Arsenal enter the weekend sitting in third place, level on points with Manchester City and just one point behind leaders Chelsea, the only team to whom they have dropped points so far this FA Women's Super League season, in a 2-1 away loss. It is quite a different picture for opponents Bristol City, however, who are currently third from bottom. They have not recorded a win so far this season, their three points coming only from draws.
The Gunners last league game saw them beat Liverpool 1-0 thanks to a goal from the ever-clinical Vivianne Miedema, and whilst not their most convincing 90 minutes, it was ultimately a fairly comfortable victory. They will look to build on this against a Bristol side who come into the game off the back of a 5-0 loss to Man City and having lost seven of their last ten top flight fixtures. Arsenal are the clear favourites, having only lost one of the last 15 league match-ups with Bristol, but draws have also been common between these two sides, half of the last six league meetings at Meadow Park have ended this way. So all is not lost for Bristol City, who are certainly underdogs but will fight to pick up at least a point on Sunday.
It has been a week since both teams played their last matches, so the players should all feel refreshed and ready to go again. Bristol will surely be looking to forget the events of their last meeting, the Continental Cup clash just ten days ago in which Arsenal thrashed the Robins 7-0. On what was a freezing cold midweek evening Arsenal came firing out of all cylinders against a young Bristol side, showing their class across all areas of the pitch, with Vivianne Miedema and Kim Little scoring a brace apiece and Jill Roord, Jordan Nobbs and Jen Beattie all notching goals as well. The last league meeting between the two teams saw a similar story of Arsenal dominance, though the scoreline was marginally more respectable at 4-0. It was an occasion that saw Miedema return home with the match ball under her belt, topped off with a goal from Katie McCabe.
Arsenal are still without Danielle Carter and Tabea Kemme, both in the midst of recovery from long-term knee injuries, whilst Katrine Veje is still a doubt after picking up a foot injury on international duty with Denmark. Katie McCabe may also be unavailable on Sunday, after being taken off at half-time against Liverpool last week in what manager Joe Montemurro told arseblog.news was a precautionary move that was “not worth risking”. If McCabe is indeed unable to play a part it will be a big miss for Arsenal. She has been one of the standout performers of this season so far for the Gunners, both in her favoured position on the left wing and, primarily, at left back. Lia Walti started on the bench against Liverpool as she continues with her return from long-term injury, so it is likely she will start this weekend.
Bristol City will of course be without Scotland international striker Abi Harrison, after the club recently announced that she will be side-lined for the rest of the season following an ACL tear. This is a big blow for Bristol’s already struggling attack, though it may allow manager Tanya Oxtoby to give more chances to young striker Ebony Salmon, who only came off the bench against Manchester City last weekend so may be in line to start on Sunday.
Arsenal: Zinsberger; Evans, Williamson, Beattie, Maier; Walti, Nobbs, Little; Van de Donk, Mead, Miedema.
Bristol City: Baggaley; Dykes, Evans, Matthews, Sargeant; Brown, Humphrey, Chance; Wellings, Daniëls, Salmon.
Players to watch
Danielle Van de Donk has enjoyed a strong start to this Women's Super League season and it is likely that she will be vital to Arsenal's game plan once again on Sunday. Typically a number ten, DvD has seen most of her playing time out on the right wing this season, the high competition for midfield places being a factor in this. She has taken it in her stride however and produced some wonderful performances from the right hand side, often using her on-the-ball skill and creativity to drift inside and set up her teammates. DvD seems to have taken a liking to facing the Robins: she has either scored or assisted the last six times the two teams have met, and will definitely be on the hunt for more on Sunday. Arsenal's front three as a whole play in a very fluid formation, making them unpredictable and tricky to handle for any defence, especially one that has struggled as much as Bristol City's has in recent times, and DvD will play an important part in this fluidity this weekend.
For Bristol City, goalkeeper Sophie Baggaley will, as always, be crucial to the Robins' chances. The 2018/9 Women's PFA Young Player of the Year nominee and Lionesses youth international has continued her impressive form into this season, all while having to face the most shots of any WSL goalkeeper so far. She has made 37 saves; 13 more than any other keeper in the league and provides her side with a safe and reliable pair of hands, something that has been even more crucial amidst their somewhat worrying defensive form. Baggaley won't have it easy this weekend up against attacking threats such as Beth Mead and Kim Little, as well as a world-class striker in the form of Miedema, so she will have to be on top form to keep them out and record her first league clean sheet since the opening day of the season.
Striker Ebony Salmon is also one to watch out for. An Under-19 England youth international, she was snapped up by Oxtoby following release from Manchester United this summer. United manager Casey Stoney may end up regretting that decision, as she has taken to the top flight in a way few young players manage so quickly. She has already tallied two goals for her new club and has impressed her manager enough to break into the first eleven. Her pace and eye for goal will provide a tough challenge for Arsenal's defence, especially on the counter attack.
Goals key for the Gunners
A current worry for Joe Montemurro and his players may be their goal difference. The points gap between the top three is marginal, especially with Chelsea and Manchester City set to meet in a week’s time, but Arsenal are currently considerably behind both teams on goal difference, which is so important given the small number of teams in the league. The problem for the Gunners this season seems not to be their defensive capabilities, having kept five clean sheets out of the seven league games played, but their attacking prowess. Whilst Chelsea and City have been raking in the goals, Arsenal have been less successful in attack than we are used to seeing, and currently only have a goal difference of +9, compared to totals of +15 and +16 for Chelsea and Man City respectively.
This is in stark contrast to last season, in which Arsenal’s attack devastated most opponents and resulted in them concluding the season with a goal difference of +57. They managed to score a remarkable 31 goals in just their first seven games of the 2018/19 campaign, meaning at this point last year their goal difference was a mammoth +28. Montemurro’s side have not yet reached their full potential this season, and getting their attack firing at that level again will be key to doing so. This weekend presents the Gunners with a chance they cannot afford to let slip. Against a shaky Bristol City defence that have already conceded 17 goals this season, Arsenal’s attack will be aiming to make up some of the lost ground.
The game kicks off at 12:30pm BST on Sunday 1st December. It will be shown live on the BBC Red Button and BBC Online, as well as through the FA Player everywhere except the UK that it is available. You can also follow live updates of the game here on Vavel.com.