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FA Dispatch: Arsenal Makes Moves and Positives from Loss to France

Tidbits from the England Women’s National Team, the FA Women’s Super Leagues (FA WSL), and behind-the-scenes looks into women’s football in England, both on and off the field.

Arsenal Cull Set to Continue

With all the talk toward the end of the 2016 season about Arsenal needing to tailor their squad down to a more realistic number, the club dropped the bombshell last week that Seattle Reign FC and Scotland midfielder Kim Little was returning to the club on a “long-term” contract.

While Manchester City were keen to bring Little back to the FA WSL in recent years, Arsenal was the only club prepared to make her the highest paid player in the league and the extra wages now give head coach Pedro Martínez Losa all the more reason to whittle down his squad.

With high earners set to leave in their droves, Arsenal should have more than enough left in the bank to bring in one or two more big names to add quality over quantity as they prepare for the 2017 Spring Series. Former United States international Heather O’Reilly played 90 minutes in a closed-door friendly for the club on Sunday afternoon while Jodie Taylor also got 20 minutes — the club is hopeful she could be involved in the final game of the season

Kelly Smith, Rachel Yankey, and Emma Byrne could all end their Arsenal playing days at the end of the season while the club has also announced the departures of Marta Corredera, Vicky Losada, and Natalia. The latter has already dropped out of the Spain squad and all three have seen that it’s time for a new challenge.

Josephine Henning is not expected to be playing their football in North London next year and one player is already planning her next move after coming to an agreement with the club she would move on this winter. There could be further loan spells for Chloe Kelly as the club could also consider loan offers for Leah Williamson.

Lost at… Wingback

It was painful to watch Chelsea’s Gemma Davison floundering at wingback against France on Friday night. I’m a huge fan of Davison but a wingback against top opposition she is not.

I don’t believe for one minute head coach Mark Sampson genuinely went into the game knowing 3-5-2 was the best or worst formation to try against France; it’s simply the manager once again experimenting while there are no consequences.

Had England been beaten heavily, Sampson would know using 3-5-2 against a top side wouldn’t work and the whole notion could be binned. However, defensive signs were positive but Davison’s natural attacking instincts meant she left Claire Lavogez unmarked on more than one occasion.

Given Lucy Bronze’s dislike for playing as a center back, it seems odd Sampson wouldn’t choose to play Bronze as a wingback with other center backs available. Despite the absence of Gilly Flaherty, Sampson could have turned to Casey Stoney or Laura Bassett but neither have been used in a starting role regularly since the World Cup.

Positives from a Dull France Affair

Despite once again failing to trouble a top side’s defense or goalkeeper, Sampson can at least take a few positives away from Friday night’s match.

The team has come a long way since their 3-0 drubbing at the hands of France at Euro 2013 and while Sarah Bouhaddi had little to do, neither did Karen Bardsley. A back three of Bronze, Steph Houghton, and Jo Potter kept Eugénie Le Sommer and Gaëtane Thiney quiet, and despite missing several key players, England held out comfortably.

Sampson felt the late disallowed goal for Toni Duggan was unjust and said after the game only one side would have won had the game gone to extra time. Out of contest it appears to be a silly comment, but Sampson had a point and was hinting toward all the fitness testing England have recently undertaken at St. George’s Park.

Though France appeared to be tiring, England’s best spell came in the last 10 minutes and they did generally look fitter and more capable of going the distance than an esteemed opponent for the first time under Sampson.

It’s a big risk to take hoping you can keep a top side out for 90 minutes, especially in a knockout tournament and Sampson has now less than a year to work out how to combine a watertight defense with the ability to score at the other end.