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Man City tantalisingly close to WSL glory ahead of huge Arsenal clash

SoccerNews in General Soccer News 4 May 2024

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Manchester City could become Women’s Super League champions for the first time since 2016 if they can overcome Arsenal on Sunday at the Joie Stadium.

However, results would need to go their way for this to happen and Chelsea, who meet Bristol City in the late kick off, will have to lose or draw for City to be crowned champions this weekend.

Arsenal, who have already secured a Champions League qualification spot, will want to spoil City’s party with a victory that would take a tight title race right to the final game of the season.

The Gunners have been formidable this season against top opposition and they have won more points in games involving the top three teams in the WSL this season (6 points) than both Man City and Chelsea (4 points each).

Recent history between the two sides shows City will need to muster a performance worthy of champions to beat an Arsenal side who already have silverware to their name this season. Beating Chelsea in the League Cup in Emma Hayes’ last season is a feat they want to replicate against City.

Arsenal have won their last two games against City in the WSL by a 2-1 scoreline and could become just the second team to win three in a row versus the Citizens in the competition after Chelsea, who did so between November 2021 and September 2022.

Gareth’s Taylor’s squad, however, shows no signs of letting up this season, with their consistency worthy of a championship-winning season.

Man City have won 14 straight league matches this season, with last week’s 4-0 win at Bristol City moving them a step closer to the title. Arsenal, meanwhile, have won four, drawn one and lost one in their last six.

Hosts City have been almost flawless in front of their own fans this season with eight wins, one draw, and just one loss in 10 home Women’s Super League contests.

City are hoping to extend a seven-match home winning streak dating back to November 2023, when an emphatic 7-0 win over Tottenham started this streak.

In league matches away from home this season, Arsenal have earned 17 points from 30 available (W5 D2 L3), so some would consider this the main reason they find themselves out of the title race at this stage.

They have recorded just two clean sheets on the road this season, their worst such total in a single campaign since 2014 (also 2).

A Blue Wall for City

A steadfast defence has made City almost impossible to beat, as they have not conceded more than once in any of their last 15 WSL games since a 2-1 away loss to Arsenal in November 2023. The last team to concede multiple goals in one or fewer matches across a single campaign were Chelsea in 2019-20 (once).

Khiara Keating has had a superb season in goal for City, keeping nine clean sheets in 20 appearances and conceding just 10 times.

Keating has faced 18.6 expected goals on target (xGOT), giving her a stunning goals prevented figure of 8.6 – she has kept out over eight more goals than would have been anticipated based on the quality of her shot-stopping – while she has a mightily impressive 81.8 save percentage.

In comparison, Arsenal’s goalkeeper Manuela Zinsberger has struggled for form this term and conceded 16 goals from an xGOT of 14.9, giving her a goals prevented value of -1.1. Essentially, she has conceded one goal more than would have been anticipated based on the quality of chances she has faced.

Zinsberger has recorded five clean sheets, with a save percentage of 65.2 way down on the number of Keating – statistics that prove the importance of an elite goalkeeper if a team is to challenge for the title.

Attack is the best form of defence and City, who knew goal difference could be the difference between themselves and Chelsea this season, have been ruthless in front of goal.

However, they will have to see out the crucial last two games without the injured Khadija Shaw, who despite being ruled out for the rest of the season still looks nailed on to win the golden boot race with 21 goals for the season.

The Jamaican has greatly exceeded her 12.3 xG and has proven herself as one of the best strikers to play in the league’s history.

Ones to Watch

Having scored four goals against Arsenal, Lauren Hemp has only netted more often in the competition versus Aston Villa and Everton (5 each); only two current WSL players have scored more times in the competition versus the Gunners: Toni Duggan (7) and Rachel Williams (6).

Behind Shaw, Hemp is City’s next top scorer, with nine goals from 19 games. Those goals have come from an xG of 5.1, proving Hemp’s finishing ability. Indeed, only Shaw (24) has more goal contributions for City this season than Hemp (16), who has also provided seven assists.

It is Chloe Kelly who leads the way for City when it comes to chances created, with 45 – six more than Hemp’s tally (39).

Kelly has now recorded both five goals and five assists for the second WSL season running (5 + 5 in 2023-24, 5 + 9 in 2022-23); since her first season in the competition for Manchester City in 2020-21 the Englishwoman has recorded more WSL assists than any other player (28).

Arsenal’s signing of Alessia Russo at the start of the season seems to have paid off in her goal return. Russo has netted on 10 occasions, including three match-opening goals.

The attacker ranks fourth among the league’s top scorers and has had 71 shots, more than any other player in Arsenal’s squad this season.

She has scored in each of her last three WSL appearances and, having never previously netted in four straight in the competition, now has the chance to set a personal record. The Arsenal forward has also now matched her goal return from last season at Manchester United by reaching double figures.

Despite being injured at the start of the season, Beth Mead has had another excellent campaign, directly contributing to 11 goals (eight goals, three assists).

The Gunners midfield will be looking to dominate the game. Victoria Pelova, in her first full season for Arsenal, has been the heart of the midfield with Kim Little. When it comes to assists, Pelova leads the way for Arsenal with five, having created 26 goalscoring opportunities for her team-mates.

But all eyes will be on Manchester City, who have won each of their last 14 WSL games, the joint-longest winning streak in the competition’s history alongside Arsenal’s run of 14 victories between March and November 2022.

Man City know a 15th win would not only break that record, but also put them on the brink of glory – they have the opportunity to become champions in their own hands and Taylor’s side are close to wrapping up a historic season.

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