In truth, they never recovered from the shock waves generated by the 0-4 home defeat to Liverpool at the Emirates early season. Throw into the mix an administrative error that cost the club three points and second place to Bristol Academy and many Gooners were left feeling like the campaign had been a failure. Quite absurd, if you’re the fan of any other WSL club, but such is the levels of expectation at Arsenal Ladies, coupled with that illustrious history, that some supporters did indeed feel that way. No Champions League qualification did not go down well.
And…stop press!! Is this deja-vu all over again? An early season shock saw Birmingham City Ladies knocking out Arsenal 0-3 over two legs in the Champions League (remember the UCL and domestic seasons are always a season behind, as it were) and was a shock to many followers of the women’s game – at least outside the second city! What this means is that this time next year Arsenal will not be challenging for the Women’s Champions League. There’s much for boss Shelley Kerr to ponder as she begins the 2014 campaign.
But wait a minute this is, after all, Arsenal and with the quality in the squad, bolstered by some impressive signings, Kerr will be plotting the regaining of the WSL title. Make no mistake, this squad positively oozes quality!
Siobhan Chamberlain has signed from Bristol to put real pressure on Emma Byrne for the starting goalkeeper’s job, Siobhan having just broken into Mark Sampson’s England squad as THE number one. There’s a new recruit at the back with another former Vixen, Anouk Hoogendijk, brought into defence/defensive midfield. Capturing Casey Stoney’s signature was also a massive coup for the club. An England legend already and, if you’ll permit this indulgence, a legend in my eyes for her bravery and openness in ‘coming out’. Not an easy decision for anyone in the public eye but Casey deserves massive respect and love from all football fans. Much respect from me too.
Also joining in defence is Yukari Kinga, from J-League champions INAC Kobe. No stranger to London, she was part of the Olympic silver medal winning Japanese team at London 2012. Niamh Fahey and Alex Scott provide the continuity from last season with Alex being one of the finest full backs in the WSL going forward.
The best player I saw last season, Jordan Nobbs, continues her remarkable progression in the women’s game, though she may not be fit enough to start the season. If not, then promising Scottish youngster, Emma Mitchell may well be one to watch in the Gunners engine room. Jade Bailey, a product of the Arsenal Centre of Excellence, will surely progress after six appearances last term and Caroline Weir is another exciting, Scottish talent to look out for.
Arsenal’s forward line is one of the most feared in Europe, not just the WSL. Kelly Smith is a goal poacher and creator supreme with sublime skills and Danni Carter may well be the quickest player in the league. Shinobu Ohno (with over 100 caps for Japan and 39 goals) appears to be an excellent acquisition and will guarantee Arsenal have a substantial following from the Orient (no not that one!) throughout the season. Rachel Yankee, most capped player in English football history, is as evergreen as ever and can deliver quality crosses – as she demonstrated in last season’s cup final – and she’s as hungry for success as ever.
For manager Shelley Kerr, this may be a defining season. What cannot be underestimated is the support and advice of former manager and now general manager Vic Akers (OBE) whose knowledge and input will be crucial in guiding the club.
Anything is possible this season. It depends on whether new players can gel and if Arsenal can cope with the loss of a number of key players in key positions – something unthinkable in the past. Of course they are going to be up there and may well win a cup but can the Gunners blast the opposition away? We shall see.
Key Player: Kelly Smith
Arsenal’s first WSL game of the season is against Notts County at Meadow Lane on April 16
Check out Neil’s other previews: