Manchester City is the more recent addition to the WSL, but Arsenal has received a lift from Europe.

The weekend’s WSL encounter sets two of the top four against each other, with the Gunners reshuffling their midfield following a significant win.

With the WSL championship battle on the line, Arsenal welcomes Manchester City to Meadow Park. City’s 2-0 win against Chelsea last Sunday insured that the top four remain evenly balanced heading into the final stretch of the season, even though many had written them off after starting the season with back-to-back defeats.

City’s upset over Chelsea came between the two legs of the latter’s Champions League quarter-final victory against the previous season’s champions, Lyon. Gareth Taylor’s squad faces Arsenal on Sunday, following the Gunners’ grueling midweek victory against Bayern Munich, which secured them a spot in the semi-finals.

If fixture congestion is to play a role in the championship race, City has the edge. With Arsenal and Chelsea in the Champions League semi-finals, and the latter in the FA Cup last four against Manchester United, City’s focus on the league might be significant.

Arsenal has the most difficult schedule, with games against Manchester City, Manchester United, and Chelsea yet to play. If they win every game, they would win their first league title since 2019, but there are risks ahead.

Manchester City is the more recent addition to the WSL, but Arsenal has received a lift from Europe.
Manchester City is the more recent addition to the WSL, but Arsenal has received a lift from Europe.

Goalkeepers
Arsenal and Manchester United had the best defensive record in the league going into Saturday’s encounter against Brighton. City has 14 goals and six clean sheets to Arsenal’s nine. Despite her, occasionally erratic personality, Manuela Zinsberger, the 2021-22 season’s golden glove winner, has been a vital part of Arsenal’s excellent defense. Ellie Roebuck’s meteoric ascent ended when she was injured for five months in 2021, handing United’s Mary Earps the England No. 1 spot. It’s taken her a long time to get back to where she was before her accident. Roebuck is a tremendous talent who is still growing, but Zinsberger wins this duel. Arsenal 8 points, Manchester City 7 points

Defense
The City defense was outstanding in the 2-0 victory over Chelsea. The pairing of center-backs Steph Houghton and Alex Greenwood is solid, but not unbeatable, as evidenced by six clean sheets in 16 league appearances. Laia Aleixandri and Esme Morgan, City’s full-backs, are particularly important in the fierce press. Arsenal, on the other hand, is in a gherkin. Due to an early injury to a midfielder against Bayern, Leah Williamson was forced to play forward from center-back, with Lotte Wubben-Moy replacing her. Wubben-Moy looked assured with Rafaelle Souza, but the relationship is not as consistent, and Williamson may be pulled into midfield again, while full-back Katie McCabe should be fit to play after being taken off late against Bayern. Arsenal has the better backline with completely healthy teams and the same amount of recuperation time, but after a hectic 97 minutes of play on Wednesday night and with Williamson’s position potentially altering, City has the upper hand here. Arsenal 7 points, Manchester City 8 points

Midfield

Taylor stated that Yui Hasegawa fit in at City “like you couldn’t imagine, from day one.” Since arriving from West Ham in the summer, the Japanese midfielder has been outstanding, forming great midfield pairings with Laura Coombs and Filippa Angeldahl. Frida Maanum, Lia W√§lti, and Kim Little have also been excellent for Arsenal and are perhaps the stronger three, but Little was hurt against Bayern, prompting Williamson’s redeployment. She thrived, assisting Maanum’s opening, but Little is questionable due to a hamstring issue, and games with only three days in between for an out-of-position Williamson might be too much. Both teams want to control the midfield and maintain the ball. City’s fresher legs and the absence of Little might give them an edge, although Arsenal is fired up after defeating Bayern. Arsenal 9 points, Manchester City 9 points

Attack

Goals from Maanum and Stina Blackstenius on Wednesday will go a long way toward helping a club that is struggling to capitalize on its opportunities. Based on their performances and the number of opportunities generated, Arsenal should have been five or six goals ahead after two Champions League quarter-final games, but hitting the net and relieving pressure proved difficult. According to Jonas Eidevall, City only has one player that consistently scores. Khadija Shaw had 15 goals in 16 league games, accounting for about half of the team’s total, but Lauren Hemp and Angeldahl scored against Chelsea. Blackstenius, Maanum, and Caitlin Foord have done well with the nearly impossible task of compensating for the injuries to Beth Mead and Vivianne Miedema, but neither team can afford to be wasteful in close games and with fatigued legs. Arsenal 7 points, Manchester City 9 points

 

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