Thursday, December 8

Women’s Super League 2022-23 previews No 1: Arsenal | Arsenal Women


The plan

Jonas Eidevall has turned around Arsenal’s fortunes, taking Chelsea to the wire in last season’s WSL title race. The Gunners had finished nine points off Chelsea in the previous campaign, coming third, and that deficit was reduced to a single point in his first season.

Most encouragingly, eight months into his tenure, Arsenal had taken eight points off Chelsea and Manchester City, having previously struggled against their closest rivals. A stellar start faltered around Christmas as injuries and a fixture pile-up bit but action in the January transfer window, with the forward Stina Blackstenius and defenders Rafaelle Souza and Laura Wienroither coming in, shored things up enough to ensure the title race was taken to the last day. This summer they have been less active, with the goalkeeper Kaylan Marckese, from last season’s Champions League group stage opponents HB Køge, and the Sweden forward Lina Hurtig the only recruits.

More important, though, they have held on to Vivianne Miedema, the WSL and Netherlands record goalscorer, who signed a new contract after being courted by Barcelona and Paris Saint-Germain, and have hired a new lead analyst and added to their strength and conditioning personnel. Having lots of incoming players is attractive but there is a lot to be said for squad consistency, keeping the core together and building the team around them.

Results

Hurtig’s arrival is important, though, given Nikita Parris has been allowed to join Manchester United, Tobin Heath has returned to the US and Miedema has been used in the deeper No 10 role. The Dutchwoman’s position switch from striker has given Eidevall a midfield headache, with the Japan magician Mana Iwabuchi, England’s Jordan Nobbs and the captain, Kim Little, competing with Miedema for space in front of the more defensive Lia Wälti.

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The one area of concern personnel-wise is the side lack backup for Wälti. Frida Maanum has been used in that role under Eidevall but it is not a natural fit and although Leah Williamson has been tried in midfield for club and country, her removal from the backline hugely weakens it.

It is hard to predict whether Arsenal are ready to lift the title or can stay competitive in all competitions, but there are promising signs of growth and development.

The manager

Eidevall exploded into the WSL with energetic and passion-fuelled sideline celebrations in Arsenal’s opening-day defeat of Chelsea. The team performed well under their new manager, with his demands for a high-pressing game and intensity reaping rewards initially before they were pipped to the title. The Swede has a full season in charge and the chance to reinforce his team in two transfer windows. He excelled as a pundit during the Euros.

Key player

Beth Mead’s stock is at all all-time high after her golden ball and golden boot heroics during the European Championship for England. After the heartbreak of missing out on the Olympics the forward shone for Arsenal and England before scoring six times at the Euros to cap a phenomenal year. She has said her performances last season were fuelled by anger at missing out on the Tokyo Games. Now, she has little to be angry about. Perhaps teammates will start hiding her boots and tipping over her water to keep her fire fuelled.

Lina Hurtig has been the main Arsenal signing this summer. Photograph: Stuart MacFarlane/Arsenal FC/Getty Images

Big summer signing

The recruitment of Hurtig from Juventus is the highlight of a quiet window. With Miedema expected to be used as a No 10 behind Hurtig’s Sweden teammate Blackstinius, which proved effective in the second half of last season, and Parris and Heath gone, backup was needed up top. The 26-year-old Hurtig scored in Sweden’s shock 3-0 win over the USA at the Olympics last year and was a highlight for Juve in the Champions League.

Euro 2022 delight/heartache

Williamson’s rise from the fringes of the 2019 World Cup squad to lifting the Lionesses first major trophy as captain has been rapid and thrilling for those who had noted her leadership qualities. After being shifted out of her natural centre-back berth for much of Sarina Wiegman’s tenure she was excellent throughout the tournament alongside Millie Bright at the back. Miedema was expected to shine for the Netherlands at the Euros after scoring 10 times at the Olympics but Covid ruined her hopes of helping the team to retain their title. She missed two of their three group games after testing positive, before coming back to play 120 minutes of the 1-0 extra-time defeat by France in the quarter-finals.

Bring on the crowds

Arsenal anticipated the Euros would attract a new audience to women’s football and have been ambitious in their plans. The club announced in May that six games would be at the Emirates Stadium. For the first time, men’s season-ticket holders were offered the chance to add the women’s games to their package. The club has sold out of the 1,500 season tickets for the women’s team, double the number bought last term. Arsenal have typically struggled to get bums on seats at the Emirates but there are signs that is changing. Last season, 12,800 came to the rescheduled north London derby there and 5,080 to the Champions League tie with Wolfsburg. On Thursday Arsenal said 38,500 tickets had been told for the game against Tottenham on 25 September, which puts them on track to beat the the WSL attendance record of 38,262 set at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium in 2019.


www.theguardian.com

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