The new Women’s Super League season will be kicking off this weekend, and Arsenal Ladies will be hoping to fight for the title they last won in 2012.
For the most successful women’s side in history, being in contention is the base requirement for a season.. Arsenal Ladies manager Pedro Martinez Losa will be under no illusions as to how difficult it will be this season to maintain their lofty expectations.
Not since 2003 has Arsenal Ladies suffered the ignominy of going through a campaign bereft of silverware, but with the rise of Manchester City Women and Chelsea Ladies in recent seasons, the Gunners must elevate themselves higher than before if they are to avoid a potless season.
What hasn’t helped is their exit from the FA Cup at the Quarter-Final stage at the hands of Birmingham City. The Blues triumphed with a 1-0 victory which was earned through an inspired performance from goalkeeper Ann Katrin-Berger. Danielle Van De Donk, Danielle Carter and Kim Little were all thwarted by the Birmingham stopper, and the Gunners were sucker-punched by a 77th minute Marisa Ewers goal – which was enough to dump Losa’s Gunners out of the Cup they had won four times out of the last six seasons.
Without this ever-reliable source of silverware to fall back on, the Gunners will be looking to clinch a first title since 2012, but with Manchester City Women and Chelsea Ladies being heavily backed in the transfer market, Losa and his charges will be fully aware of the need to step up a level after falling short last season.
That saw Arsenal Ladies finish in third place behind the two new powerhouses, and this new campaign looks likely to be just as difficult.
City have continued to strengthen their side, and with USA star Carli Lloyd on their books, they look to again be the frontrunners for the title. They can also call on the talents of former Gunner Steph Houghton, Lucy Bronze and Toni Duggan. City are well equipped and armed to the teeth.
Chelsea have also added to their already strong squad, with Ramona Bachmann coming in from Wolfsburg and Crystal Dunn arriving from Washington Spirit. With Karen Carney and Eniola Aluko also extending their contracts with the Blues, Chelsea will be in contention at the business end of the season.
What of Arsenal though?
It promises to be one of two things for the Gunners – a season of transition or one of progression. Losa has been busy in this transfer window, partly due to his hand being forced thanks to two club legends leaving the club.
Firstly, Kelly Smith has retired from football. The England and Arsenal icon has been at the forefront of Womens Football and has helped move the game into the spotlight, but now she has said her goodbye’s, can the Gunners actually fill the void left by such a high-calibre departure?
It didn’t stop there either. Casey Stoney has joined Liverpool Ladies, and the defender will be a big miss at the back for Losa. Experience is vital in defence, and Stoney was unrivalled in that department. With Spaniards Marta Corredera and Vicky Losada also leaving before a ball has been kicked, as well as German Josephine Henning, it was clear Losa must act quickly if any hope of success was to be made tangible.
A huge signing has seen Kim Little return to Arsenal after a spell with Seattle Reign. The Scotland attacker was a talismanic and decisive figure for Arsenal in her first spell at the club, and if she can recreate this form this season, the Arsenal will be in the running. Another new body of note would be the return of Carla Humphrey after spending last season on loan at Doncaster Belles. Humphrey grew in stature and Losa was quick to bring her back into the fold and extend her contract. This looks to be a wise move. Alex Scott looks to have a huge responsibility on her shoulders to marshall this new look defence.
It may look that Arsenal are a little short in defence, but with an attack that can boast of Jordan Nobbs, Kim Little and Danielle Carter, Losa’s side will be good value for entertainment. Can the Gunners compensate for their lightness at the back with goals? They will need to if they are to overthrow Chelsea and City, as well as see off the emerging threat of Birmingham City and Liverpool Ladies.
This upcoming season of the Womens Super League looks poised to be the greatest one yet.