No room for error as Arsenal and Chelsea start sprint to the line in Women’s Super League title race

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 (Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

“We are not stupid. If we draw, drop just two points, they will be champions.”

That was Pep Guardiola talking earlier this week, but it could just as easily have been Emma Hayes or Jonas Eidevall as they stand at the start of the Women’s Super League run-in.

Comparisons between the men’s and women’s games can often feel lazy, but it is impossible not to marvel at the quality across the no-margin-for-error title races in the country’s two top divisions, a point separating Manchester City from Liverpool in the Premier League and the same paper-thin margin between Chelsea and Arsenal in the WSL, with both sets of teams having stoked their rivalries in FA Cup semi-finals this month to boot.

In a WSL season that has been celebrated for its growing competitiveness and depth, it says plenty about the top two that standards at the summit have not slipped. Should Chelsea win their final four matches - as they may well have to if they are to defend their title - they will finish just a point shy of their record-breaking effort of last year, while Arsenal doing likewise would match the tally of second-placed Man City a year ago, even if, as then, it does not prove enough to lift the trophy.

Remarkably, there is a fair argument that neither side has even reached their full potential this term, Chelsea never quite matching their treble-winning form of last season, Arsenal’s amalgamation of midfield and attacking stars still never quite coming together in the perfect blend, at least on a regular basis.

 (The FA via Getty Images)
(The FA via Getty Images)

“It has been clear for us that when we play at our best we can play against any team but we need to develop consistency on doing our basic principles over and over again,” Eidevall said after last weekend’s 2-0 FA Cup semi-final defeat to the Blues. “That is the most important thing for the rest of the season to feel like we are growing with that and then we can develop into being a really strong team.”

Though they are the chasers, it may be the Gunners that have most to lose as they seek to avoid a third-straight season without silverware, Hayes’ side still with an FA Cup final to look forward to, where they will seek revenge for last month’s League Cup final defeat to Man City.

For Arsenal to have arrived in this position so early in Eidevall’s reign might have been unexpected when the Swede replaced Joe Montemurro last summer and was tasked with building a team to eventually overhaul a dominant Chelsea side that had come within a Champions League final hammering against Barcelona of the quadruple the previous month. But there is no guarantee they will be in it again this time next season, with uncertainty over the futures of several key players, including the league’s best, Vivianne Miedema.

Hayes, by contrast, has stressed the importance of stability in her group, this Chelsea squad having been assembled gradually over the course of her decade-long reign.

“We don’t have a mass exodus in and out of players, I think that really helps,” she said. “We only had two signings in the summer, one in January and when you’ve got continuity it really adds a lot of value to your team and your structures.”

As Arsenal travel to Everton this weekend, their hopes are for now pinned on north London rivals Tottenham, who start a queen-making triple-header on Sunday, facing Chelsea twice in five days before heading to the Emirates for a rearranged derby in the penultimate game of the campaign.

Should both contenders remain foot-perfect beyond that their tussle would, fittingly, go down to the final day.

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