Alessia Russo: Why Arsenal’s new striker leads race to be Lionesses’ starting No 9 at Women’s World Cup


Only a matter of seconds tends to define a strikers’ success rate on a football field. A finite window. They wait patiently for the moment, poised to pounce, actively searching and surveying.

In fact, most of what a traditional No 9 does happens in anticipation. The big chance, the big goal, even the big move. Alessia Russo’s trajectory can indeed be traced in that order.
The chance to shine at Euro 2022, the attention-grabbing back-heel against Sweden, the head-turning move to Arsenal that followed.
Russo is primed to dazzle at World Cup 2023. The preamble has been convoluted and confusing, with her Manchester United future shrouded in uncertainty after the Gunners caused a stir in January by making their private pursuit of Russo deliberately public.

A world-record bid with obvious intention was a head-turner for a young player with designs on super stardom, and six months left on her contract.
Now the saga is over – much to the delight of Lionesses boss Sarina Wiegman – Russo can focus on conquering the world stage with a clarity of conscience. A decision she described as “really important for her head,” in a recent interview with The Athletic.

Wiegman got her wish. The message to players pre-tournament was clear: ensure club matters are dealt with before flying to the World Cup. The Dutchwoman runs a tight ship.
Russo is, without doubt, central to Wiegman’s plans but if focus is off by an iota there are players in waiting – strikers who would jump at the chance to be England’s headline act. Forwards who will feel they are owed their shot.

The risk was not worth taking.

So, what puts Arsenal’s new No 23 ahead of the competing pack? And how can England benefit from her elevated rank and status?

Objectively, Wiegman’s stance is bold, but Russo is now perfectly poised. The talent is sublime. The potential is frightening. Warning shots were fired at Euro 2022 – a glimmer of expectation arose from the then-23-year-old’s magic moment, but she was guarded by the front of Ellen White. Russo was White’s understudy and happy to play deputy, but 12 months has passed since that torch was lit.
The chance to step out into the light will be presented this summer.

Euro 2022 was the perfect storm. The precursor. What England fans may well consider in years to come as the making of an ambitious 20-something with class and composure beyond her modest years.

All four of the goals Russo scored during England’s momentous Euros triumph demonstrated readiness. There was a sweet arrogance, as if by design. The wait, only named among Wiegman’s substitutes all tournament, served to enhance her appeal – the ‘super sub’ who captured a home nation’s heart. The people’s player. The name young supporters have since rushed to have displayed on their shirts.
Her mastery of the big moment is something she carried into the WSL last term, saving some of her best performances for the biggest opponents. Arsenal fans will remember Russo’s menacing glance as she headed home a superb stoppage-time winner for United back in November. Next season, the Emirates will be her very own playground.

Instinct is where Russo excels. Her impulse is what creates moments supporters adore, but more than goals, it’s what drives her ability to outshine England’s challenging No 9s.
“I’ve always loved being in and around the goal, trying to create and score,” Russo exclusively told Sky Sports recently. “As a No 9 you are reliant on others, so it’s important you read the play and adapt your movement to fit every cross. I learn by watching my clips in different moments and understanding how to attack at the right time.”

A wise head on young shoulders.

Wiegman is spoilt for choice in forward positions, but will not play with two strikers. She has any profile of No 9 at her disposal – aside from Russo, there is WSL Golden Boot winner Rachel Daly, a worthy owner of England’s No 9 shirt for this tournament, and Beth England, another forward to end last term in rich goal-scoring form.Daly expecially offers stiff competition. Dexterous, with a terrific sense of timing, good aerial threat and bragging a domestic strike rate better than any forward in the WSL. Tempting.

Why Russo, then? Up close, the appeal is clear. Wiegman loves Russo’s press, physicality and industry out of possession. For context, she ranked second across the entire WSL for ball recoveries in the final third last term – there is a pureness to her work.

She slips into pockets undetected, drifts deep then out wide, impossible to track. Each movement is considered as she evaluates the space, waiting for the trigger. Plotting the explosion.


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