In 2022, the inaugural Arnold Clark Cup acted as the perfect warm-up for England before they hosted the European Championship. Head coach Sarina Wiegman was able to experiment with ideas, including the Millie Bright-as-makeshift-striker option that later helped the Lionesses turn around their EURO quarter-final against Spain. This year, as England prepares for the 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup in Australia and New Zealand, one of the most important questions needing answered is what they would do in the absence of Fran Kirby.
For years, the Chelsea attacker has been one of the first names on England’s team sheet, but only when fully fit and available. That hasn’t always been the case, her career challenged by misfortune. She recovered from pericarditis, a serious heart condition, to reach her potent best in 2021. Then, in 2022, she was struck down by extreme fatigue that briefly threatened her chances of playing at the EUROs. As she misses out on this year’s Arnold Clark Cup with a slight knee issue, England once again faces the reality of life without one of their most talented players.
Kirby has enjoyed a unique role in Wiegman’s system. Within that 4-2-3-1, the 29-year-old is the team’s only real ‘free’ player. Behind her, Keira Walsh and Georgia Stanway do a lot of crucial work in build-up; outside of her, Lauren Hemp and Beth Mead or Chloe Kelly provide speed, dribbling and tantalizing deliveries; ahead of her, the striker runs the line and occupies defenders. Kirby roves around, looking to make things happen, causing carnage with her dribbling and runs, and scoring goals.
England have a few different options to consider for this free role while Kirby is out, and the upcoming Arnold Clark fixtures against South Korea, Italy and Belgium offer a perfect opportunity to try out each one. What do these players bring to the table? Can any of them replicate what Kirby offers? And if not, how do they affect the team dynamic?
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