1) Who has the easiest run-in?
Arsenal. They are a point behind Chelsea, with both sides having played 18 games, but their remaining four matches are, at least on paper, more winnable than those of their rivals. Curiously, Tottenham will have a say in the title race. While Chelsea play them on Sunday and then Thursday, the North London derby takes place on May 4. Although Chelsea are set to win in Birmingham on May 1, their last tricky home game of the campaign comes up against a Manchester United side challenging Manchester City for third place – and the final Champions League spot.
Things look simpler for Arsenal: after Sunday’s trip to Everton, they host Aston Villa and Spurs before heading to West Ham on the final day.
2) In what form are they?
Convincing. Chelsea are aiming for a sixth WSL win in a row on Sunday and Arsenal for a fifth. League defeats are rare for both clubs: Arsenal have lost once all season, Chelsea are furious with themselves for suffering twice. Perhaps significantly, one of those setbacks happened when they lost 3-2 at Arsenal in September. Chelsea got their revenge this month by winning 2-0 in the FA Cup semi-final at title rivals Borehamwood.
3) Which coach has the most titles?
Chelsea’s Emma Hayes, albeit slightly. The 45-year-old manager has won the WSL four times with Chelsea, most recently last spring. After succeeding Joe Montemurro at Arsenal last summer, Jonas Eidevall is enjoying his first season in England. Not that he’s exactly a novice: the 39-year-old Swede won the Damallsvenskan three times during his tenure at Rosengård. During his decade in west London, Hayes constantly renewed his squad and evolved tactically. This season, Chelsea changed from a 4-2-3-1 formation to a 3-4-3 and focused more on possession.
Hayes cut her teeth as a coach in the United States and her extensive study of sports science-based conditioning techniques in Chicago, New York and Washington DC has served her well. Chelsea’s fitness program is designed to ensure players gradually build up strength over the season before reaching peak form and peak form in time for a strong spring finish.
Given that players tend to be only 60-70% of their peak fitness level by September, this represents a slightly risky tactic, but Hayes’ aversion to hosting practice matches at small scale during early season training helped minimize soft tissue injuries.
Useful, Hayes’ assistant, former Bristol City manager Tanya Oxtoby is a trained sports psychologist, and so far at least they’ve managed to head off the uncertainty surrounding the sale of their club. exert an emotional impact on the pitch.
In some ways, Eidevall has taken Arsenal in the opposite direction as they strive to end their club’s three-year drought. They have become much more direct, creating more goals from wide areas than during Montemurro’s tenure and often play in a 4-4-2 formation.
Backed by a quintet of key summer signings, Arsenal started the season in unstoppable form winning their opening six league games but arguably drew too many games in a winter complicated by the absence of two months of influential defender Leah Williamson, who suffered a hamstring injury. .
With their star summer signing, American striker Tobin Heath also often short of fitness and Nikita Parris struggling after signing from Lyon, their momentum slowed mid-season, allowing Chelsea to catch up.
4) Who are the key players?
Chelsea have WSL Australia’s top scorer Sam Kerr with 16 goals, but Arsenal’s ever-dangerous Vivianne Miedema has 12. Beth Mead is enjoying a great campaign on the right wing and has scored eight times for Arsenal . They and Chelsea boast two of the league’s best centre-backs in Williamson and Millie Bright, with that pair integral to the teams’ respective title challenges.
5) Which players are missing?
Hayes would be happier if England attacking playmaker Fran Kirby was not sidelined by fatigue issues. Chelsea do have attacking strength in depth though, and her absence has at least given Beth England a chance to remind everyone of the talent that led to her being named PFA Player of the Season two years ago. England have scored seven WSL goals, bolstering their claims for a place in the Lionesses’ Euro 2022 squad.
Similarly, Eidevall had hoped two-time World Cup winner Heath would shine in Arsenal’s attack, but injuries have limited the 33-year-old to a handful of starts in a frustrating campaign over the past of which she has not yet completed 90 minutes. But the impact of Heath’s struggles was minimized by the arrival of Sweden’s Stina Blackstenius from BK Hacken in January and the subsequent formation of her menacing partnership with Miedema.