ᑕ❶ᑐ Arsenal v Chelsea: Why ‘season-defining’ WSL tie could be biggest women’s club game in Europe

England captain Leah Williamson returns to Arsenal from injury ahead of Chelsea clash
History: Sunday, January 15 To get started: 12:00 GMT Location: Emirates Stadium
quilt: Commentary on BBC Radio 5 Sports Extra, BBC Sounds and the BBC Sport website and programme

What happens when an unstoppable force meets another unstoppable force?

Fans will find out at 12:00 GMT on Sunday when Arsenal and Chelsea face off in the Women’s Super League in the biggest club game in European women’s football.

Both sides have been in irresistible domestic form – Chelsea have won nine games in a row in the competition and are the WSL’s top scorers with 31 goals in 10 games.

Arsenal are three points adrift in second with a game in hand and have lost just one game in the league this season – He will face Manchester United at home in November.

The two have really caught the eye in European competition, winning tough groups all the way to the quarter-finals of the Champions League.

“Arsenal” left behind the last champion “Lyon”. after stunning the eight-time winner 5-1 He played his first game in the group in France.

Chelsea, meanwhile, top Group A with 16 points from six games, making light work of a pool that also features PSG and Real Madrid to commemorate their group stage exit 12 years ago.

Former England international Anita Asante, who played for both Arsenal and Chelsea, believes there is merit to the argument that their clash is the most important in European women’s club football.

He told BBC Sport: “Time will tell if both teams are the best in Europe, but if both teams reach the Champions League final it will put them in the conversation. They are undoubtedly the two best teams in Europe.

“It’s there for me personally. Look at Spain, no team is close to Barcelona. In France, “Lyon” defeated PSG 9 out of 10 times.

“And look at the finer points – it’s the difference in a goal or a decision in every game. »

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“The Season Defines”

Arsenal v Chelsea: why the WSL game
Beth Mead is one of the leading players to suffer an ACL injury

Regardless of the size of the game debate, it will undoubtedly play a major role in deciding the English league title.

Arsenal and Chelsea have won the last six WSL titles between them – Chelsea won five, including the previous three – and while Manchester United and City were both in fine form before Christmas, it would be a remarkable turnaround for the trophy to leave London.

“This is the definition of the season,” Asante said.

“If Chelsea beat Arsenal, they’ll feel in control and vice versa. Both know there’s a lot at stake; the league is tight and it’s hard to win if you drop points, especially against the opponents next to you in the table.

“If Chelsea wins, there will be a 6-point difference. Having this pillow and knowing that they have to chase you will be a great buffer. »

If Arsenal are to close the gap, they will have to do so without two key players, Beth Mead and Vivianne Miedema.

Mead and Miedema are expected to miss the rest of this season with anterior cruciate ligament injuries in their knees. Mead suffered his injury towards the end of the 3-2 defeat to United, with Arsenal’s woes compounded by the Netherlands international suffering the same injury weeks later.

Arsenal continued to impress even without the pair and Asante says he was impressed by the mentality and resilience of the team, which could be key against Chelsea.

He said: “It’s a shame they’ve lost two key players, but before that the players like [Caitlin] food and [Frida] Maanum took place and responsibility, especially in the attacking game.

“This is a solid team and applied itself. Captain and leader return [Leah] Williamson is key, Raffaele Souza was a great signing.

“The problem is long-term. They’re all aiming for trophies and the manager can’t rotate as much as he wants, that’s where the problems will arise. They trust the players they have, they all have an identity that everyone agrees on. . I talked to Jen Beattie and she said it’s better to play in unity. »

“I hope for a moment of inspiration”

Arsenal v Chelsea: why the WSL game
Sophie Ingle (left) scored a great goal for Chelsea against Arsenal in 2020.

Chelsea, on the other hand, came close to perfection after losing 2-1 to Liverpool in the first game of the WSL season on September 18. Since then they are unbeaten in all competitions, with Sam Kerr and Fran Kirby leading the goalscoring charts.

They haven’t suffered the same long-term injuries as Arsenal and have seen their squad strengthened. the return of Melanie Leupolz after maternity leave. For Asante, this team strength could give them the upper hand.

“For Chelsea, they’ve always been a ruthless team,” he said. “They have so many options off the bench that they slot into the team seamlessly.

What makes Chelsea dangerous is that they can hurt you with or without the ball. They are very dangerous on the counter-attack, with Kirby and Kerr as the focal points.

“Their only weaknesses are themselves, individual mistakes – playing from behind, many teams fail in those moments. Ann-Katrin Berger is an exceptional goalkeeper, but has made a mistake or two recently. »

Just one point separated these two teams in the final standings for the title last season, and nothing has separated them in the WSL era. In 22 WSL matches, both sides have nine wins and four draws.

But where will the game be won and lost?

“I always think games are won and lost in midfield,” Asante said. “Mid field battle, team serving players who deal the most damage. Kirby by Erin Cuthbert, [Guro] Reiten is delivered to the right areas. Chelsea can win if they score a lot of goals in the same way.

“I hope these are moments of magic rather than mistakes – moments of inspiration. Every time we have had a derby, there have been moments like Sophie Ingle’s volleyball in 2020. I hope this is one of those games. »

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