After finishing below both of their main rivals in the Spring Series, Arsenal Women will be hoping that their flurry of summer signings will be able to make a serious impression when they visit the Blues on Saturday.
Ahead of one of the biggest games of the season for both sides, we spoke to Tim Stillman from Arseblog to get his views on the game, Arsenal’s new players and Man City Women.
CWB: Arsenal have been tipped to win the WSL 1 after strong recruitment over the summer. Do you think the signings Arsenal have made will prove to be the final push needed to win Arsenal some silverware this season over City and Chelsea?
Tim: I think Arsenal certainly have the players to win the title – but I think they did last year too. It has been another summer of strong recruitment and there’s so much depth now. The issue is balancing the team and that’s where City certainly had the edge over Arsenal last season. Pedro is fond of tinkering with the formation and the personnel so we never seem to get a settled line-up. Whether or not we can win the league again will depend on whether he can find that cohesion. There are so many good players in attacking positions and he has a tendency to try and shoehorn them all in. Heather O’Reilly played at left-back on Sunday, with Beth Mead on the left wing.
CWB: Arsenal have a loaded forward line that includes Jodie Taylor, Euro 2017 winner Vivianne Miedema, Beth Mead and Danielle Carter. With so many great forwards, how do you think Pedro Losa will keep them all involved and happy? Do you think he’ll be able to field a balanced side considering all four players will want to get a decent amount of minutes over the season?
Tim: This is my fear to be honest. He plays a front 3 and he isn’t afraid to rotate, to say the least. I think they will all get a fair amount of minutes, the problem I foresee is that that will be to the detriment of a settled line-up. Jodie Taylor’s contract is up in December, so she will probably leave mid-season, but even losing a quality striker like that won’t hurt us too much overall. In fact, it might help!
CWB: Social media was rife with complaints about Pedro Losa playing players out of position and not playing the same team consistently enough throughout the 2016 WSL 1 and Spring Series. Do you think he’ll repeat that this season? If Arsenal want to return to winning silverware, can he afford to?
Tim: In the Spring Series, he seemed to have settled the team down a little more and the improvement was obvious. I was beginning to be quite optimistic that Pedro might have learned a lesson, but then on the opening day he selects another unfamiliar starting line-up and it so very nearly cost us. I’m not sure he will change to be honest. Rotating the attack is fair enough, especially with the options he has. But it would be nice if he could try and keep the defence and midfield a little more consistent. A lot of City’s success over the last 2 years has been built on a settled line-up and a pretty tight squad. That doesn’t mean that’s the only way to succeed of course, but there are fewer games in women’s football, the need for rotation is less.
CWB: Much has been said about Miedema being the player that’ll be the catalyst for Arsenal’s return to the top of women’s football in England. Do you agree? What impact do you think she’ll have on Arsenal this season?
Tim: I think she’s a superb signing. Outsiders or people with a casual interest assume that Arsenal have slipped away a little due to City’s spending, but that’s only partially true. Arsenal have spent a lot on players and brought in some big names on big salaries. But Miedema might just be the pick of the lot – certainly while Kim Little is injured. Her record speaks for itself at such a young age. I interviewed her a few weeks ago and what came through so strongly is that she is a very independent, clear thinking young woman with wisdom far in advance of her years. If she stays fit, I would think she’ll be top scorer in the league. Arsenal have good strikers in Mead and Taylor, but Miedema is a cut above.
CWB: Not counting Miedema, who do you think will be Arsenal’s biggest threat at the Academy Stadium on Saturday?
Tim: Miedema is actually injured at the moment and unlikely to play. Dan Carter poses a huge threat – especially when she plays on the left and she can cut inside. But Jordan Nobbs is probably the jewel in Arsenal’s crown at the moment, she has everything and she’s really starting to dominate games now. I think she’s fast becoming one of the best midfielders in the world.
CWB: City have had a number of ins and outs over the summer. What’s your assessment of City’s business? Have City brought in the right players? Do you think City can be successful without Lucy Bronze?
Tim: Like I said, City’s biggest strength has been continuity over the last year or two, Arsenal and Chelsea have similar issues in that they have lots of attacking players and don’t quite know how to fit them all in. City have had that continuity, so losing players like Bronze and Duggan tests that advantage. Quality has been replaced with quality, Pauline Bremer in particular is an excellent signing. Just as important, getting the likes of Houghton, Scott, Bardsley, Beattie and Campbell on new deals maintains that core. But I think it might take City a short while to settle, Bronze is a big miss and so crucial to the attack. Cushing will have to find another way of making that right hand side dangerous. City’s recruitment is very smart, they don’t just follow the ‘Hollywood’ route and splash the cash, they identify players with a purpose in mind.
CWB: Which City player do you think will be the most influential in the game? Is there anyone that worries you?
Tim: A lot of City’s players worry me! Jane Ross is such a great finisher and Izzy Christiansen is really coming along. Jill Scott is always dangerous. But Nikita Parris could hold the key for City, Arsenal tend to struggle with players like her, that commit defenders.
CWB: Suppose you had the power to sign one City player for Arsenal, who would be your pick?
Tim: I would take Steph back in a heartbeat! I think we’re well stocked in attack and midfield and Josy Henning is an excellent centre half. But I think we could do with a real leader back there and Steph certainly fits that bill.
CWB: If you could single out one thing that City might look to exploit in Arsenal’s play what would it be?
Tim: Our back four pushes up very high and we’re very susceptible to the long ball over the top – as we saw for Ellen White’s first goal on Sunday. Arsenal play such a high line and our full-backs really push on, so one long ball into the channels and we’re always vulnerable. We had Louise Quinn sent off on Sunday too in exactly this scenario, a long ball over the top for Ellen White and Louise was exposed and had to take Ellen out. That said, I think we ought to be slightly more compact in Manchester.
CWB: What are your predictions for the season for both City and Arsenal?
Tim: I think the WSL is going to be really tight this year and Arsenal and City will both be up there challenging – but ultimately I think Chelsea might just nick the title and Arsenal and City might take the domestic trophies between them.
CWB: Thanks, Tim!