This week’s post should be titled ‘Of Goodbyes And New Beginnings’. While there’s not much action on the pitch with the Women’s Super League, Continental Cup and Champions League done for 2013, there are two players the Arsenal Ladies will have to say goodbye to, once the football restarts in 2014. It will also mean the first season which will incorporate the new WSL structuring that I’d written about back in May.
Currently an 8 team league with no danger of being relegated down to the Premier League, from 2014 the Women’s Super League will also feature a 2nd tier of ten teams. There will be relegation and promotion between the two tiers but without connection to the PL below. This means the WSL will look a little something like this:
WSL1: Arsenal, Birmingham City, Bristol Academy, Chelsea, Everton, Notts County (formerly the Lincoln Ladies), Liverpool and Manchester City.
WSL2: Aston Villa, Doncaster Rovers Belles, Durham, London Bees (Barnet FC), Millwall Lionesses, Oxford United, Reading, Sunderland, Watford and Yeovil Town.
With this season already having proved the increasing competitiveness in the top levels of the women’s game, these additional changes will only increase the potentially interesting development as Liverpool try to defend their maiden title and Arsenal fight to reclaim a trophy that’s been theirs 2 out of its 3 years. There is also the factor of stronger squads and newer teams and talent.
One such team in the top tier will be Manchester City, who currently play in the Premier League. 2014 will mark their debut season in the Women’s Super League and their buying glut suggests a determination to compete with the best. Their acquisitions already include Arsenal Ladies player Steph Houghton, Everton Ladies striker Toni Duggan (who won England Women’s U-23 Player of the Year award and scored 13 goals in this year’s WSL) and their fellow England internationals midfielder Jill Scott (also a former Everton player with 74 caps for England) and goalkeeper Karen Bardsley (34 caps for England).
Houghton has previously represented Sunderland and Leeds before her three year stint at Arsenal where she helped them win back-to-back WSL titles (2011-2012), 2 FA Cups, 3 Continental Cup titles and 3 consecutive Champions League semi-finals.
Both had only good things to say about each other, with Steph admitting that she was excited about City’s plan for the competing in their first WSL and the future, and knew she wanted to be a part of it. She also added,
“I’d like to thank Arsenal very much for everything they’ve done for me. They’ve helped me to grow as a player and it was a massive decision for me to leave. I had three very successful years there and I didn’t take the decision lightly.”
“Steph’s a great player and she’s been fantastic for us since signing from Leeds back in the summer of 2010. We’re sad to lose her of course, but we wish her all the best for her time at Manchester City.” (Arsenal Ladies General Manager, Vic Akers)
Another departure is that of the beloved Kim Little, who has been with the Gunners for 6 years, through 11 major trophies. The Scot midfielder who won the inaugural PFA Women’s Player of the Year award back in March was a star player for the Arsenal Ladies and will be sorely missed. She has joined Seattle Reign on a long-term contract and will rejoin former Arsenal manager, Laura Harvey. Giving her final interview to Arsenal.com, Little admits that it was a very hard decision but also that the chance to play in a professional league in USA was too good to turn down.
“Playing in America has always been an ambition of mine. To get the opportunity to play in the professional league and work with Laura Harvey is my main reason for joining Seattle Reign. It’s obviously very difficult to leave Arsenal – I’ve had a great six years here. I’ve worked with so many great players so it was a very difficult decision but it’s one that I feel has been made at the right time. I’ve had a lot of great memories at Arsenal – probably too many to mention. Winning the Women’s Super League title and the two cups last season are probably my highlights.”
The midfielder also has the confidence and faith that Shelley Kerr and the team had enough depth and quality to win the WSL in 2014.
The Gunners town team would like to wish both Steph and Kim all the best at their respective new clubs. Their presence will be really missed and it looks like Kerr will have a busy time getting in new players before the start of the season. If you remember, Arsenal had ensured their passage through to the quarterfinals of the Champions League after a resounding 6-2 aggregate win over Glasgow City Ladies. The draw has them pitted against Birmingham City in the last 8. The short trip away to the West Midlands will be on March 22 or 23, and the Gunners will host the home leg on March 29 or 30. If Arsenal progress, they will play the winners of SV Neulengbach and Tyresö FF. The rest of the semi-final draw as well as ticket details can be found here.
Until next time, Gooners. Keep the faith!
Clear Eyes. Full Hearts. Can’t Lose.