Preview: Chelsea Women v Arsenal Women

It’s a double derby day in the WSL that may well decide the destination of the 2022/23 title, as Chelsea host Arsenal before Manchester United take on rivals City at Leigh Sports Village.

Preview: Chelsea Women v Arsenal Women

Sam Kerr heads a late equaliser past Zinsberger as three deserved points became one for Arsenal back in January. Credit- Mark Leech/Offside

If Chelsea beat Arsenal in the lunchtime kickoff at Kingsmeadow, anything less than a win for United a few hours later will see Chelsea win their fourth consecutive WSL title. After losing out on silverware in the form of the League Cup back in March, Chelsea will be desperate for their injury-hit rivals to have no say on their league ambitions.

Of course, Arsenal are technically not out of the title race yet with just two games to go. The Gunners are five points behind league leaders Chelsea, who themselves have two more than second placed Manchester United. If the Gunners pull off a win on Sunday afternoon and United slip up, things will get really interesting on the final day of the season.

The difficult part of that plan? Beating Chelsea. The Blues have had the edge over Arsenal in recent seasons with the exception of the aforementioned Conti Cup final 3-1 defeat, which aside from being Jonas Eidevall’s first trophy as Arsenal head coach was clearly a massive psychological achievement, coming a week after Chelsea knocked Arsenal out of the FA Cup.

Chelsea’s recent stats, aside from their albeit respectable Champions League semi final defeat to Barcelona, show why the Blues are favourites to go on and win yet another league title. A comeback win against Liverpool was followed by hitting seven goals against Everton, six past Leicester and then four more past West Ham, with no goals conceded in those three wins.

The Blues have been boosted with the return of Pernille Harder from injury. The Dane came off the bench to hit a brace against Everton before scoring two more against West Ham. Harder announced earlier this week that she will leave the club along with Chelsea captain, and partner, Magdalena Eriksson, come the end of the season, with both linked with a move to Bayern Munich. Their exits will mark the end of an era for Chelsea, but the Blues clearly have the squad depth and presence in the transfer market to continue their dominance for years to come even with the loss of these players.

Arsenal on the other hand will have to adapt to yet another injury loss once again after Lia Walti was stretchered off in the second half of Wednesday’s win over Everton. Fortunately, the worst fears of Arsenal and Switzerland fans were quelled by Jonas Eidevall, who confirmed that Walti will miss the final two games but should be able to recover in time for this summer’s World Cup.

It was only two games ago that Eidevall had to adapt to the loss of Walti when the midfielder was taken ill in the warm-up before Arsenal played Brighton. Eidevall introduced Jodie Taylor into the forward line, with Pelova and Maanum dropping into the base of midfield, where Arsenal have now lost Kim Little and the more than capable Leah Williamson as well as Walti. The Swiss is a player who cannot be replaced, but the likes of Maanum have been able to step up when called upon, with Eidevall constantly forced to adapt with multiple injuries hitting key players throughout the season.

Arsenal struggled in the second half against Everton on Wednesday, with Walti’s injury clearly a factor, after hitting four past the Blues in a strong second half of the first half showing (forgive me!) in which the returning Caitlin Foord hit a brace. The Gunners will have to step up once again, with Jonas Eidevall saying that a win at Kingsmeadow will require an almost perfect performance from his side. Nothing less than that will do if Arsenal want to rain on Chelsea’s probable parade.

Arsenal winger Lina Hurtig is likely to be available for selection after a frustrating spell on the sidelines, but I think it’s worth reminding you of Arsenal’s injury list as the Gunners prepare to take on the might of Chelsea: Kerr, Harder, James to name just a few.

Miedema, Mead, Little, Williamson, Wienroither and Walti will all be watching on, but their side just keep marching on despite everything that has been thrown at them this season, and for that they deserve immense praise. Can they pull two more courageous displays out of the bag as the season draws to a close?

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