It was meant to be a crowning night for Leah Williamson. The Arsenal captain was hoping to lead her side to a vital three points over title rivals Manchester United. Instead she hobbled off after suffering a knee injury as her side lost 1-0, leaving their title hopes severely dented.
It’s worrying for Arsenal, as manager Jonas Eidevall stated he ‘didn’t know’ the extent of the injury, but equally as worrying for Sarina Wiegman and England. Since the Dutch manager came in, Williamson has been integral to her back four and was the captain that lifted the Euro 2022 trophy at Wembley.
She’s been the calming presence in the heart of that defence ever since her move back from central midfield. Wiegman has consistently relied upon her captain, alongside Millie Bright, to provide a stable backbone in front of the solid Mary Earps. With Lucy Bronze at right back, that quartet has been integral to the Lionesses success, but if you take Williamson out of that equation, things look far less secure.
It has been an awful season for Arsenal when it comes to injuries. Serious have already hit Kim Little, last season’s top scorer Vivianne Miedema and of course, Beth Mead. The Ballon d’or runner-up ruptured her ACL back in November and is facing a race against time to be fit for England’s World Cup squad.
We are now just three months away from the start of the World Cup, when England begin against Haiti on July 22. If they are heading to Australia and New Zealand without their captain or most influential attacker, Wiegman’s side have little chance of returning with the trophy.
This news comes after England were beaten by Australia on home soil, the first defeat of Wiegman’s reign. The Lionesses dominated possession and yet the efficiency of Sam Kerr and Charlotte Grant gave the World Cup hosts a 2-0 win. It was a massive reality check for the European champions who are 3/1 joint favourites with Betfred to lift the big one this summer.
One of the issues that have caused so many serious injuries in the WSL has been the state of the pitches according to the Arsenal manager. After the loss to Manchester United, he asked for improvement in all areas to try and protect players from injury.
"Of course it's not good that she had to come off. You see the pitch, it is a pitch that has a lot more to [be desired]. I think it's going to continue here with the schedule we have and pitches like that, players are going to get injured. That is something that we all need to improve on, the facilities where we play, so we can keep the players on the pitch."
The hope is that the injury isn’t as bad as first feared. Williamson went down unchallenged and immediately called for help before being substituted. A stretcher came onto the pitch but she was able to walk off with some assistance from a member of staff.
If she is out for the rest of the season, Arsenal won’t win the title. If she misses the World Cup along with Beth Mead, England won’t win the World Cup either.
*18+ | BeGambleAware