By Tony Leighton.
Saturday, 16 August 2008.
Arsenal’s domination of The FA Tesco Women’s Premier League is set for a powerful challenge as significantly strengthened rivals head into the new campaign with the aim of stopping the Gunners from claiming a sixth successive title.
But Vic Akers side will still be the team to beat despite losing key players to Chelsea, who have signed England colleagues Lianne Sanderson, Anita Asante and Mary Phillip – the latter after being released by Arsenal.
With three England internationals already in their line-up Chelsea should press for their first major honour, as should Leeds Carnegie who last season had a best-ever third place finish in the League and were FA Cup runners-up to Arsenal.
Leeds, like Chelsea, have boosted their squad with a couple of key signings. Carla Cantrell has been brought in from Doncaster Rovers Belles and fellow striker Ellen White has arrived from Chelsea, though sadly White has suffered a long-term injury.
The team most likely to run Arsenal closest, however, have made no signings whatsoever. Everton will be happy to go into action with the same squad that last term beat the Gunners in the Premier League Cup Final and ended second in the table.
The Toffees have an injury problem with England striker Jody Handley who broke a leg during the close season, but in highly promising 17-year-old Toni Duggan they have an able replacement who will help keep the pressure on Arsenal.
The quartet of Arsenal, Everton, Leeds and Chelsea will be expected to fill the top four places but there will be competition from the likes of Blackburn Rovers, Bristol Academy and Doncaster Rovers Belles in the wake of each club’s summer signings.
Watford, who last season finished a creditable seventh after promotion from the Southern Division, will be looking to push on as will Liverpool after they ended just above the relegation places following their rise from the Northern Division.
The Reds have a new manager in Robbie Johnson, who has taken over from David Bradley, and at Birmingham City there is also a new boss with Stuart Wilson moving from Midland Combination club Coventry City.
Former Birmingham manager Laura Harvey has switched to the Arsenal coaching staff while two of the club’s top players, captain Laura Bassett and left winger Dannii Bird, have also joined the Gunners.
Blues will be hoping that despite those departures they can improve on their showing last season, when they finished ninth in the 12-team table. They could face another tough season, however, as could newcomers Fulham and Nottingham Forest.
Fulham have lost last season’s top scorer, Ann-Marie Heatherson who has joined Millwall Lionesses, but will be aiming to consolidate after climbing back to the top flight just 12 months after being relegated.
For Forest the new campaign will be their first ever in the National Division, where manager Lisa Dawkins will pin her faith in the players who did so well to pip Lincoln to the Northern Division title.
Ins and outs at the National Division clubs
In: Laura Bassett (Birmingham City), Dannii Bird (Birmingham City), Natalie Ross (Hibernian), Niamh Fahey (Salthill Devon)
Out: Lianne Sanderson (Chelsea), Anita Asante (Chelsea), Mary Phillip (Chelsea), Sarah Wiltshire (Watford).
In: Laura Husselbee (Watford)
Out: Laura Bassett (Arsenal), Dannii Bird (Arsenal), Chelsea Weston (Doncaster Rovers Belles).
In: Danielle Hill (Everton), Chantelle Parry (Liverpool), Faye McCoy (Liverpool), Tammy Byrne (Liverpool), Crystal Parker (Stockport)
Out: Jayne Eadie (Doncaster Rovers Belles), Sian Payne (retired).
In: Katy Daley (Cardiff City), Helen Wood (Truro City), Kirsty Richardson (Team Bath), Rachel Simkin (Bournemouth)
Out: Jessica Fishlock (AZ Alkmaar), Nicki Watts (Penn State University).
In: Anita Asante (Arsenal), Lianne Sanderson (Arsenal), Mary Phillip (Arsenal), Brooke Chaplin (Portsmouth)
Out: Ellen White (Leeds Carnegie).
Doncaster Rovers Belles
In: Nicola Hobbs (Lincoln City), Chelsea Weston (Birmingham City), Tanya Rich (Leeds Carnegie), Rachel Williams (Leicester City), Naomi Chadwick (Hull City), Suzanne Davies (Rotherham), Sarah Dickens (Bradford)
Out: Carla Cantrell (Leeds Carnegie),
Out: Danielle Hill (Blackburn Rovers).
In: Elisha Moran (Watford)
Out: Ann-Marie Heatherson (Millwall Lionesses), Leah Jones (Millwall Lionesses).
In: Carla Cantrell (Doncaster Rovers Belles), Ellen White (Chelsea)
Out: Amanda Barr (OOH Lincoln), Georgie Adams (Watford).
In: Georgie Donnelly (Hampton Road Piranhas), Linda Mathisen (Katten)
Out: Chantelle Parry (Blackburn Rovers), Faye McCoy (Blackburn Rovers), Tammy Byrne (Blackburn Rovers).
In: Claire Wallhead (Sheffield Wednesday), Sam Griffiths (Alfreton Town)
In: Georgie Adams (Leeds Carnegie), Sarah Wiltshire (Arsenal), Jodian Clarke (ex-Chelsea), Holly Miles (Team Bath), Kelly Bingham (Bedford Belles)
Out: Laura Husselbee (Birmingham City), Elisha Moran (Fulham).