Chelsea are top of the WSL table by two points (and +4 goal difference) with only two games remaining. That next game, however, is against London rivals Arsenal.
The Gunners surely wish this match could be a title decider with them needing to win to stop Chelsea’s rampant hoarding of league titles, but it isn’t. In fact the best Arsenal can do is secure a Champions League spot for next season. While that’s not nothing, it’s also not where they expected to be at the end of the season.
Chelsea however are indeed looking to collect our fourth consecutive league title, a week after winning our third consecutive FA Cup title, and three points here would make it all but certain. The Manchester Derby later in the day could settle the math, but beating Arsenal must be the priority.
The even better news is that we’re healthier and in fine form. Pernille Harder has stormed back from injury and the Blues have scored nineteen goals and conceded just one in our last four WSL matches. The quality of competition will be higher in this one, and a derby always adds to the intensity, but Chelsea are familiar with end-of-season marches to points and ultimately the title. Let’s do it again.
Date / Time: Sunday, May 21, 2023, 12.30 GMT; 7:30am EDT; 5pm IST
Venue: Kingsmeadow, Kingston Upon Thames, UK
Referee: Abi Byrne
Forecast: 63°F/17°C; Partly cloudy
Streaming: BBC iPlayer (UK); Paramount+ (U.S.); The FA Player (everywhere else)
3 things to watch
Arsenal resolve – Injuries have decimated Arsenal’s squad this season. Four players are out with ACL injuries, others have been in and out, and Lia Wälti was added to the injured list after their midweek game against Everton. Still, the Gunners found a way to put up a hell of a fight versus Wolfsburg in the Champions League semifinal (with a 119th minute goal deciding it for the German club) and have scored ten goals while conceding one in their last three WSL matches.
This rugged style is not Jonas Eidevall’s preferred style of play, but January signing Victoria Pelova is settling in well and there’s no one better than Katie McCabe to inject steel to a team that’s needed it. The injuries are a significant loss, and those usually show up in big games. Chelsea must make sure we don’t get dragged into a fight, and instead find a level Arsenal can’t match.
The Real Pernille Harder – Pernille Harder had been out with injury since November, but has been on a rampage since returning. She’s racked up five goals and two assists in her first four WSL matches back. A hectic end of season schedule has allowed Emma Hayes to play Harder in positions where she’s most comfortable, and as a result we’re seeing the real Pernille – and it’s glorious.
It’s a damn shame we’re seeing this in her final matches in a Chelsea shirt, but timing-wise and in the context of this season, it couldn’t have been better. The team gave a ton of energy to put in high caliber performances against Barcelona over two legs in a UWCL semifinal, and Harder’s fresh legs and goal contributions have helped keep games from becoming slogs. The Real Pernille Harder tearing through Arsenal would be a mighty fine farewell present.
Chelsea’s backline – Chelsea have had an injury crisis of our own this season, first losing Pernille in November, then Fran Kirby in February. Then an international break claimed starting center backs Millie Bright and Kadeisha Buchanan. While Bright isn’t expected to play again until the World Cup, Buchanan recently finished her first 90 since April 2.
In Buchanan and Bright’s absence, Hayes called on Magdalena Eriksson and Maren Mjelde. The pair turned back the clock to put in vintage performances against Barcelona and avoid any catastrophic goals leaking through as the team chased another title. The Eriksson-Buchanan pairing has been named in four league games this season, and while they shut out Aston Villa, Leicester City and West Ham, they lost 0-2 away at Manchester City.