, unlike in previous seasons when they ended up with zero seniors player for a couple of games.
Their relative weakness is clearly at the back where they had to rely on promising England u19 defender, Esme Morgan, and the error-prone Abbie McManus.
Should Stephanie Houghton not be available, it would be a big boost for the Arsenal.
City’s key players are the Danish forward, Nadia Nadim, who is a scoring machine, midfielder Jill Scott, a world class box-to-box player, and young defensive midfielder, Keira Walsh.
At the back former Gunners, Jennifer Beattie and Stephanie Houghton, are City’s strongest players.
Next, injury news and predicted xi…
The Gunners injury list going into the international break was well documented and huge.
Defenders, Josephine Henning and Jessica Samuelsson, are long term absentees. Emma Mitchell and Leah Williamson both also missed out on international call-ups because of injury
In midfield, Jordan Nobbs, Kim Little and Danielle Van De Donk also missed out, while up front Anna Miedema and Beth Mead were both absent from their national teams.
If you add in England u19 midfielder Anna Filbey’s problems and Alex Scott’s broadcasting schedule that prevents her from doing all the training sessions, there is a big question mark on the Arsenal possible starting XI.
It could be as follows:
Predicted starting 11 (if all players are fit):
Sari Van Veenendaal, Lisa Evans, Leah Williamson, Louise Quinn, Emma Mitchell, Dominique Janssen, Jordan Nobbs Kim Little, Heather O’Reilly, Anna Miedema, Bethany Mead.
Subs: Anna Moorhouse, Alex Scott, Katie McCabe, Danielle Van De Donk, Danielle Carter, Lauren James, Ava Kuyken or Jess N’Gunga.
Next, Leah Williamson “You’ve just got to stay calm”
Leah Williamson on the final
Speaking ahead of Wednesday’s final, Williamson told Arsenal.com,“It’s really special for me.
“It’s great to see your shirt hung up before a game but you’ve just got to stay calm.
“By the time you walk out to the final, you’re already buzzing to be there. It’s just about settling down and enjoying it. The hard work’s done, you’ve just got to finish it off.
“It’s nice to see your shirt in the changing room. I’ve grown up at Arsenal and support Arsenal, so from being a kid and buying a kit on release day when I got somebody else’s name on my back, it’s nice to have my own.
“I think that was the biggest thing for my mum, when I signed for Arsenal, she couldn’t quite believe it.
“My brother couldn’t quite fit it on the back of his shirt because he was too small as we’ve got too many letters in our surname!”
Next, Beth Mead “It would be massive”
Beth Mead on her first domestic final
Beth spoke to the FA WSL ahead of the game which will be her first domestic final.
“I’ve not played in a final domestically yet, so I’m really looking forward to the game,” she said.
“These are the types of games Arsenal should want and expect to be winning regularly. We want to show what we are all about and this is a good platform for us to build on.
“To win it, against Manchester City, would be massive for the club and put us in a really good place mentally to go and challenge the two teams at the top of the FA WSL table.
“When I came to Arsenal, I’d been scoring goals for Sunderland, but I knew this would be different, playing with some of the best players in the world and fighting for a place in the team.
“I’ve been fortunate to play regularly, so I’ve been keen to take my chance in the side and I’m really enjoying myself. Hopefully I can continue scoring goals and helping the team win football matches.
“They [City] are very strong both in attack and defence, you won’t find many weaknesses in their side, so we know we have our work cut out. But we also have those qualities in our team and we believe in our ability.
“Sometimes you play better against the better teams and I thrive against playing against the best players, people like Steph Houghton, putting myself out there to keep developing and improving. Everyone at the club wants to start winning trophies again so we hope it is our day.”