Big signings shake up WSL ahead of Arsenal-Chelsea game

Victoria Pelova of Arsenal during Arsenal Women's practice at London Colney on 13 January 2023 in St Albans, England - GETTY IMAGES

Victoria Pelova of Arsenal during Arsenal Women’s practice at London Colney on 13 January 2023 in St Albans, England – GETTY IMAGES

The Women’s Super League returns from winter break this weekend during the most interesting January transfer window in competitive history.

Big player moves have traditionally been the custodians of the men’s game, and the vast majority of signings involving WSL clubs come with free end-of-contract moves during the summer. Shortage of available cash has made doing business in the winter a relatively unattractive prospect for women’s teams, but that is now changing and multiple factors have contributed to a very active start to 2023.

In certain cases, clubs acted out of necessity. Title-seeking Arsenal has made big moves in the market, largely after two of its biggest stars, Beth Mead and Vivianne Miedema, underwent unfortunate, prolonged injuries in December for end-of-season anterior cruciate knee ligaments. injuries.

Jonas Eidevall’s team is Ajax midfielder Victoria Pelova, who played for the Netherlands in the Euro last summer and also signed one of Europe’s most sought-after young talents to young Danish midfielder Kathrine Kuhl and Canadian goalkeeper Sabrina D’Angelo. grabbed the . They also recalled Brazilian young forward Gio Queiroz, whom he played on loan with Everton, to strengthen his offensive options in the short term.

Arsenal couldn’t afford to have a quiet window, given that they finished the Champions League quarter-finals and chased the WSL title, with both Manchester clubs breathing heavily into the tight top four – and it turns out they’re not done yet.

But it was an Arsenal legend who left the club – 30-year-old English midfielder Jordan Nobbs – that made even bigger waves. He joined Aston Villa to bolster their World Cup prospects after 12.5 years in North London and accelerated the transfer window in women’s football, the biggest global tournament in the sport. Players around the world want to make sure they have the regular playing time they need to earn a spot on the national squads for the Down Under tournament, and this window is their last chance. The World Cup starts on 20 July.

Another factor is the growing number of clubs that aspire to be truly competitive rather than just joining, with countless clubs over the years quite guilty of managing a women’s team just to tick the box.

Aston Villa is an example of a club trying to push the table and – like Nobbs – caught the attention with the addition of another English midfielder who signed Manchester United’s Lucy Staniforth.

One of many players who had previously spent very little on women’s football, Tottenham Hotspur broke club transfer record by signing Chelsea’s Lionesses striker Bethany England for an apparently agreed fee – and indeed a transfer fee record exchanged between two WSL clubs. broke. Withdraw from £250,000 including add-ons. The move, which would have similarly increased the 28-year-old’s chances of making Sarina Wiegman’s squad for the World Cup, was only the third most expensive move in the history of the sport, after Pernille Harder moved from Wolfsburg to Chelsea and Keira Walsh changed the world record. to Barcelona.

Increased transfer activity raises stakes as WSL picks up with Arsenal-Chelsea showdown - GETTY IMAGES

Increased transfer activity raises stakes as WSL picks up with Arsenal-Chelsea showdown – GETTY IMAGES

The threat of relegation led to substantial business by underside Leicester City, who signed Bayern Munich goalkeeper Janina Leitzig on loan for the remainder of the season on Friday evening, just a day after they brought in Australian forward Remy Siemsen from Sydney FC. . The East Midlands club has yet to score a point in the WSL this term and appears to be investigating other players.

They host 11th-placed Brighton in a critical match on Sunday, but the Sussex club will also offer something unknown as this is the first match for their new manager, former Bayern Munich coach Jens Scheuer to be responsible. It quickly added four new players: Chicago Red Stars defender Zoe Morse, Houston Dash midfielder Brianna Visalli, Serbian midfielder Dejana Stefanovic, and Norway defender Guro Bergsvand.

Still, Sunday’s biggest game by far is being played at Emirates, where around 45,000 tickets have already been sold for a match between two of WSL’s top players, Arsenal and Chelsea. That means audience numbers could threaten the all-time league record of 47,367, which was set at the same stadium when Arsenal hosted Tottenham in September.

League leaders Chelsea are three points better than Arsenal but Emma Hayes’ team played an extra game. Both sides have lost almost one point in recent memory since their last match at Kingsmeadow on 11 February last year, when they drew 0-0.

Chelsea will look relatively familiar once they line up, seeing the only transfer ever to come out the window is the signing of Japanese forward Maika Hamano on Friday and then immediately sending the 18-year-old on loan to Swedish club Hammarby IF. On Sunday, Arsenal can give them a new look.

Eidevall’s team will not be two of the top four goalscorers in Mead and Miedema this term and is entering a new era after saying goodbye to Nobbs and bringing in three new faces. What hasn’t changed, though, is the enormous significance of this head-on collision. No team other than Arsenal or Chelsea has lifted the WSL title since 2016.

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