Below-par Arsenal running out of options as trophy quest falls flat | Football

Arsenal and a fit-again Beth Mead still have high hopes for this season (Picture: Reuters)

Arsenal’s 1-0 loss to Manchester City in the Women’s FA Cup means the Gunners’ quest for silverware this season will now have to be focused on the Continental Cup or the WSL.

For the second consecutive year, Arsenal bowed out in the fifth round of the competition after coming unstuck against tough opposition. Last year, they lost to Chelsea at the same stage.

It is no doubt unfortunate to get tricky draws two years in a row but beating these kind of sides in one-off fixtures is part and parcel of cup competitions, whatever the round.

The defeat further added to the disappointing turn Arsenal’s season is taking. With three big-name players all returning from long-term injuries this term in Beth Mead (pictured), Vivianne Miedema and Leah Williamson, many expected Jonas Eidevall’s side to challenge on all four fronts.

However, they have already lost three times in the league – to Liverpool, Tottenham and West Ham – and find themselves six points behind WSL leaders Chelsea.

Arsenal manager Jonas Eidevall recently signed a new contract

Arsenal manager Jonas Eidevall recently signed a new contract (Picture: Getty Images)

There is no sense Eidevall’s job is under any immediate pressure. The Swede signed a new three-year deal in October despite a poor start to the season which saw Arsenal fail to make the group stages of the Champions League as well as losing their first league match of the season.

No side has won the WSL having lost more than two matches but it would be premature to write them out of the title race just yet.

However, Saturday’s game against Manchester United, which will be taking place in front of more than 50,000 fans at the Emirates, is clearly a must win.

WSL title showdown

Manchester City will be hoping they can draw level with Chelsea at the top of the table by beating them at Kingsmeadow on Friday night. City have not won away in the league against Chelsea since 2016 but are in fantastic form at the moment, having not lost in the WSL since a shock 1-0 defeat to Brighton in November.

Gareth Taylor’s side had felt harshly treated in the reverse fixture earlier in the season when Alex Greenwood was sent off for time-wasting 38 minutes into the match with City 1-0 up.

Mayra Ramirez recently scored her first goal for Chelsea (Picture: PA)

Chelsea ended up equalising late on after Lauren Hemp was also sent off. Manchester City will want to use this as an opportunity to show how well they can play with a full complement of players.

Chelsea, meanwhile, have yet to truly convince against either of their title rivals this season, having suffered a humiliating defeat against Arsenal in the league in December. Kingsmeadow is their fortress, however, and they are currently equal to Manchester City’s record of 33 home WSL matches unbeaten.

Emma Hayes’ side will be hoping Chelsea’s record signing, Colombia striker Mayra Ramirez, is the key to getting the win, after she opened her Blues goalscoring account with a brilliant backheel against Crystal Palace in the FA Cup.

Wiegman looks to youth

This weekend’s WSL fixtures are the last round before the international break, with Sarina Wiegman announcing her England squad this week. There is a notable return for captain Leah Williamson who has not featured for England since last April having suffered an ACL injury.

Leah Williamson is back in the England squad

Leah Williamson is back in the England squad (Picture: Arsenal FC via Getty Images)

England’s last international break ended in disappointment as a late goal from Lucy Bronze against Scotland was not enough to see them top their Nations League group and qualify for the semi-finals, thus also ending their hopes of qualifying Great Britain for the Olympics.

However, the friendlies against Italy and Austria which are taking place in Spain provide an opportunity for Wiegman to reset her side somewhat. This will be her third summer as manager but her first where there is no major tournament.

The decision to train and play in the same location as the under-23s hints Wiegman is looking at this as an opportunity to renew her squad.

Players such as 20-year-old Aggie Beever-Jones, who has impressed this season at Chelsea, will have their eye on breaking into the squad for next summer’s Euros in Switzerland.

Meanwhile, Tottenham loanee Grace Clinton and City’s Jess Park are two players who have shown the pathway from the youth team to the senior squad is available if players demonstrate the requisite quality.

Wiegman is well known for being a manager who likes to have her favourites but she is showing there are younger players available to push for places if standards are not upheld.


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