Arsenal Women get their 2020/21 campaign underway on Sunday when they face Reading behind-closed-doors at Meadow Park in their opening game of the FA Women’s Super League season, writes WSL expert Adam Millington.
Joe Montemurro’s Gunners narrowly missed out on qualification for Europe in 2019/20, finishing third on points per game after the season was curtailed in March.
Arsenal have played one game recently, a 2-1 loss to Paris Saint Germain in the quarter-finals of the UEFA Women’s Champions League.
After this weekend’s game against the Royals, they will take part in their first game in front of supporters since February when they travel to Victoria Road to play West Ham United next weekend in a limited capacity pilot event with 1000 fans allowed to attend.
Early team news
Speaking in his pre-match press conference, Joe Montemurro confirmed that Jen Beattie had struggled with a lower back issue and could not confirm whether she would be able to feature in Sunday’s match: "We're monitoring her, she had a bit of a lower back issue which kept her out at the turn of the year. She had a great pre-season, there was no sign of it and against PSG it came back again very early in the second half."
Matildas goalkeeper Lydia Williams had to undergo surgery on an ankle injury shortly after joining the Gunners and is expected to return to full training shortly before the international break.
Danielle Carter and Emma Mitchell departed Meadow Park to make the move to Reading this summer and may feature in Sunday’s game. Other additions for the Royals include Wales captain Jess Fishlock, New Zealand goalkeeper Erin Nayler and ex-Chelsea defender Deanna Cooper.
Irish midfielder Katie McCabe will be unavailable for the game as she still has one game left on a suspension incurred before the curtailment of last season’
Big-name transfers such as Rose Lavelle, Sam Mewis and Pernille Harder at Manchester City and Chelsea has seen much of the spotlight placed on the other WSL title contenders. Speaking to Ameé Ruszkai of Goal in his press conference before the game, Arsenal boss Montemurro said that his side are confident in what they are doing:
“Well, I think if I was to be brutally honest, I think the hype has been around City and Chelsea ever since I’ve been here. I’m quite happy for Arsenal to be, you know, doing what we do. We know what we’re doing. We know where we’re heading. I can’t comment on what other clubs’ policies and strategies are.
“As far as I’m concerned, we’re very comfortable in where we’re heading, what we can do within the means that we’ve got. It’s important for us that we just uphold this brand and make sure that we play our style. We believe in what we are trying to do and definitely there is more of a hype from Chelsea and City.”
33-year-old Jess Fishlock has had an incredibly successful career with a number of clubs - winning the Champions League twice as well as numerous league titles. Speaking after she joined the Royals, she told the club’s website about her ambitions for her time at the club:
"You can see in Kelly [Chambers] her intent – Reading have finished there or thereabouts and they have the ambition to take it to the next level. Everyone here is really excited and I’m really excited to be a part of that ambition.
"This league keeps getting better and better, year on year, progressing and developing. And it has a great opportunity to push on again, a unique opportunity to really strive forward. It’s exciting to be here for that."
A number of Australians have swapped the W-League for the WSL recently including Steph Catley, Lydia Williams and Caitlin Foord at Arsenal. Currently recovering from an ankle injury, Williams spoke to ESPN about the reasons behind the exodus of many Matildas to England:
"Playing and being based in one place is a big one," she said. "A lot of us have gone back and forth for a number of years. Now we get to be in one place, you get to unpack fully and make a bit of a life for yourself.
"It's a different style of football. We get to not only play with English players but you play with European internationals, and these are the players that make World Cup semifinals, the final eight.
"So you're like, 'OK, this is what it takes to make that next stage, and we haven't done that yet.' So for us it's a learning experience as well, in how these athletes perform and how to fit into a style of play and adapt."
Ones to watch
Vivianne Miedema - WSL golden boot winner for the past two years, Vivianne Miedema is arguably the best player in the world. Only 24, she already holds the record for the most goals scored by a male or female member of the Dutch national team since making her debut at the age of 17. Miedema has consistently been one of the best goalscorers in the women’s game for a number of years now and will be looking to start the season on the front foot on Sunday.
Steph Catley - Arsenal may not have been as active in the transfer window as their counterparts at the top of the table, but the transfers that they have made have all been sensible moves. Australian left-back Catley fills a role that the gunners struggled with last year and her crossing ability could partner will with Miedema’s finishing up top.
Danielle Carter - After suffering a repeat cruciate ligament injury in the Emirates cup last year, her first game after returning from an ACL injury, Carter missed the majority of last season for the Gunners. Now at Reading, the 27-year-old forward who previously spent eleven years in North London will be looking to find goalscoring form once again.
Fara Williams - 36 years old, Reading’s captain is a legend of the women’s game. With a nineteen-year international career, she holds the record for the most Lionesses caps (172) and has played in English women’s football since 2001. Williams joined Reading from the Gunners in 2017 and plays a crucial part of Kelly Chambers’ side. She netted ten goals across all competitions last year and poses a threat with her ability from free-kicks.
Arsenal come into the game after a 2-1 loss to Paris Saint Germain in the UEFA Women’s Champions League quarter-finals which saw the gunners head home from Spain after their first match.
Head to head
Arsenal wins: 7
Reading wins: 0
Reading have never won a league game against Arsenal in the ten seasons that the WSL has been played. The last meeting between the two came in the Continental Cup last year when Kim Little’s 86th-minute goal saw Arsenal defeat the Royals in the quarter-finals.
Arsenal have scored a total of 21 goals in the last eight league meetings. The two have not met in a league game at Meadow Park since 2018 where Arsenal were 6-0 winners in October of 2018.
Joe Montemurro’s side were due to play Reading prior to the season being curtailed, but the game was postponed after Storm Ciara’s widespread fixture postponements saw Arsenal’s FA Cup tie against Lewes pushed back to a date which would have clashed with the Royals tie.
Where you can watch it
For fans in the UK, Arsenal’s game against Reading will be shown on the BBC Red Button and on the BBC iPlayer, with the match kicking off at 12:30pm BST.
NBC have recently announced that they will show a number of Women’s Super League games in the United States. Those who have access to NBC through a pay-TV provider will be able to stream the match on Sunday.
ViaPlay will show the match in Scandinavia while all other countries will be able to watch the game live on The FA Player, with highlights and a full match replay available after the game.
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