Carney: Arsenal side to beat in WSL; Smith shocked at perfect start

Arsenal have been transformed into the team to beat in the Women’s Super League under the stewardship of Jonas Eidevall, according to Karen Carney.

Eidevall took the reins just two months before the start of the 2021/22 season following Joe Montemurro’s departure but has defied expectation and taken his new team to new heights.

The Gunners boast a 100 per cent record at the five-game mark and sit three points clear of Chelsea at the top of the WSL, and Carney believes Arsenal’s fast start could prove decisive in this season’s title race.

“Eidevall has adapted well at Arsenal and his team seem to come up with an answer for whatever the opposition throw at them,” she told Sky Sports’ Women’s Super League MNF special.

“Everton tried to flood the midfield on Sunday, and they went around them, they had to go long against Manchester City and did just that, and defensively they have looked solid.

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Speaking on the Monday Night Football WSL Special, Kelly Smith and Karen Carney debate whether Arsenal or Chelsea have the stronger squad.

“I’ve really enjoyed what the manager has brought on the pitch and with his personality. Eidevall has made Arsenal more direct. If teams open up against them, they will hit you. They are improving on set plays and there is added variation from Arsenal.

“Arsenal have played teams are the right time and have run away with the league. They have won the early mental battle. They have beaten Chelsea, they have beaten Manchester City, and the challenge has been laid down: who is going to beat them?”

Smith ‘shocked’ by Arsenal progress

Arsenal's flawless start to the 2021/22 Women's Super League season
Image: Arsenal’s flawless start to the 2021/22 Women’s Super League season

Six-time league-title winner Kelly Smith expressed her surprise at the rapid progression Arsenal have made under Eidevall and revealed how the Swede has transformed the atmosphere in the Gunners camp.

“You never know how a team is going to react when a new manager comes in,” Smith told Sky Sports. “Jonas has taken over good Arsenal side after Joe Montemurro laid a good foundation.

“They’ve kept a lot of their core players from last season and added some quality like Tobin Heath, Mana Iwabuchi, Frida Maanum and Nikita Parris – all outstanding attacking players.

Arsenal style comparison: Joe Montemurro vs Jones Eidevall
Image: Arsenal style comparison: Joe Montemurro vs Jones Eidevall

“Eidevall has got Arsenal playing a different way; their pressing has been more intense and aggressive, on the front foot and has won them the ball higher up the pitch, and they have had a longer ball game, playing ball in behind.

“It has made Arsenal a little bit less predictable and I must admit I have been a little bit shocked they have won their first five games.

“I was concerned whether Eidevall had gone too early with his celebrations in the 3-2 win over Chelsea, but he’s certainly delivered in these first five games.

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Kelly Smith analyses the qualities of Arsenal striker Vivianne Miedema and explains why she’s such an asset to the team.

“I was at the training ground last week and spoke to him and he said he loved this group of players and that he thinks he can advance and develop them. The players I spoke to said he’d brought energy and a buzz to the club so, right now, the players are loving it.”

As for Arsenal’s title credentials, Smith believes injury management could prove decisive in the Gunners’ quest to finish top of the pile.

“I do feel that if Little stays fit then Arsenal are the title favourites,” Smith added. “There are a number of other factors of course. Beth Mead is in sensational form, there’s also Katie McCabe, but she is the link to this special Arsenal team.”

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Highlights of the WSL match between Arsenal and Everton.

WSL team of the season so far…

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On a special WSL edition of Monday Night Football, Karen Carney and Kelly Smith pick their teams of the season so far.

Sky Sports’ Karen Carney:

“For me, I’ve gone for a 4-4-2 as I need to fit all the attacking players in! I have to mention Louise Quinn for Birmingham in defence as without her I believe things could’ve been significantly worse. She’s shown good leadership and has been defensively really solid.

“Dagny Brynjarsdottir has been really influential for West Ham in midfield and the rest of the team really speaks for itself with Kim Little, Fran Kirby, Sam Kerr and Vivianne Miedema. They’ve been absolutely outstanding.

“Sarah Mayling is a modern-day full-back and I’m a big fan. It broke my heart when she went to Aston Villa! She plays very attacking and the balls she plays, any centre forward would love to get on the end of them.

“In some games, set pieces can be the difference and her crossing is so good. She’s got elements to develop defensively but she’s very good going forward. She’s come on leaps and bounds.”

Karen Carney (red) and Kelly Smith (blue) have picked their WSL team of the season so far
Image: Karen Carney (red) and Kelly Smith (blue) have picked their WSL team of the season so far

Sky Sports’ Kelly Smith:

“I’ve gone with Becky Spencer in goal as I feel she’s been outstanding for Tottenham. Ona Batlle has been superb at left-back for Manchester United, getting up and attacking and solid defensively.

“Ella Toone has shown great link-up play and deserves to be in the team. I feel her best position is in the No 10 position. When she gets on it there she can be frightening, creating chances for herself and others. She can turn, twist on the ball and score goals.

“Shelina Zadorsky has been at the heart of the Tottenham defence and has been outstanding. She’s a mainstay for me alongside Spencer.”

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