England captain Leah Williamson will return to the Arsenal matchday squad for Saturday’s Women’s Super League clash with Everton at Meadow Park.
The defender, who has not played in a match since September due to a foot problem, was pictured back in full training on Friday.
And Arsenal boss Jonas Eidevall said at his pre-match press conference: “We have Leah and Rafaelle (Souza, who has also been out with a foot injury) able to go back into the matchday squad, so that’s obviously pleasing for us. Starting XI? Everyone will know tomorrow.
“When I see us practice and these two players coming into our environment, I think it helps us a lot. I think that would boost any team, certainly it does for us.
“I think when you see a player like Leah coming into the environment, you can definitely see what qualities she will bring, both on and off the ball and with her leadership. It’s the same with Raf – it’s two quality players.
“I think she (Williamson) is very motivated, getting back onto the pitch, helping the team to achieve things.”
Those still on the Gunners’ injury list include Beth Mead, who sustained an ACL injury in the 3-2 loss to Manchester United at the Emirates Stadium on November 19 that ended their 100 per cent start to the campaign.
Eidevall’s side are currently second, three points behind leaders Chelsea with a game in hand.
Eighth-placed Everton were edged 2-1 by Manchester City in their last league match, and boss Brian Sorensen said: “I think we can play with top-four teams – on the day we showed that against Chelsea (a 3-1 defeat) and City.
“It’s about what we learn from those games and how can we try to take that into a game against Arsenal, who of course are big favourites. We have to play at our very best to compete in that one.”
Third-placed United – who joined Arsenal on 18 points from seven games with the dramatic, come-from-behind win at the Emirates – are in action at Old Trafford on Saturday, facing Aston Villa in front of what is set to be a record crowd for the team at the ground, with ticket sales having hit 36,000 on Friday morning.
Boss Marc Skinner said: “We love to play at Old Trafford but regardless of that, it’s about performance for us.
“We have to use the positive energy from it (the Arsenal result), but more importantly it’s the experience of that moment.
“What I was really impressed with from the team was that we were not going to say die and we kept trying to score. I want to see that again in this game.
“Of course, they’re buoyant from the win but it was the collective nature of the win.”
Villa are fifth after a 3-1 victory over Reading last time out that saw Rachel Daly notch a hat-trick, taking her to eight WSL goals for the season.
Boss Carla Ward said of the England international: “She’s exceptional, unbelievable. She knows where the back of the net is. Thankfully she’s an Aston Villa player and she’s someone I’m sure opposing teams will be talking about in the build-up to games.”
In Saturday’s other fixture, top meets bottom as Chelsea face Leicester – yet to register a point this term – at the King Power Stadium, the Foxes’ third game since replacing Lydia Bedford with Willie Kirk.
Chelsea boss Emma Hayes said: “Willie has taken over, they’ve had a couple of weeks to prepare. I know they’ve been really stingy defensively, so I expect them to be a tough outfit to break down.”
Kirk, who has so far overseen a 4-0 loss to Arsenal and then a 1-0 defeat at West Ham, said: “It’s all moving in a really positive direction.
“We just need those points to give the players something tangible to make sure they get what they deserve from their performances.
“The challenge they (Chelsea) pose is one of world-class levels. I’d like to think we have a group of players who look forward to that challenge rather than shrink. We need to be near-perfect to take points from Chelsea.”
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