“Glorious,” says Emma Hayes of today’s weather, then says that Kirby and Kerr are on the bench because her Olympic players need more rest – in any case, she conceives of a squad not an XI. “It’s just another game for us, beautiful weather, beautiful stadium,” she tells us, and she’s looking forward to watching her team today, especially in front of fans. I’d do anything she asked me to, and I’m certain the same is so of her players.
Carney and Casey Stoney – that she felt forced to resign from Man United is a crime – reckon Chelsea can be got at in wide areas, especially on the Emirates pitch, and wonder if Arsenal might be a bit narrow. On the other hand, they reckon the home side will be fitter, which should give them an advantage.
Eidevall says Chelsea have a strong starting XI and a strong bench, so he’s prepared his team for various different situations. Arsenal beat Chelsea in pre-season but he knows that this is a very different situation and is excited to see Iwabuchi and Miedema link up. He notes that the way Iwabuchi understands not just Miedema but the rest of the team, and the way they understand her, is impressive. Asked about Parris being on the bench, he says that the way his team finish is just as important as the way they start, and I doubt any defender will want to see her coming off the bench when they’re tiring after 70 minutes.
There’s something about Mason Greenwood that reminds me of Miedema, who Karen Carney says is the best finisher she’s ever seen in the women’s game. Her ability to generate power with minimal backlift, and to apply whatever finish a situation demands, but also run with the ball and bring others in to play is what does it.
Miedema tells Sky the change of manager has been refreshing – they way they play and train. “Being me comes with a bit of pressure and a bit of expectation,” she says. She also notes that she loves playing with Iwabuchi and they’ve a good connection on the pitch – she’s not bothered about scoring goals, she’s just as happy creating them.
It’s exciting to be playing at the Emirates, she reckons, and thinks Chelsea have the strongest squad in Europe, but notes that Arsenal have struggled with injuries – Jordan Nobbs, who’s had such bad luck lately, is again unavailable.
As for Chelsea, their bench is almost as telling as their first XI, a gathering of talent that enables Emma Hayes to keep the starters on their toes and change the flow of things should that not be to her taste. Arsenal will fancy finding joy against her back four, but her front six is of amusing quality and I’d expect if to be decisive this afternoon.
Arsenal don’t have Tobin available and leave Parris on the bench, but Iwabuchi starts the game in a tasty front three – Mead and Miedema aren’t just one of the game’s great sonic treats. Whether they can get enough of the ball depends on whether their midfield can compete, and though we know how good Kim Little is, we don’t know whether Lia Walti and Frida Maanum – another new arrival – can do enough. I’d also be worried their back four isn’t quite up to keeping Chelsea quiet, but when you have Miedema you have hope in any game.
At some point every summer fixtures are released for the forthcoming season, a reminder that the winter of the soul will soon be over and football will soon be back with us. And when that happens, there are games for which we look out, scanning the list with our mental Stabilo Boss and picking out our key encounters – it’s a rare pleasure.
Well, this time, not so much, because one of the definitive matches is about to happen right now, on the first weekend, and it should be a belter. Chelsea, defending champions and Champions League runners-up, already had the best manager and the best players before they went and augmented them with Aniek Nouwen and, most significantly, Lauren James. They’re not unbeatable, but it’ll take an extremely serious team to finish above them after 22 games.
Arsenal, though, will fancy a shy. Joe Montemurro did a terrific job in his time in charge, but probably picked the right time to turn it in, and it’s going to be a buzz to see what Jonas Eidevall makes of a highly talented squad. Vivianne Miedema is as good as anyone in the world, and though Danielle van de Donk has left, Mana Iwabuchi, Tobin Heath, signed on Friday, and Nikita Paris, are exciting acquisitions who should go a long way towards compensating. Don’t be going anywhere – other than to the Emirates.