There will be no time for Arsenal Ladies to bed themselves in when they return to Women’s Super League action after a two-month hiatus at the weekend.
Shelley Kerr’s team travel to Halton Stadium to take on league leaders Liverpool in a game televised on BT Sport, knowing that victory will reduce the points difference between the sides to five. It must be acknowledged though that the gap is exaggerated given that the Ladies have played two fewer league games than Saturday’s opponents due to cup commitments.
It’s a massive game for both clubs. Matt Beard’s side impressed many in the first half of the season. Collectively, they have improved immeasurably from the team that finished bottom of the WSL in both years since the league’s inception. No surprise really, given the increase in training sessions and the shrewd acquisitions made by the club.
A transitional period is never easy but we've coped with it brilliantly. We'll leave no stone unturned in terms of how we prepare for the gameShelley Kerr
In Natasha Dowie, they possess the league’s top goalscorer. The fine form of Gemma Bonner and Lucy Bronze earned both players a call up to Hope Powell’s Euro 2013 while Louise Fors has been a standout performer in midfield since signing from Western Sydney Wanderers.
The last time the sides met, Beard’s team triumphed 4-0 at Emirates Stadium. It was a result which shocked many fans of the women’s game, particularly given that Arsenal had entered the encounter with a 21-month unbeaten record in the league.
Less than two weeks before that defeat, Arsenal came out on top when the teams met in the FA Cup semi-final at Anfield, producing a competent and at times dominating performance in a 2-1 win - and it’s that display which Kerr will want her team to replicate in Widnes.
“It's a huge game,” Kerr told Arsenal.com earlier this week. “There's been so much talk about it but they are all big games now as the league is very competitive and all the teams are doing well.
“Liverpool are an extremely talented side and we want to prepare as best as possible so we can get a good result.
“We've all moved on quite swiftly from the defeat [against Liverpool]. We played really well in parts of that game and should really have scored a few goals. We didn't and when you play such talented opposition, they're going to punish you for that.
“We had a bad night. We've moved on from it and are coming into the game off a good run of recent form. A transitional period is never easy but we've coped with it brilliantly. We'll leave no stone unturned in terms of how we prepare for the game and I think the girls are really looking forward to it.”
Kerr has spent the summer break working hard with the members of her squad that didn’t travel to the European Championship in Sweden.
Among those are Scottish duo Emma Mitchell and Caroline Weir, who both joined in July.
The pair are players that the Arsenal head coach knows well from her time spent with the Scottish national team and Kerr is confident that they can play a part as the Ladies hunt a third successive WSL title.
“I know Caroline and Emma extremely well,” she said. “I've worked with them and have known them for a few years.
“They've developed into extremely talented players. They are both left footed and I think that will help with the balance of the squad. They are both very versatile too so they will be great additions.
“Emma has been playing in Germany which is one of the best leagues. I think it will be straightforward for her to adapt. She's used to playing against the best teams and players in Europe. We're delighted to get her on board. I don't think the transition between leagues will be much of a problem for her to deal with.
“Caroline has only played in Scotland but she's had a chance to settle in with the girls over the last few weeks and see the level and tempo that is required at the highest level. They've both got great characters as well and I think that helps you to adapt.”Copyright 2016 The Arsenal Football Club plc. Permission to use quotations from this article is granted subject to appropriate credit being given to www.arsenal.com as the source