Arsenal are back in WSL action on Saturday afternoon as they take on Everton at Meadow Park. The game is being played on Saturday as opposed to Sunday to give Jonas Eidevall’s team more time to prepare for Wednesday’s Champions League clash against Juventus at the Emirates. The Gunners will be looking to recover from their first league defeat of the season against Manchester United a fortnight ago.

The team has had some much-needed time off following their 1-1 draw with Juventus in Turin last Thursday, with the players being given the subsequent weekend off to recharge. The Gunners have been operating with a small squad in recent weeks with injuries piling up, though Leah Williamson and Rafaelle return to the match day squad for this game.

Arsenal have made short work of Everton in recent seasons but now coached by Brian Sorensen, the Toffees do appear to be a less supplicant opponent in this campaign. This is Arsenal’s penultimate league game before the Christmas break and they will hope to boast a meatier squad when they face Chelsea on 15th January.

There has been a sense of ‘just trying to get through’ both this and the Aston Villa game next weekend following the defeat to Manchester United. The second half of the season sees the Gunners face Manchester City and Chelsea twice and Manchester United away, they will want as many points on the board as possible in the more forgiving half of the campaign.

Leah Williamson and Rafaelle will return to the squad after ankle and foot injuries respectively. Lina Hurtig is out with a hamstring injury but should return before Christmas, while Teyah Goldie is stepping up her recovery from an ACL injury in March. Beth Mead will miss the remainder of the season with an ACL problem while Kim Little is out until the New Year with an MCL injury.

Available squad
GOALKEEPERS: 1.Zinsberger, 18.Marckese, 40.Williams
DEFENDERS: 2.Rafaelle, 3.Wubben-Moy, 5.Beattie, 6.Williamson, 7.Catley, 16.Maritz, 26.Wienroither
MIDFIELDERS: 8.Nobbs, 12.Maanum, 13.Wälti, 15.McCabe, 23.Iwabuchi, 61.Earl
FORWARDS: 11.Miedema, 17.Hurtig, 19.Foord, 25.Blackstenius, 59.Agyemang

Everton have had a real change in expectations, I think. I have only been here for 18 months but when I came, it was about how Everton were going to compete for Champions League qualification. Now that’s not really the expectation. I don’t think they have lost a huge amount of players from the team that was going to challenge for the top three, they have a very good team. But they are playing more relaxed now because they don’t have the expectation on them. I think that has helped their performances and it shows why it is important to match expectations with reality in a performance sport like football.

When the teams met at Meadow Park last season, Arsenal ran out 3-0 winners with goals from Katie McCabe, Lotte Wubben-Moy and Frida Maanum. The most recent fixture between the sides came in April at Walton Hall Park, Arsenal were also 3-0 winners in that match with goals from Caitlin Foord, Beth Mead and Jordan Nobbs.

In recent seasons, Everton Women have genuflected the strategy of the men’s side. Plenty of investment but very little in the way of strategy. Every summer seemed to see enormous turnover of players in and out and every summer, the coach was gluing a new team together from scratch, trying to make sense of talented, yet ill-fitting parts. The best performing of those parts, like Hayley Raso and Chloe Kelly, were gobbled up by the bigger WSL clubs.

There does seem to have been a difference in emphasis this season, after finishing in an incredibly disappointing 10th place last season, a campaign that saw them burn through three different coaches. They appointed Danish coach Brian Sorensen and their summer transfer business had an emphasis on youth and development.

They took Jess Park on loan from Manchester City, Aggie Beever-Jones on loan from Chelsea, Gio Queiroz on loan from Arsenal and goalkeeper Emily Ramsey on loan from Manchester United. Whether this means that Everton have accepted their lot as sitting just below the WSL elite and have opted to give the coach younger, more malleable tools to work with or whether they want to become a more aspirational team for younger talent remains to be seen. But Everton look a more serious outfit this season.

Frida Maanum is probably Arsenal’s in-form player at this moment in time. After an imperious display away at Lyon, the Norwegian muscled her way into the number 10 role ahead of Vivianne Miedema, which is no mean feat. Of course, since then, Arsenal have lost Kim Little, their nominal number 8, to injury.

On the back of the defeat to Manchester United, Jonas Eidevall told Arseblog News, “We are building again, block by block. We cannot continue building something we had five weeks ago. I think I made a mistake with the United game, even though the time was short (to prepare).” At Juve, he moved Jordan Nobbs from the number eight role to wide right, moved Maanum to number eight and played Miedema ahead of her.

After the Juve game, Arseblog News asked Eidevall about this tactical adjustment, “i could see we might lose something offensively because she has been playing so well in the number 10 position. But i don’t think we did, we had some really good moments with her taking space with the ball and you can see she is playing with a lot of self-confidence and turning, facing forward with the ball. Her performance pleased me a lot tonight.”

I think we can assume, from that, that Maanum will continue in the number eight position against Everton, a club she came very close to signing for last summer. Her ability in tight spaces and to carry the ball most closely resembles Little of the options available and it sounds as though that position will be Maanum’s in Little’s absence, with Miedema in the team just ahead of her.


Subs: 2.Rafaelle, 5.Beattie, 6.Williamson, 16.Maritz, 18.Marckese, 23.Iwabuchi, 40.Williams, 59.Agyemang, 61.Earl.

The game takes place at Meadow Park at 2pm on Saturday and it will be shown live on the FA Player app and website. You can find the website here, just register an account and you can watch the game for free, wherever you are in the world (bar Israel for reasons I don’t entirely understand). Do register an account well before kick-off, it tends to be quite slow going if you log in five minutes before kick-off.