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Kelly Smith backs Arsenal and Chelsea to ‘push on’ in Europe and reflects on ‘goosebumps’ moment at the Emirates

KELLY SMITH is backing Arsenal to bounce back from their injury battle and for their younger stars to shine next term.

And the Gunners legend, 44, believes this season’s WSL title and relegation battles have made it one of the most interesting.

Arsenal will host Aston Villa in their final game of the WSL season today at 14:30Credit: Getty
Centre-back Rafaella is set to make his final appearance for the club, with the Brazilian star set to leave Arsenal this summerCredit: Getty
Kelly Smith believes Arsenal will grow and ‘keep going’ after the injury problems they have faced this seasonCredit: Getty

Reading and Chelsea will face off in a game that is likely to decide who will be crowned WSL champions and which side will be relegated to the Championship.

Three points for the Blues would guarantee them a fourth straight WSL crown under boss Emma Hayes.

And a Royals win could potentially see Kelly Chambers’ bottom side win their battle to beat the drop if Leicester lose or draw with Brighton.

Smith, who is a Barclays WSL ambassador, told SunSport: “It was so exciting because it came down to the last day.

“Whether Man United or Chelsea win, or Leicester or Reading lose, this has been the most competitive season.

“Kelly Chambers is a really good manager and has been in the league for a long time and Reading are a mid-table team.

“But they just fell off as the season went on.

“It will take a miracle to turn that around and beat a team hungry for a third title.”

Defeat at Reading against Chelsea could also pave the way for Manchester United to lift the title for the first time if Marc Skinner’s side beat Liverpool.

Their clash at Prenton Hall is one of six matches taking place later on the final day of this WSL season.

On Skinner and Man United’s efforts, Smith added: “He did an incredible job, especially defensively.

“He’s made them really sound and they have the best defensive record in the WSL.

“Hayley Ladd and Katie Zelem’s partnership has been outstanding in the middle and they all have goals.

Smith believes Manchester United have become better defensively under Marc SkinnerCredit: PA

“They have done extremely well beating Arsenal back-to-back this season and beating Man City. You can see there is belief.”

Smith returned to her old side last month to take up a coaching role and work until the end of this term.

Her stint with the Gunners came in a season where the team struggled with injuries to key players including Kim Little, Leah Williamson, Beth Mead and Vivianne Miedema.

Smith, who won four league titles and five FA Cups with Arsenal, said: “It was difficult for them to lose so many key players to long-term injuries.

“It was mentally difficult for the team, but they worked with a sports psychologist and other players stepped up.

“Lotte Wubben-Moy was quality at the back.

“And the younger players coming up like Katherine Kuhl and Victoria Pelova are getting a lot more playing time.

“When you consider the ones we’ve lost (to injury) like Kim Little, Lia Walti, Beth Mead, Viv Miedema – those players probably wouldn’t have had a lot of match time.

“They would come off the bench to be impact players.

“They will definitely grow out of this and start working next season.

“I expect the next season to be even better for Arsenal. I see it day in and day out with the quality in this team.

“They’re really getting what Jonas (Eidevall) wants from them.”

Smith was in the dugout when the Gunners took on Wolfsburg in a Champions League second leg semi-final in front of a record crowd at the Emirates.

And while they lost 3-2, being on the field with more than 60,000 fans was an unforgettable experience.

Smith, who won the competition in 2007 with Arsenal, added: “It’s hair-raising stuff.

“Coming out as a former player and now a coach and just looking around, it’s like ‘wow, this is unreal.’

Smith expects her old club and Chelsea to continue in Europe next term after reaching the semi-finals of the Champions League this season.

She said: “Chelsea and Arsenal are getting closer having reached the semi-finals.

Smith is hoping to see bigger crowds at women’s games next season after record attendances this termCredit: Getty

“Our players have certainly learned a lot during their campaign playing for the Emirates.

“New players will come for the next season.

“Top players want to play Champions League football. If Arsenal can deliver, it’s a huge bonus for the club.”

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