Arsenal will look to bounce back ahead of the new 2023/24 season and challenge for the WSL title after a less than desirable last 2022/23 campaign.
Marred with injuries, the Gunners jolted to the final day of last season, scraping by on goal difference to finish third and secure a Champions League qualfying place ahead of Manchester City. Yet the season’s lows took their toll, and now the Gunners face an uphill battle to rebuild
They now go into another WSL campaign, vying to finish as high as possible with even more riding on this season following such a lacklustre run in the 2022/23 campaign, where the former champions dropped a total of 13 points against the rest of the top four.
Yet as quickly as they earned a spot in the Champions League qualifying rounds, Arsenal lost their chance at another stellar European run, having reched the semi-finals last season, failing to make it past the first round when they lost to Paris FC in a penalty shootout.
Now focusing on the WSL, although dampened by a loss, it could yet be a blessing in disguise for Jonas Eidevall’s side. On top of a promising transfer window that brought vastly experienced internationals into the fold, Arsenal are in prime position to challenge Chelsea’s dominance.
Last season was lacklustre for the Gunners, marred by constant injuries that removed many key players for the significant chunks of the campaign. Beth Mead and Vivianne Miedema in particular fell victim to ACL injuries before the halfway stage.
By the end of the season, Kim Little, Lia Walti, Leah Williamson and Laura Wienroither had also suffered injuries, the latter two also succumbing to ACL tears of their own. During the campaign, influential figures such as Caitlin Foord and Steph Catley also spent time on the sidelines, meaning, at times, Arsenal’s squad was incredibly depleted.
Nevertheless, Arsenal managed to pull out an impeccable run to the Champions League semi-final where, in the final few minutes, fell behind and lost the tie 3-2 to Wolfsburg. Their WSL run also went down to the wire, with the goal difference tipping the north London side to finish in third place, staying in the Champions League for the 2023/24 season, although this was short-lived.
Kim Little has been the figurehead for the north London side since her reintroduction to the team six years ago. Having a previous spell at the club from 2008 to 2013, Little has used her vast international experience with Scotland and her impressive technical skill in midfield to captain the side to many trophies.
A leader from the front, Little has set the standard for what a midfielder should be defined as and has held the side together through tough losses and ecstatic wins. Now 33, she is still in her prime, providing a challenge for any opponent controlling the middle across the WSL and Champions League.
Despite being sidelined last season and suffering muscle injuries, Little is back on the pitch and is hoping to lead the Gunners to their first WSL title in five campaigns.
One to watch
Kyra Cooney-Cross was Arsenal’s fifth signing of the summer, making the move on transfer deadline day from Swedish side Hammarby amid interest from rivals. The deal might have gone down to the wire, yet Arsenal had their sights set on the talented midfielder to join their ranks.
The Australian international shone at the World Cup on home soil prior to making the switch. With plenty of experience even at just 21, Cooney-Cross brings a creativity and pace that Arsenal’s midfield has been lacking and will bolster arguably their weakest area of the pitch.
Jonas Eidevall has been at the helm of Arsenal since 2021, joining from Rosengard after previously leading the Swedish side to the Champions League quarter-finals in 2019. However, in the two years of his Gunners tenure, his only to date has been last season’s Conti Cup.
Under pressure to perform, Eidevall succeeded Joe Montemurro in managing the club and has made significant process in introducing new talent, squad depth and a tactical style of play that has suited a number of the long-term Arsenal players. Yet last season was arguably his toughest test.
But with Beth Mead and Vivianne Miedema set to return to the pitch before Christmas and a promising transfer window bringing in three forwards, Eidevall will face one of his biggest challenges in figuring out how to rotate and pick his best XI with a plethora of talent now on his bench.
This campaign will be a true test of the Swede’s management. Failure to beat the other top three teams could see the boss under pressure. Alternatively, without the added strain of playing in Europe, he could lead Arsenal to what would be a WSL title in five years.
Arsenal bolstered their attack, signing two confident forwards with plenty of international, domestic and Champions League experience. Alessia Russo also joined the fold, adding rotation to the striker role, signing from rival Manchester United on a free.
After Rafaelle departed before the summer, Anna Patten signed for Aston Villa on a permanent deal, and Leah Williamson still sidelined with an injury, World Cup winner Laia Codina and Sweden’s premier defender Amanda Ilestedt were brought in to keep the backline together.
Arsenal also sent plenty of their young talent out on loan but were unable to secure the signature of a right-back, a position they have been eyeing for some time. With defences still rocky, Arseanl perhaps should have added a few more defenders to the side to ensure rotation during an incredibly congested calendar.
It’s also worth noting that Frida Maanum, Steph Catley, Caitlin Foord and Jen Beattie have all signed new contracts since the end of last season.
The injury crisis dictated the narrative of last season, yet following a promising transfer window in January and in the summer, in addition to key players making their return, Arsenal have had ample opportunity to bolster their squad.
Without the strain of playing in Europe to contend with this season, the WSL is Eidevall’s main focus and, therefore, places the Gunners in prime position to finish the season in top spot, with enough depth and tactical ability to rival Chelsea’s attempt at a fifth consecutive title.