After Arsenal confirmed that Leah Williamson will be out until next year with a hamstring injury, GiveMeSport Women looks at how her absence could affect both the Gunners and England over the next couple of months.
Williamson was injured in the 1-1 draw against Tottenham on Saturday, in which she played the full match.
The 24-year-old is expected to miss the FA Cup Final on December 5th against Chelsea, Arsenal’s last three Champions League group-stage matches, and a host of WSL fixtures.
Likewise, England will be without Williamson for World Cup qualifiers against Austria and Latvia.
Who will captain England against Austria and Latvia?
Yes, nothing had been confirmed, but Williamson was certainly in the mix to become the permanent England skipper having impressed on a temporary basis.
In the absence of current incumbent Steph Houghton, who has been England skipper since 2014, Williamson captained her country in all four World Cup qualifiers across two international breaks.
Without Williamson, manager Sarina Wiegman may turn to the experience of Ellen White, who is set to make her 100th cap if she features against either Austria or Latvia.
The Lionesses striker is also two goals away from breaking Kelly Smith’s record as England’s all-time top scorer.
Perhaps Chelsea’s Millie Bright could also be an option for the role, with Lucy Bronze, another front-runner to become the permanent skipper, out injured.
On the captain’s armband, Wiegman said: “This is so fresh that [Williamson] won’t be here.
“So we will think, talk to the players, then we will tell you.”
Who replaces Leah Williamson in England’s midfield?
With Williamson out, England will need to replace her at the heart of their midfield for Austria on November 27th and Latvia three days later.
In her squad, Wiegman has turned to Jordan Nobbs, who received her first call-up under the new England boss after being absent from intentional duty since April.
On Nobb’s return, Wiegman said: “We have been following Jordan of course the whole season and she has done well.
“She brings energy, she’s always dynamic, technically good. She’s had a lot more playing minutes and I’m looking forward to working with her next week.”
Other options to replace Williamson include Fran Kirby and Ella Toone either side of a more defensive minded player.
That player could be Georgia Stanway or Jill Scott. Both played in defence as Manchester City lost 4-0 to Chelsea last weekend, and they could return to a more familiar midfield role for their country.
Who replaces Williamson as Arsenal’s ball-playing centre half?
Make no mistake, Williamson is vital to the way Arsenal want to and are playing.
Her range of passing means she has become a crucial component in Jonas Eidevall’s side, who owe a lot to Williamson’s ability to switch the ball to this season’s new and more effective direct style.
Eidevall has noticed the time and space that his centre-backs get on the ball. By playing Williamson in defence, she has been able to set up attacks with less pressure than she would get further forward.
It is important to note that Lotte Wubben-Moy also impressed with her passing against Spurs, and will be at the forefront of how Arsenal cope without Williamson.
It is likely that Jennifer Beattie will return at centre-back, having last played in Arsenal’s 4-1 defeat to Barcelona.
The Arsenal defender is working her way back to full fitness having had successful back surgery at the end of last season.
Other options include Anna Patten, Simone Boye Sørensen and Viktoria Schnaderbeck, who could all play in Williamson’s absence.
Does women’s football need to look at its scheduling?
Following Williamson’s injury, Arsenal’s boss Eidevall said the current schedule was “almost inhuman.”
His side’s draw at Tottenham was Arsenal’s third match in six days.
Eidevall said: “We played late Sunday night, we had to travel away in Europe mid-week, then we played Saturday lunchtime.
“We had a really tough week. No other team in the league has been asked to play in such a tough schedule like we did.
“Try to find any other English women’s team that plays with that schedule including the travel. I don’t think it’s fair.
“If English teams are going to succeed in Europe you need to look at that and try to make it better and not only look to please the television’s wishes on kick-off times.”