Carla Ward: Aston Villa are ‘thin on the ground’ with two unnamed players ‘major doubts’ for Arsenal cup clash

Aston Villa boss Carla Ward says her side, who will be missing key players as they face Arsenal on Wednesday night at Meadow Park, will need to give all they’ve got to progress to the Conti Cup final.

The Villans have made it to the final four in controversial circumstances after they fielded the ineligible Noelle Maritz in their group game against Sunderland, but after defeating Brighton on penalties in the quarterfinals, they are now one step closer to claiming the club’s first trophy.

Ward said: ‘Doesn’t matter what competition it is – I think for me personally, for this group, for this team, you know, Aston Villa have never reached a major final, it’d be absolutely huge.’

‘We’ll do everything we can to reach it, but we know it’s going to be a tough ask. We’re up against, in my opinion, one of the best squads in the country and we’re certainly thin on the ground so it’s going to be a massive gigantic effort to get there.’

Embed from Getty Images

Maritz, Miri Taylor, and Freya Gregory are all cup-tied and cannot feature for Villa, while Adriana Leon is still on international duty with Canada. In addition to existing injuries to Lucy Parker and Lucy Staniforth, Carla Ward also revealed that two unnamed players are major doubts for the fixture.

‘Two players that started at the weekend are major doubts, so of course that is a problem – but like I always say, this group will find a way. We’ll be ready – it’s a semifinal, it’s something we’ve got to look forward to and we’ve got to go and give everything.’

Villa narrowly lost to Arsenal in their last encounter at the Emirates, with two stoppage-time goals for the Gunners undoing more than 90 minutes of solid defending. Last season, though, they secured a 2-0 win away at Meadow Park, which Ward says should boost the team’s confidence.

‘We have to remind the girls that, you know, we’ve been there and we’ve got a result before – not only that, other clubs in and around us have got a result from Arsenal this season. So we have to try and take heart from that.’

She also highlighted the strength of their performance at the Emirates, saying: ‘We have to remember the way that we defended so well for for 96 minutes.’

Embed from Getty Images

‘Arsenal are a top, top side, they really are and they’re a side that can hurt anybody. I believe that they’ve got so much quality – you know they could roll out any 11 and be up there. So yeah, I think that it’s going to be tough, but we have to take some confidence from not just last season but this season at the Emirates as well.’

When asked about the importance of Jordan Nobbs, the match-winning goalscorer in Villa’s win over Tottenham before the international break, Ward was full of praise for how the midfielder had adapted to her role in the team.

‘We played her in a little bit of a deeper role which she’s probably not played before, but I think it’s suited her. I think she’s been excellent in there, she sees the game in front and I think that position has allowed her to. It’s been an important couple of months for us and she’s stepped up in a role that she’s probably not played too much before and she’s been excellent.’

Embed from Getty Images

Nobbs is just one of the players with a wealth of domestic and international experience that Ward said will be crucial for her side tomorrow night.

‘We’ve got winners in our group – we’ve got international winners in our group, we’ve got players that have been there, they’ve done it, you know, they’ve won a lot so you know we’re calling on them to to really step up, use their experience, use their international experience as well as their domestic experience and I think that’s going to be really important.’

She echoed this when asked about takeaways from recent encounters with Arsenal, and what the squad had learned about how to handle such tough opposition: ‘Big game players – I think we’ve got that and it allows us to try and manage those moments. Because let’s be honest – the two squads are miles apart and we have to manage those moments against [in] my opinion a world-class squad.’

Aston Villa face Arsenal at Meadow Park on Wednesday, with kickoff at 19:15 GMT. The game will also be shown live on BBC iPlayer.