Emma Hayes knows the reigning Barclays FA Women’s Super League champions Arsenal will be a tough test for her side, but the Chelsea Women manager is focusing on how we can cause problems for the Gunners at Kingsmeadow on Sunday.
With a bulk of the Blues squad returning to training from international duty today, it leaves just days for Hayes’ side to prepare for the derby. However, the Chelsea boss remains as relaxed as ever and insists her team's preparations for Sunday’s clash will be the same as any other game.
Arsenal are the early frontrunners in the WSL having won three games out of three and Hayes’ team are yet to be beaten despite drawing against Brighton and Hove Albion in our first away game of the campaign.
‘We are very much focused at taking one game at a time,’ said Hayes. ‘Regardless of the opponent our focus will be throughout this season on just making sure we’re at our best to perform at our highest level.
‘Although it’s a derby game we don’t prepare anything differently, we’ll have to assess how everybody is because they are all coming back from all over the place because of international camps. But it’s an opportunity for us to assert ourselves at home, that’s important in front of our fans.
‘We approach this as we do every game which is that we want to be in the hunt for the league title so we have to express ourselves on Sunday if we want to get three points,’ Hayes continued.
Prior to the international break in which many of our players starred, including Bethany England who netted her first senior England goal, and Euro 2021 qualifier victories for our Swedish, Norwegian and Swiss players, the Blues produced a commanding 4-0 triumph against Bristol City. Hayes will be looking for the momentum to continue on Sunday.
‘The players know what I expect and I know that this is a group committed to push on from last season and I feel this is an ideal opportunity to demonstrate the work that we’ve been doing throughout the early part of the season and pre-season.
‘It’s a game where you have got to take your chances and that is something we’ve been concentrating on and defensively we’ve been solid and that has to continue if we’re to come away with a win.
‘At the top, games are won and lost in just a few instances so it’s important for us that we we’re efficient and collectively we make it difficult for Arsenal and that we carry out everything that we’ve been working on.’
Although our visitors ran away with a 5-0 win the last time they came to Kingsmeadow, our away fixture ended in a 2-1 victory to the Blues and we beat the Gunners 3-0 most recently when we met in Round 5 of the Women’s FA Cup last term.
‘We know they are a top team, they are the champions of England and rightly so,’ Hayes stated. ‘So while we know it’s a difficult game as they’ve got threats throughout their team, so do we and we’re just starting to find our rhythm and with players coming back to full health, it certainly gives us depth, especially in the attacking options.
‘I don’t think we can forget that game,’ Hayes responded when asked about last season’s heavy defeat. ‘Everybody is aware of the result but also that result triggered a really good European campaign for us, so a lot of good came from that.
‘Arsenal demonstrated that if you’re efficient in front of goal which they were that day, you can score those goals against top teams and for us it’s about focusing on ourselves and being conscious that the most important things that matter are what we do.
‘We’ve got our own strengths, we’ve got to play like a collective unit going forward and defensively and we have a great chance of winning the game if we do those things.’
This match will be our second home league game of the season but our first at our KT1 fort, and the Chelsea manager knows how important the role our fans play is, and has urged those thinking of attending to come and support her team.
‘The difference our home fans make in terms of influencing the team is by the noise they make. Last season the fans showed why they are the best in the country and if we’re going to progress again this year that noise has to increase because you have to make home advantage count.
‘Home advantage doesn’t just mean playing on your own grass and being in your own dressing room, it’s the fans that make the difference in the performance.’
Tickets for Sunday’s derby cost £9 for adults and £1 for juniors (aged under 20) and £1 for seniors (ages over 65).
Season tickets are available until midday tomorrow (Friday) and can be purchased for just £49! The ticket includes all remaining home league games plus home Women’s FA Cup and Continental Tyres Cup fixtures. Juniors and seniors can enjoy the action for £5.