Man United, Arsenal are ceding the WSL title race to Chelsea

Halfway through the 2022/23 women’s Super League season with Chelsea top of the table, is it too soon to declare them winners after the Blues’ closest rivals dropped points again at the weekend?

The proposition for the teams at the top of the WSL will always be to steer the season with as few points lost as possible, with the acceptance that winning every single league game is a stretch. However, we’ve seen teams go entire seasons without losing a game – Arsenal in 2012, Manchester City in 2016 and Chelsea in 2017-18 and 2019-20 – and indeed a team can benefit a great deal from a draw, especially when it is is one plucked from the clutches of defeat.

However, a tie can also be a significant blow. Arsenal fans may remember from their 2017/18 season how a goalless draw against Yeovil Town hurt their title chances and isolating them – because they finished a point behind Manchester City – kept them out of the Champions League next season, despite that being the Case was was one of straight Seven Games they couldn’t win.

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With Sunday’s stalemates for second-placed Manchester United and third-placed Arsenal, one has to wonder if that will be a draw too many for either side at this point in the season as they chase Chelsea at the top of the WSL table. As the Blues witnessed the final minutes of a nervous 3-2 win over Spurs earlier in the day, Arsenal’s frustration in front of goal at West Ham may have put any title challenges for the season out of reach. Hours later it was Manchester United who sat two points behind Chelsea and failed to score against a determined Everton side.

It’s worth noting the excellent goalkeeping performances of Courtney Brosnan and Mackenzie Arnold in the nets of Everton and West Ham respectively. The two goalkeepers have worked hard to stay clean and help their teams earn a point, which only complicates matters for Man United and Arsenal respectively from here.

There’s plenty to analyze as to why neither United nor Arsenal were able to score on 25 and 21 aggregate shots respectively – the Red Devils were particularly stubborn, managing just four shots on target. To their credit, Arsenal worked more on Arnold with their nine shots on goal, fully camped in the West Ham half and preventing the Irons from even having a shot of their own after the 10th minute. Compare that to the nine tries Chelsea managed against Spurs – and three goals from five shots put on the frame – and you can see three different games in which both Spurs and Everton can take on their opponents .

It’s easy to expect different results on another day when both United and Arsenal find just enough to beat Brosnan and Arnold – as we know sometimes in football that’s the way it is. But there’s only one team that consistently finds just enough in every game: Chelsea. Tottenham’s two goals came from two shots on goal and Chelsea was Really sloppy at the back – the team clearly misses the presence of defender Magda Eriksson when she’s not on the pitch. But the Blues have done what they have done so consistently since their first WSL title in 2015 and found enough to get them over the line.

Indeed, Chelsea caught the eye of WSL at the turn of the year when Arsenal had a chance to overtake both Chelsea and Man United to top the table with a win over the Blues. In the 88th minute at the Emirates, the Gunners were on course to tie the reigning champions on points, but then disaster struck: Chelsea striker Sam Kerr nodded the ball over goalkeeper Manuela Zinsberger’s raised glove. The result, a 1-1 draw, was a major setback for Arsenal, but with just three points adrift of Chelsea and a game in hand, it was not the end of their title challenge. But with every week that Chelsea finds a way when their challengers can’t, every point lost becomes more important.

Sometimes it’s about Chelsea’s perfectly executed plan and how they can exploit their opponents’ weaknesses. For others, it’s a magical moment like the one produced against Spurs by forward Lauren James, or simply the benefit of partnerships that have been worked on week in and week out. The Blues are consistent in their ability to score and pick up points, even in games where they look positive, like their January draw with Arsenal when they were without a shot on target until the last 10 minutes.

With 10 games remaining for Chelsea and United and 11 for Arsenal, it seems far too early to declare anyone champions when Chelsea’s lead could be dissolved in a single matchday. Yet a stumble never seems to affect the Blues once the finish line is in sight, as their four WSL titles in the past five seasons would suggest.

Arsenal manager Jonas Eidevall may regret the club’s inability to hire a “prolific striker” in the January window and has said he wanted after the Gunners’ world-record bids for star striker Alessia Russo were rejected by Man United. For all the quality in the Arsenal team, with every single player able to score regardless of position, it was that lack of clinical completion that cost them Sunday’s game against West Ham as it did against Chelsea in January. Back-to-back league draws may not have been the nails in the coffin for Arsenal, but their title challenge requires medical attention.

As for United, who fell apart in the second half of the season last year and finished fourth and needed to follow in Chelsea’s footsteps and win a couple of games ugly Already this season, the team has to find a plan B in frustrating games in order not to slip out of the race again.

At the moment Chelsea are at the top of the table with a small buffer between them and the pursuers and that’s where they like to be. Challengers like Arsenal and Man United should hope they don’t look back on last weekend as the moment they ceded the WSL race to Chelsea because wresting the title from the Blues may be harder than trying to win the Pull newspaper out of your dog’s jaws. Man United, Arsenal are ceding the WSL title race to Chelsea

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