Preview: Villa and Arsenal face inaugural WSL meeting

Manuela Zinsberger of Arsenal looks on during the team warm up.
Arsenal's Manuela Zinsberger looks on during the warm up ahead of her side's Barclays FA Women's Super League clash against Chelsea at Kingsmeadow on February 10, 2021 in Kingston upon Thames, England. (Photo by Justin Setterfield/Getty Images)

Arsenal travel to face Aston Villa on Sunday afternoon at The Banks’ Stadium. The Gunners are still looking for their first win of 2021.

This is the third time the sides will endeavour to play this fixture. It was originally scheduled for 9 January 2021. However, COVID-19 cases in the Arsenal camp forced a postponement before a waterlogged pitch curtailed the second attempt. This time around, we will have to hope the third time is the charm – especially given the sub-zero temperatures of the last few days.

Aston Villa’s recent signs of promise

Villa will be looking to continue their uptick in form following their 1-0 victory over Tottenham Hotspur last Saturday. This followed a 4-0 defeat to league leaders Chelsea, a tough start to interim manager Marcus Bignot’s tenure.

Despite the heavy Chelsea score-line, there were some positives on display for the West Midlands side. They looked organised and assured at the back, an area were they have often struggled. Against Spurs, the Villains showed more of the same. They kept a clean sheet and claimed all three points through a Mana Iwabuchi stunner.

The Villains have still looked shaky from set-pieces, giving up two goals against Chelsea in this manner. It is an area Bignot will look to improve, but one Arsenal should certainly attempt to capitalise on.

Arsenal’s lost footing

Arsenal's Lisa Evans, Vivianne Miedema and Jennifer Beattie speak as they walk off the pitch.
Arsenal’s Lisa Evans, Vivianne Miedema and Jennifer Beattie walk off the pitch after their draw against Reading on 17 January 2021. (Photo by Naomi Baker/Getty Images)

Unlike Villa, who haven’t played since last weekend following the postponed Second City Derby in midweek, Arsenal’s last fixture was just four days ago. A disappointing 3-0 loss away at Chelsea followed a late defeat to Manchester City days earlier. These are results that are likely to define the Gunners’ season and leave them fighting for a Champions League spot rather than the title.

The West Midlands side welcome an Arsenal team that look low on confidence. Joe Montemurro’s squad have already dropped points to each of the other top four clubs. They now sit six points off the pace, having lost or drawn in four of their last five league games.

Arsenal look to have lost their way, and Montumurro’s capability has been called into question by many fans. A win against relegation-threatened Villa will be key as the Gunners attempt to get their season back on track.

This will be the first FA Women’s Super League meeting between the two sides. Arsenal have won every WSL fixture against teams they are coming up against for the first time in the league since 2014. It’s a promising and hopeful record for Arsenal going into the match.

Players to watch

Mana Iwabuchi of Aston Villa is challenged by Jess Fishlock of Reading.
Mana Iwabuchi of Aston Villa is challenged by Jess Fishlock of Reading during the two sides’ WSL meeting on 23 January 2021. (Photo by Charlotte Tattersall/Getty Images)

New signing Mana Iwabuchi will be key if Villa are able to take anything from the fixture. The Japanese international has a keen eye for goal, providing an attacking potency that the Villains previously lacked.

Iwabuchi will look to test the Arsenal defence with her link-up play and creativity on the ball. Her close-control will also be vital against a Gunners side who love to dominate possession.

Jordan Nobbs returned from a quad injury to play the final 15 minutes against Chelsea. She should therefore be fit to face Villa this weekend, a welcoming sight for Arsenal fans.

The Gunners’ vice-captain offers a very different profile to the other Arsenal midfielders. Her ability to evade oppositions’ press is a key asset, along with her stamina and creativity in attack. However, it is likely we will see her on the wing where she has been favoured this season.

Aston Villa vs Arsenal kicks-off at 2:00pm on Sunday 14th January at The Banks’ Stadium. It will be shown live on The FA Player.