As Chelsea Women and Arsenal Women meet in a huge Women’s Super League showdown on Friday, live on Sky Sports as well as Sky Showcase, our journalists, reporters and pundits give their views on the potential title decider.
Emma Hayes’ Blues held on for a huge 1-0 win against Manchester City Women on Sunday, while Jonas Eidevall’s Arsenal side again came from behind to draw against Manchester United Women.
The Gunners are two points ahead at the top of the WSL table, although Chelsea have hit a purple patch of form and have a game in hand. Three points on Friday would see them jump into first, while the Gunners could open up a five-point gap with a victory.
Arsenal set the tone for the season with a thrilling 3-2 WSL win against Chelsea on the opening weekend. But the Blues hit back in the 2020/21 FA Cup final, which they won 3-0 to lift another domestic trophy.
It is set to be an intriguing encounter at Kingsmeadow and, ahead of the game, our Sky Sports talent have offered their thoughts on the biggest game of the season so far…
‘Miedema, Blackstenius partnership unpredictable for Chelsea’
Former Arsenal striker Kelly Smith:
“This is THE game of the season so far, and it’s by far the most entertaining season to date, but I don’t think this will be a title decider.
“This season has shown both Arsenal and Chelsea have dropped points to teams they probably wouldn’t have expected to. Whoever wins this game will give them a big mentality shift but I still think there are more twists and turns in the season ahead. I think it will go down to the wire.
“If I was Jonas Eidevall, I would start Stina Blackstenius. We saw against Man Utd that the understanding and link-up play by both (Vivianne) Miedema and Blackstenius was sensational for the equaliser.
“Their partnership is unpredictable for Chelsea as they haven’t faced the pair before and this could cause Chelsea problems defensively.”
Can Arsenal deal with Chelsea’s high press?
Sky Sports’ Sue Smith:
“Anyone involved in this will be feeling really nervous, but, for the neutrals, it’s a great competitive game to look forward to! The winner will certainly have the edge but as we’ve seen already this season, both teams have dropped points and they both still have tricky games to go.
“The psychology of football is so important and Arsenal’s opening-day win was huge really. It sent a statement but also raised expectations for the rest of the season. Chelsea showed in the cup final the quality and class they have and the ability to perform on the big stage in front of a big crowd.
“Leah Williamson is a huge loss when she doesn’t play in terms of defending and having that leader at the back. Going forward, her quality on the ball and distribution starts Arsenal’s attacks. I hope Blackstenius starts so we can see the link-up between her and Viv again.
“Chelsea’s Sam Kerr will be key and will look to exploit Arsenal’s back-line with her pace and direct running. They will press Arsenal high and aggressively and she’ll be key to that.
“The high press of Chelsea will try to stop Arsenal playing out from the back. You would expect Chelsea to play four at the back. If they do play a three, Arsenal can use their width to gain advantage. Arsenal have also been good at using overloads out wide so I’m sure we’ll see that again.”
‘If Arsenal lose, it’s a massive blow’
Sheffield United Women forward Courtney Sweetman-Kirk:
“In my opinion, I feel this is the title decider. Recent form favours Chelsea especially since they’ve welcomed back So-Yun Ji and Sam Kerr from the Asia Cup.
“Chelsea have a team full of great players, but I want to mention Jess Carter, who sometimes goes under the radar but I think she’s been brilliant for Chelsea recently. Guro Reiten is another one that goes under the radar, but she has unbelievable consistency in her level of performance.
“For Arsenal, Miedema has had mixed form. Her assist for Blackstenius on Saturday was unreal, but equally, I feel at times she hasn’t been in those high central areas in between the sticks to get goals. She’s dropped deeper to try and influence the ball and try and dictate the game.
“If Arsenal lose, it’s a massive blow. Obviously for the title but mentally, being so good at the start of the season, leading for most of it and then to potentially come away without the league would be huge. The FA Cup final loss will also play into the psychological factor.
“Tactically, it’s interesting that Chelsea have played a lot of the season with a back three, but in the last few games, have used a four and it looks to be really paying off for them. Usually if you are brave, you can exploit the areas the wing-backs leave going forward, but this seems to have been addressed.
“Katie McCabe being suspended is also a big loss. She brings aggressiveness to Arsenal, as well as quality playing forward and goalscoring ability.”
‘Eidevall must go more direct’
Sky Sports’ lead WSL reporter Lynsey Hooper:
“People are talking about this game as a title decider but I feel the way the season has gone this year, with Arsenal losing to the bottom side Birmingham, Chelsea losing at Reading, we can’t say that because there are still a lot of games to play.
“What I do think is it is a huge momentum shifter in the title race. A win for either side means that the momentum to finish top is with them and suddenly, they’re the ones out in front. Whether that’s Chelsea with their game in hand or Arsenal widening the gap.
“You can’t say the title will be decided because it’s just so close – there are literally two points between them.
“I also think Eidevall could benefit from going more direct as he did at the start of the season. When you see that goal that was created in the last game between Miedema and Blackstenius, it took one killer pass to completely unpick a defence.
“Chelsea have been so solid, they’ve only conceded six goals and three of those were to Arsenal on the opening day, that you’ve got to try and get in behind them. You’re not going to be able to pass through them with the more possession-based play we’ve seen recently.
“On the opening day, we also saw that Hayes opted to not start Kerr and Fran Kirby, she was protecting them after having a busy time over the summer on international duty. I think the forward three of Kerr, Kirby and Pernille Harder potentially is really exciting for this match.
“If those three really click, we could see a few goals. This isn’t going to be as tight if they’re on song.”
‘A fixture with a rich history’
Inside the WSL presenter Jessica Creighton:
“This fixture has a rich history. In fact, the very first match to be played in the WSL was Chelsea against Arsenal in April 2011. Current Arsenal players Kim Little, Jen Beattie and Jordan Nobbs played in that 1-0 win over the Blues, but that is where similarities between then and now end.
“Back then, Arsenal were the force in English women’s football. They were the most successful team the women’s game had ever known, driving standards and redefining what it meant to be a female footballer. They won the WSL in 2011 and then again the following year. They seemed invincible.
“But now it’s Chelsea who are the dominant force. They’ve won the WSL more times than anyone else, reached the final of the Champions League last season and lured the world’s most expensive female player Pernille Harder to Kingsmeadow. They are also in much better form than the Gunners, currently enjoying a four-game winning run.
“The stats point at Chelsea being the favourites for this game. But this is an Arsenal side who fights until the end, a team who have scored more late goals in the WSL this season than anyone else. So even if they go behind, they’re never out of it.
“This is a chance for Arsenal not only to prove they have the mettle to withstand Chelsea’s title challenge, but also take a step towards regaining the heights of yesteryears.”
Two sides switch form, but will it matter?
Sky Sports’ Charlotte Marsh:
“Arsenal vs Chelsea is always a showpiece of the WSL but this Friday there are a number of added dimensions that make this the biggest game of the season by far.
“This game will go a long way to decide the title. Will it give us a confirmed winner? Of course not, but Chelsea have truly found their form at the best possible time. They have already secured their place in the Women’s League Cup final on March 5 and in their last nine WSL games they have scored 19 goals – some while without Kerr, who competed in the Asia Cup – and conceded just once.
“Chelsea will still have a game in hand after Friday’s game, but the Blues have already lost a game more than they did in the whole of last season and were knocked out of the Champions League in the group stage. No team is infallible.
“It’s almost like the tables in terms of form. Arsenal – who did not lose in the WSL until early January – have drawn 1-1 with both Manchester clubs in recent weeks, although both were brilliant comebacks that underline the determination of Eidevall’s side.
“However, they have have won just one WSL game in 2022. The absence of Williamson, in particular, has been keenly felt, and (Katie) McCabe will also miss out on Friday due to suspension. But Arsenal’s new signings are already showing they can have an impact after a mid-season wobble. Blackstenius’ goal after Miedema’s world-class pass on Saturday shows just why the Blues need to be wary.
“With all that said, Chelsea are the obvious favourites – they are playing at home and have the form behind them. But they would also have been the favourites on the opening weekend and we all know how that turned out.
“The beauty of football is that anything can happen. But the impact on the title race and how the teams perform for the remainder of the season will be huge.”
‘A spicy sideline at Kingsmeadow’
Sky Sports News’ Anton Toloui:
“Due to the number of dropped points this season I don’t see this as a ‘winner-takes-all’ decider but I see it as something just as enticing – it’s personal.
“I was at the Emirates when Jonas Eidevall made his now infamous “black cats” quip before the FA Cup final and it shook the room.
“He said: ‘I do have some superstitions and I think that’s healthy because it makes you feel like you have control over the uncontrollable. I don’t let any black cats cross my way, ever… Sometimes when I am driving I reroute a couple of miles if I see one. That’s the only thing I have.
Chelsea vs Arsenal – The stats
- Following their 3-2 win over Chelsea on the opening weekend this season, Arsenal are looking to complete the WSL double over the Blues for the first time since the 2013 campaign under boss Shelley Kerr.
- Chelsea’s Pernille Harder has scored more WSL goals against Arsenal than she has against any other side (3), with all three strikes coming in her last two such games. The last player in the competition to net in three successive matches against the Gunners was Jane Ross in September 2017.
- Arsenal’s Beth Mead has assisted 35 goals in the Women’s Super League and needs one more to surpass Karen Carney as the player with the most assists in the competition’s history.
- Only Toni Duggan (11) has scored more WSL goals against Chelsea than Arsenal’s Beth Mead (8), though each of those strikes have come in home matches, failing to score in seven away appearances against the Blues.
“‘I feel a bit silly when I am doing it but it’s something I can control. If Emma [Hayes] sees this she will probably buy a thousand black cats with the money Chelsea have and send them all over our training pitch. That was probably a really bad giveaway by me, I’m going to be invaded by black cats!’
“Emma Hayes’ feline-based retort after her side’s Wembley win – ‘We were like a machine, everything about us – we just purred from start to finish’, she said, followed by a ‘meow’ sound – shows we not only have an intriguing clash between two teams competing for success but also a personal battle between two ultra-competitive tacticians.
“Others will analyse the on-field battle, the players to be pitted against each other to bring success to their side, but the WSL has yet another tasty ingredient in the mix – a spicy sideline.
“Eidevall punched the air in triumph after the league win at the Emirates, Hayes purred with delight following success in the cup final. Sure, I look forward to the biggest game of the season so far but I’m also keen to listen in on the verbal barbs pre and post-match.”
‘Chelsea have the bit between their teeth’
Sky Sports’ WSL commentator Seb Hutchinson:
“When Arsenal beat Chelsea on the opening matchday of the season, Jonas Eidevall celebrated as if his side already had one hand on the WSL trophy. He would be forgiven for giving that impression considering that Chelsea had only lost one WSL game in the previous two-and-a-half years.
“The result certainly boosted Arsenal, who won their next five WSL games. However, Chelsea stayed right on their shoulder and when the sides met in the delayed FA Cup final in early December, it felt like the tide had turned.
“Chelsea’s 3-0 Wembley victory saw the start of an Arsenal stumble in all competitions and one that sees Chelsea with the chance to leapfrog the Gunners for the first time this season.
“Arsenal’s defence has looked relatively leaky recently, with Leah Williamson missing a significant number of games with injury, while Chelsea have conceded just one goal in their last nine league games.
“There is plenty of firepower in both teams but Emma Hayes’ side have the bit between their teeth now and only a brave person wouldn’t back them to beat Arsenal this Friday.”
Source : Sky Sports