By Adam Millington
MANCHESTER, England (Reuters) - The Women's Super League resumes at a pivotal point in the title race, with Arsenal looking to dispel failings in recent years and supplant Chelsea at the top of the standings following the month-long break.
The Blues have won the league for the past three seasons but sit only three points ahead of their London rivals, who last won the title in 2019, having played a game more as the two prepare to face on Sunday.
Arsenal announced on Tuesday that more than 40,000 tickets had already been sold for the clash at the Emirates Stadium and will hope that their fans can spur them on to a crucial victory.
Chelsea are without a win in their last four meetings but are formidable opposition having gone unbeaten in their last 15 games in all competitions.
They will take solace in Arsenal lacking England winger Beth Mead and club-record goalscorer Vivianne Miedema, with both being long-term absentees through ACL injuries.
Later on Sunday, Manchester United face Liverpool for only the second time in the WSL.
Liverpool have returned to the top flight after a two-season absence but take on a United side who are searching for a Champions League spot and will want to extend their two-point advantage over Manchester City.
"We hope it's as rivalled as the men's fixture going forwards," United boss Marc Skinner told a news conference.
"What that takes is not only being geographically close enough but more and more experience playing each other to build that history."
Tottenham will be able to deploy star signing Bethany England for the first time when they take on Aston Villa in the first game of the weekend on Saturday.
England joined the club last week, with the Daily Mail reporting the north London club paid a British record 250,000 pounds ($303,600) for the forward.
Villa will be a stern test though, with England internationals Jordan Nobbs and Lucy Staniforth reinforcing their side after moves from Arsenal and Manchester United respectively.
Leicester City replaced manager Lydia Bedford with former Everton boss Willie Kirk in November, but they remain bottom of the table after losing all of their opening nine games.
Leicester are in dire need of points if they are to avoid the drop in their second season in the top flight as they face second-bottom Brighton & Hove Albion, who have seven points, on Sunday.
Fifth-placed West Ham United face Manchester City, who are unbeaten in their last 10 games in all competitions, as the London side, who are four points behind their opponents, look to retain their rare position at the upper end of the table.
Everton have rapidly improved from last year's campaign in which they finished 10th to now find themselves sixth ahead of their game against Reading.
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(Reporting by Adam Millington; Editing by Christian Radnedge)