Date: 8th April 2012 at 11:40am
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Preparations are now full steam ahead for the Arsenal Ladies, who open the defence of their Women`s Super League title today at home to Everton. Last weekend saw a disruptive break for Euro 2013 Qualifiers- thought both Steph Houghton and Ellen White registered for England in a 6-0 win over Croatia. Meanwhile, stalwart centre half Ciara Grant becomes the first woman to reach 100 caps for Republic of Ireland. Last time out the girls` defeated today`s opponents Everton in the F.A. Cup Quarter Final at Meadow Park to book their place in the semi finals.

The schedule is looking rather busy for Laura Harvey`s side. Next Sunday they play the first leg of their Champions League semi final against Frankfurt, followed by the away leg six days later. The following weekend they will play Chelsea Ladies twice in three days. A WSL encounter at Emirates Stadium on Thursday, 26th, followed by a tie at Griffin Park in the F.A. Cup semi final. Both Arsenal and Chelsea will know who awaits them in the final by the time they kick off, with Birmingham City playing Bristol Academy in the other semi final next weekend. Arsenal kickoff their season without the re signed Kelly Smith. I told you in my match report for the Everton cup tie that she seemed to be heavily plastered and on crutches. It turns out she`s aggravated a stress fracture which makes her extremely doubtful for this summer`s Olympics, with England Ladies the favourites to take the crown.

The girls were busy last weekend trying to raise the profile of the Women`s Super League when they hosted a free football festival at Meadow Park for girls aged 7-16 to spend a day training with the likes of Rachel Yankey, Faye White, Ellen White and Alex Scott. Football Focus were invited to do a feature on their flagship Saturday show. As far as the WSL campaign goes, Arsenal will once again be hot favourites. But with European commitments to juggle, the curtain raiser against Everton will probably go a long way to identify what sort of shape Harvey`s side are in. Games between the two sides are usually incredibly close and Everton, along with Birmingham City, will most likely be Arsenal`s biggest challengers for the title. After today, the Ladies next home game is at Borehamwood on Sunday, 15th April. A Champions League semi final no less against Frankfurt. As ever, tickets are £2.50 concessions, £5 adults. The girls will appreciate and need the support, I`m sure.

Moving onto the Reserves now and things have been moving along on that front despite the absence of any Reserve Premier League fixtures. With the likes of Wilshere and Diaby on the cusp of full fitness, behind closed door friendlies were arranged, first with Reading at London Colney. Abou Diaby played 60 minutes unscathed before being replaced by Conor Henderson. It was the Irishman`s first game since rupturing a cruciate ligament in pre season. Henderson had been drafted into the first team squad for pre season, having signed a long term contract last year and starting the cup replay against Leyton Orient last February. However, this is Henderson`s second serious knee injury before his 21st birthday, so how he recovers will be crucial. Zak Ansah has undergone successful surgery as he starts his recovery from the same injury.

Arsenal then arranged another behind closed doors friendly against Birmingham City Reserves last Wednesday. It was strongly suggested that the game had been intended for Jack Wilshere`s recovery. However, there was no sign of him in the line up, with suggestions that his progress has been halted by a small bout of tendinitis. The manager has spoken already about Jack`s fitness, explaining that caution is the order of the day and that he needs to demonstrate fitness for Arsenal before he can contemplate going to the Euros with England. I think Arsenal are right to treat this one with kid gloves, but I`d rather he went to the Euros than the Olympics. Provided he`s physically fit enough, he could even get rid of some of that ring rust in an England shirt and aid his preparations for 2012-13 at Arsenal. We`re going to have to deal with the fact that Wilshere will be going to summer tournament`s regularly throughout his career eventually. In any case, a strong Arsenal side, featuring the likes of Santos, Chamakh, Park and Diaby drew 1-1 with Park Ju Young scoring. You have to think he`s more worthy a spot on the bench than Chamakh.

Meanwhile Swiss right back Sead Hajrovic extends his loan to Barnet until the end of the season. It seems incredibly likely that he will be released this summer. Henri Lansbury, on loan at West Ham, has been relegated to the “Development Squad” (which is what West Ham call their Reserves). He captained the Hammers` stiffs to a 2-1 win over QPR last week, scoring a scorching 40 yard volley to win the game. Nevertheless, you have to believe that his Arsenal prospects will also be curtailed this summer, given that his wages are in the £15-20k bracket, not making Championship West Ham`s first team squads doesn`t augur well from an Arsenal perspective.

Arsenal Reserves play their penultimate fixture of the season at the Northumberland F.A. against Newcastle United on Tuesday night. With the first team playing 24 hours later away at Wolves and with the likes of Aneke, Afobe and Yennaris out on loan, it will likely be a team of next year`s scholars who will look to prove their mettle. The likes of Josh Rees, Jeffrey Monakana and Jordan Wynter may feature. Abou Diaby could well be pencilled in too. Speculation abounds around the coaching set up at Reserve level too. Pat Rice retires this summer, meaning Arsene Wenger will look to appoint a new number two. It`s hotly tipped to be an internal promotion, with Neil Banfield and Steve Bould in the frame. (Ligue 1 scout Gilles Grimandi is also an outside bet). It will be interesting to see what develops there. Anyway, more next week. LD.

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