Arsenal Women begin their FAWSL campaign this weekend, with a home match against Birmingham City Ladies at Borehamwood on Sunday. It’s the 30th anniversary season for the women’s team and they will be hoping to mark it with their first league title since 2012. They certainly have the squad to do so. Tim Stillman takes a look at how the girls are shaping up for this landmark season.
WHO’S IN? Pedro Losa has bought very strongly during the summer transfer window. 21 year old Vivianne Miedema comes in from Bayern Munich and is one of the best strikers in world football. Fulminating Scottish right winger Lisa Evans arrives from Bayern too. Swedish right-back Jessica Samuelsson has been signed Linkoppings. Irish centre half Louise Quinn is retained after a short term contract from the disbanded Notts County Ladies and fellow centre back Josephine Henning rejoins less than a year after leaving to win the Champions League with Lyon.
WHO’S OUT? Experienced midfielder Fara Williams moves to Reading, young wide forward Chloe Kelly will spend the season on loan at Everton, whilst right sided midfielder Carla Humphrey joins Bristol City on a permanent deal. Ireland captain Katie McCabe will spend the campaign on loan at Glasgow City. Young defender Lotte Wubben Moy has joined the University of North Carolina and fellow 18 year old Anna Patten has also gone stateside, on a scholarship with Florida State University.
HOW DO THEY PLAY? 433 with an emphasis on fast, attacking football. Little and Nobbs are capable of switching and spreading play quickly from midfield, but Arsenal’s wide forwards and attacking full backs provide the key. The girls always perform pre match a warm up drill focused on feeding the wide forwards.
On the right, Lisa Evans or Heather O’Reilly like to get to the by-line and provide service to the centre forward and the onrushing Jordan Nobbs and / or Danielle van de Donk. On the left, Dan Carter cuts in and looks to play more as a support striker.
In the number 9 role, Arsenal have a choice between Miedema, Taylor and Mead. Probably 3 of the 5 best centre forwards in the division. Goalkeeper and defenders are expected to build from the back with short passes.
THE CASE FOR ARSENAL WINNING THE TITLE– Pound for pound, they probably have the most talented squad. Chelsea and Manchester City have invested heavily over the last few years, but so too have the Gunners, who almost certainly have a higher wage bill than their immediate competitors.
Manchester City lost important players in Toni Duggan and Lucy Bronze and have the added distraction of the Champions League, Chelsea will also play Champions League football and the suspicion remains that they haven’t quite balanced their attack. Arsenal are a little more settled, have a good mix of youth and experience and, probably, the best players.
The profile of the new recruits is significant too. Henning, Samuelsson, Miedema and Evans are all seasoned internationals used to challenging for and winning league titles. The four Dutch players won the Euros with Holland this summer, Josy Henning took gold at the Olympics with Germany last summer.
THE CASE AGAINST ARSENAL WINNING THE TITLE– Harnessing all of their attacking talent into a cohesive unit. The likes of Jordan Nobbs, Kim Little, Lisa Evans, Vivianne Miedema, Jodie Taylor, Beth Mead, Danielle Carter, Heather O’Reilly and Danielle van de Donk are all competing for 5 positions. These players would walk into most teams in world football.
The manager, Pedro Losa, is also fond of heavy rotation. The first ten minutes of any Arsenal Women’s game is spent trying to decipher the formation and which position everyone is playing in. “Is that…..yes…..I think that’s Heather O’Reilly at left-back.” Also, Kim Little, probably Arsenal’s best player, is out until at least the second half of the season with a knee injury.
PLAYER TO WATCH– Jordan Nobbs is the heartbeat of the team. Now 24 years old, she has developed into a genuinely world class central midfielder. Her energy levels are boundless, she spreads play intelligently and makes perceptive runs from midfield to add to the Gunners’ firepower. She can also crack a shot from range when the mood takes her. One of the few players Pedro Losa never rotates.
YOUNG PLAYER TO KEEP AN EYE ON– 18 year olds Lotte Wubben Moy and Anna Patten have left for the US after playing every match in the Spring Series, but the academy pipeline is still strong in defence. Taylor Hinds is an attacking left-back. Like many modern full-backs, she started out life as a winger.
Left-back is one of the few spots in the squad with a clear pathway with the currently injured Emma Mitchell the only specialist left sided full-back in the squad. Hinds was eased into the fringes of the first team earlier this year. She will probably play in the Continental Cup (a loose equivalent of the League Cup) initially.
HOW CAN I WATCH THEM? Arsenal Women play home games at Borehamwood. It’s £6 per game if you book in advance online, or £10 on the door. You can become a member and buy a season pass for £60.
If you can’t get to Boreham Wood, then 2 of the first 3 games have been selected for live broadcast:
Manchester City v Arsenal
Saturday, September 30
Venue: City Football Academy
Live on: BT Sport
Arsenal v Bristol City
Sunday, October 8
Venue: Meadow Park
Live on: BBC website and red button (not geo-blocked)
The away match at Everton Ladies on 29 October will also have live commentary on BBC Radio 5 Extra. The FAWSL account will provide up to the minute goal clips on their twitter page. Selected games will also be streamed on Facebook live later in the season.