On a knife-edge

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As Chelsea Women prepare to face Arsenal away on Sunday lunchtime, a fixture which many believe will define the title race, the game is on a knife-edge, writes Jane Grove.

On a blistering run of form (even since defeat by the Gunners), Chelsea know that they are facing one of the toughest matches of 2019.

According to the latest batch of Opta stats, released today, league leaders Arsenal have already scored eight more goals than in the whole of last season.

And Arsenal are the only team Chelsea have lost more than 50% of their WSL fixtures against (53.3%, or 8 of 15).

Yet the clean sheets that the Blues are accumulating spell hope. Chelsea have conceded fewer goals than any other team in the WSL this season. Just five… but all to Arsenal.

The Gooners’ Vivianne Miedema has now played the same number of WSL games as last season (11) but her goal and assist output has significantly increased (4 goals/2 assists last season, 14 goals/7 assists so far in 2018-19). She’s signed a new deal with the club, although her very recent form hasn’t lived up to her usually sky-high standards. She¬†has not provided a goal or assist in her last two WSL appearances, her worst run since the final two games of last season.

As well as Fran Kirby returning to scoring ways in the Conti Cup midweek match against Reading, Ji So-Yun is the form player to watch. A sub on Wednesday night, she has created 42 goalscoring chances from open play, 13 more than any other player in the WSL this season.

Meanwhile Beth England, mysteriously overlooked by Phil Neville for the national side, is the outfielder who has now played the most games in WSL history without ever picking up a yellow or red card (61 games). A phenomenal achievement for such a whole-hearted and committed player and tackler.

What does manager Emma Hayes make of the fact that England is not in the team that bears her name… despite the Chelsea fans’ familiar Kingsmeadow chant ‘England for England’? “I can’t control those decisions,” she said. “All I can ask is that Beth keeps doing what she’s doing. Phil’s in a World Cup year and he’s probably got his group in mind and it’s hard for a player that’s outside of that. But I’ve no doubt that Beth will make that level.”