Six things Chelsea and Arsenal must do to secure an all-English Women's Champions League final
Arsenal and Chelsea have the chance to make history for English women's football this month. They have the chance to make this year's Women's Champions League final an all-English affair.
Barcelona stand in the Blues' way, the club that beat them in such devastating fashion in the 2021 final. After losing to Lyon in last year's showpiece event, the Catalans are favourites to bounce back and lift the trophy this time around.
The Gunners, who remain the only English club to win this competition thanks to their 2007 triumph, take on Wolfsburg, meanwhile. The German club might not be a giant in the men's game, but they are on the women's side, having been European champions twice.
It's fair to say that both English teams are underdogs for their respective ties. So, ahead of the first legs kicking off this weekend, what do they need to do to overcome the odds and make the final in Eindhoven a London derby?
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Both Chelsea and Arsenal have faced these same opponents fairly recently - and neither started well.
The Blues' first Champions League final will live long in the memory of their fans for all the wrong reasons, with them 3-0 down against Barca after 21 minutes.
Given the Catalans' ability to control games, it's incredibly important that doesn't happen again, as it's very difficult to get back into a game against them once they have taken the lead.
In fact, Barca have won all of the last 82 games in which they've scored first, a run that stretches back two whole years.
For Arsenal, it's a similar story. When the Gunners faced Wolfsburg in last year's quarter-final, they conceded inside the first 20 minutes in both the first and second legs.
The German club have heaps of experience and plenty of know-how when it comes to game management. It's important that neither English side gives their opponent a head start.
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Step up as a squad
Sadly, for the clubs themselves but also for the neutrals, both Chelsea and Arsenal will be without a number of key players for these fixtures.
The Blues have been without Fran Kirby for large parts of the season and that will be the case again for this semi-final. Their starting centre-back pairing of Millie Bright and Kadeisha Buchanan are also ruled out.
One boost is that Pernille Harder returned to the squad for last week's FA Cup semi-final win over Aston Villa, but she still hasn't played since November.
Arsenal, meanwhile, suffered a huge blow when Leah Williamson ruptured her ACL in Wednesday night's defeat to Manchester United. It rules her out of this tie, while also cruelly ending her season and her hopes of leading England out at this summer's World Cup.
That came just days after the club had announced the end of captain Kim Little's season due to a hamstring problem. Caitlin Foord is also a doubt for this semi-final, while Vivianne Miedema and Beth Mead have been out with ACL injuries since late 2022.
It means both teams need others to step up. These are big players to be without and it will be imperative that the squads make sure their absences are felt as little as possible.
Fortunately, the very thin silver lining is that both have had plenty of practice at this, such has been their torrid time with injuries all season long.
Despite their impressive performances against Bayern Munich in the previous round, Arsenal could've just as easily not made it to the last four. The Gunners were dominant and created plenty, but were only 2-1 winners on aggregate after wasting a host of big chances.
Chelsea, meanwhile, played very well in the first leg of their quarter-final tie against Lyon, but were only 1-0 victors against the defending champions. As an away result, it was a great one, but their home performance was very disappointing and they needed late drama and a penalty shootout to prevail.
Neither side can afford to have regrets this time around. Bayern and Lyon are top teams but Barca and Wolfsburg are performing at an even higher level right now and will punish the two English clubs if they do not take their chances and make their good spells count.
That's especially important when you consider how little of the ball Chelsea are likely to see against such a possession-heavy Barca side, and how clinical and effective Wolfsburg are. Indeed, Ewa Pajor and Alex Popp, two of their most potent attacking weapons, are having unstoppable seasons in front of goal.
Something that applies to both teams in different ways for these ties is the importance of patience.
For Chelsea, it will be more about when they are out of possession. The Blues are happy to play on the counter, which will suit them in this fixture, but it's imperative that they do not get frustrated at spending larger amounts of time without the ball than usual.
It's especially important for when they do get on the ball, for it'll be crucial for them to make the right decisions and not force things, as Barca will win the ball back and, in transition, they can be deadly with wide players such as Caroline Graham Hansen and Fridolina Rolfo.
Arsenal won't dominate like the Catalans, but will have a bit more of the ball in comparison to Chelsea so, for them, it'll be about waiting for the right moment to break down what is a very strong Wolfsburg defence.
The two-time European champions have conceded just nine goals in 17 league games this season and recently shut out Bayern in a 5-0 thrashing in the cup.
If the Gunners are not patient and give the ball away too easily, Wolfsburg have some very quick players who could well punish them on the counter, too, such as Pajor, Sveindis Jonsdottir and Jule Brand.
Watch the centre forwards
Often, when managers are asked about the threats that opposition players pose, they stress the need to not focus on one individual as another will simply harm you instead. It's cliché, but it's true.
Both Barca and Wolfsburg boast tons of stars that need to be kept on a leash, but if there is one thing the defences of Chelsea and Arsenal need to do, it is the basics.
It's no good marking Barca's star midfielder Aitana Bonmati out of the game, for example, if you are simply going to fail to track the run of Asisat Oshoala in the box and allow the Nigerian goal machine a simple tap in.
Wolfsburg star Popp, meanwhile, has plenty of extraordinary talents, but she is also fantastic at losing her marker and then winning a header with ease against a centre-back that has no idea where she is.
That communication between the defenders will be absolutely key to avoid conceding a goal that could've easily been avoided by a little bit of talk and concentration.
At this level, on this stage, those mistakes will be punished. Give world-class forwards too much time and space, and they will score.
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Let their own stars shine
It's not just Barca and Wolfsburg that have star-studded squads, though. Arsenal and Chelsea are in these semi-finals because they are two top teams with plenty of match-winners.
Chelsea star Sam Kerr is joint-second in the UWCL scoring charts this season with five goals, as is Arsenal midfielder Frida Maanum. Only Bonmati (6) has more assists than Stina Blackstenius (4), the Gunners' centre forward who also has three goals to her name from eight appearances.
Guro Reiten has produced match-winning qualities all season for the Blues, too, none more stunning than her wonder strike in the first leg of the quarter-final against Lyon, while Lauren James has been a revelation.
Arsenal, meanwhile, have Brazil captain Rafaelle, a continental champion, in the heart of their defence and, out wide, the wicked left foot of fan favourite Katie McCabe.
Of course, there are reasons for fans of both clubs to be wary of the threats the opposition can pose, but there are plenty of reasons to be confident in the ability of their own players, too.
This is a very big stage and both Chelsea and Arsenal belong on it. Let's not forget that.