What happens when an unstoppable force meets another unstoppable force?
Fans will find out at 12:00 GMT on Sunday, when Arsenal and Chelsea meet in the Women’s Super League, in arguably the biggest club game in European women’s football.
Both sides have been in irresistible domestic form – Chelsea have won nine consecutive games in the competition and are the WSL’s top scorer with 31 goals in 10 games.
Arsenal are three points behind in second place, having played one less game, and have also lost just one league game this season – at home to Manchester United in November.
It was in European competition that the two really caught the eye, having reached the Champions League quarter-finals by winning tough groups.
Arsenal edged defending champions Lyon after surprising the eight-time winners 5-1 in France in their first group match.
Chelsea, meanwhile, cruised through Group A with 16 points from six games, making light work of a pool also containing PSG and Real Madrid to exorcise the memory of their exit from the group stage 12 years ago. month.
Former England international Anita Asante, who played for both Arsenal and Chelsea, thinks the argument that their encounter is the most important in European women’s club football has merit.
She told BBC Sport: “Whether either team is the best in Europe, time will tell, but if either team reaches the Champions League final , that will put them in this conversation. They are definitely two of the best teams in Europe.
“It’s up there for me, personally. Look in Spain, no team is close to Barcelona. In France, Lyon have beaten PSG nine out of 10 times.
“And look at the thin margins – it’s a difference of a goal or a decision every game.”
“It’s the definition of the season”
Regardless of the size of the game debate, he will certainly play a huge role in deciding the English league title.
Arsenal and Chelsea have won the last six WSL titles between them – Chelsea have won five, including the previous three – and while Manchester United and City were both in fine form before Christmas, it would take a remarkable turnaround for the trophy to leave London.
“It’s the definition of the season,” says Asante.
“If Chelsea beat Arsenal they will feel in control, and vice versa. They both know there is a lot at stake; the league is tight and it’s hard to win if you drop points, especially against teams. rivals next to you in the table.
“If Chelsea win, they’ll be six points clear. It’ll be a huge buffer, having that cushion and knowing they have to chase you.”
If Arsenal want to close the gap, they must do so without two of their key players, Beth Mead and Vivianne Miedema.
Mead and Miedema are expected to miss the rest of this season with anterior cruciate ligament injuries in their knee. Mead suffered his own towards the end of the 3-2 loss to United, with Arsenal’s woes compounded by the Netherlands international suffering the same injury weeks later.
Arsenal continued to impress even without the pair, however, and Asante says she was hugely impressed with the team’s mentality and resilience, which could be key against Chelsea.
She said: “It’s a travesty that they lost two key players, but even before that players like [Caitlin] food and [Frida] Maanum took space and responsibility, especially in attacking play.
“It’s a resilient team, which has imposed itself. Return captain and leader [Leah] Williamson is key, Raffaele Souza has been a great signing.
“The problem is in the long term. They’re all aiming for trophies, and the manager can’t rotate as much as he wants, that’s where the problems will arise. They trust the players they have, they all have an identity that everyone agrees with. . I spoke to Jen Beattie and she said it was better that she played in terms of unity.”
“I hope for a moment of inspiration”
Chelsea, meanwhile, have been close to perfection since losing 2-1 to Liverpool on September 18 in their WSL season opener. They haven’t lost a game in all competitions since, with Sam Kerr and Fran Kirby leading the goalscoring charts.
They haven’t suffered long-term injuries to the same extent as Arsenal and have seen their squad bolstered by the return of Melanie Leupolz after maternity leave. For Asante, this team strength could give them the edge.
“For Chelsea they have always been a relentless team,” she said. “They have so many options off the bench that seamlessly flow into the squad.
“What makes Chelsea dangerous is that they can hurt you with or without the ball. They are so dangerous on the counter-attack, with those focal points in Kirby and Kerr.
“Their only weakness is themselves, individual mistakes – they play from the back, a lot of teams fail in those moments. Ann-Katrin Berger is an exceptional goalkeeper but she made one or two mistakes recently.”
Last season, only one point separated these two teams in the final standings for the title, and head to head in the WSL era, nothing separated them. In 22 WSL encounters, the two have won nine each and there have been four draws.
So where will the game be won and lost?
“I always think games are won and lost in midfield,” Asante says. “The battle of midfield, the team that serves the players who cause the most damage. Erin Cuthbert to Kirby, [Guro] Reiten gets delivered to the right areas. Chelsea score a lot of goals the same way, if they do they can win.
“I hope these are moments of magic rather than error – a moment of inspiration. Every time we’ve had a derby it’s moments like this, like Sophie Ingle’s volley in 2020. I hope it’s one of those games.”