Arsenal beat Chelsea in a thriller at the Emirates yesterday to kick off their Women’s Super League campaign in the perfect way.
The Blues are defending league champions and were unbeaten in eight competitive matches against Arsenal since their 5-0 drubbing in 2018.
While the Gunners strengthened in key areas over the summer and boasted a strong starting 11 on paper, Chelsea were still considered the favourites leading into the game.
Yet, Emma Hayes chose to rest stars like Fran Kirby, Sam Kerr and Sophie Ingle –– all of whom played integral roles in last season’s title triumph.
When discussing her reasoning for benching these three, Hayes was adamant she was acting in the best interests of her players and emphasised that other members of the squad have trained hard recently and earned their spots.
“They [Kerr, Kirby, Ingle] had three weeks off,” the Blues boss said. “Arsenal gave their players none. You can’t expect the players who have been playing for seven weeks pushing their levels to a certain point are going to be ahead of the players that have just returned.”
The English manager also stressed that yesterday’s match will not define Chelsea’s season and that Arsenal’s decision not to rest players may have an impact as the season progresses.
“My players got a break. After a long 18 months, think of the players that didn’t get a break. They might be okay today, but these professional players are putting in a lot of time.
“I will say from years of experience, let’s fast forward to the end of the season and see the impact.”
In contrast, Gunners boss Jonas Eidevall has a different philosophy on this matter. The Swedish manager took over from Joe Montemurro this summer, having previously been at FC Rosengård.
Eidevall spoke of managing the workload of his players and exemplified the need for his top stars to play as much as possible.
“The best players in football have always played the most amount of games. So to be a top player, you need to play a lot of games. If you want to be a top team you need to be able to play a lot of games.”
The 38-year-old highlighted the need to be smart between games so that players maintain enough energy to play.
“As a coach, you need to be clever on how to recover between games and how we build fitness early in the season.”
It’s interesting that both managers have a different stance on this subject, but it’s Eidevall who’s benefitted from his decision making, in the short term at least.
Added to this, the Gunners also profited from a contentious decision from the line judge yesterday. Beth Mead’s second goal was shown to be clearly offside on replay but with no VAR, the goal stood.
The cost of implementing video technology in the WSL has been deemed too expensive at this stage and Hayes says it’s time the women’s league stopped being treated like second class citizens.
Ultimately, Eidevall’s first league win as coach is a big statement so early in the season. Chelsea will inevitably bounce back and are still very much in contention, but for Arsenal, perhaps it’s time to start dreaming of a league title triumph themselves.