Arsenal begin Women's Super League title defence

By Alistair MagowanBBC Sport

Birmingham and Everton are expected to be the main challengers attempting to dethrone Arsenal as the Gunners begin the defence of the Women's Super League title on Sunday.

Laura Harvey's team face Everton, Birmingham travel to Lincoln and Liverpool host Bristol, while on Monday Chelsea take on Doncaster.

Arsenal are also hoping to retain the FA Cup and Continental Cup titles.

"It's our aim to win everything again," captain Faye White told BBC Sport.

"The neutrals out there will want other teams to be competitive and it was last year, we went right down to the wire.

"The big games against Everton and Birmingham were tough, and we found Bristol quite hard as well."

Arsenal have boosted their chances of completing a domestic treble by signing striker Kelly Smith, right-back Alex Scott and forward Gemma Davison after the collapse of the Women's Professional Soccer league in the United States.

But Smith will miss most of the first half of the season, before it breaks for the Olympics, after worsening an ankle injury.

Birmingham led the WSL for most of last term, before they were caught by Arsenal, while Everton were made to pay for a poor start to the season.

But Everton midfielder Jill Scott believes her side have learned their lesson despite losing left-back Rachel Unitt to rivals Birmingham.

"We had a really good second part of the season, we beat Arsenal and Birmingham," BBC Sport columnist Scott said. "That was frustrating for us, we know we can do it but we don't do it consistently enough.

"Last season we needed more games in preparation and this season we have addressed that so hopefully that will help us."

As well as Unitt, Birmingham have captured England striker Eniola Aluko, who began her career at the Blues.

And she is hoping to chalk up a key partnership with last season's Super League top scorer Rachel Williams.

The Blues are also in the semi-finals of the FA Cup and could face Arsenal in the final on 26 May.

"If winning the league wasn't the goal, then what's the point in playing?" Aluko told BBC Sport. "It's important to strive for the top and [director of football] Marcus Bignot has made it very clear that the intention is to do better than last year. There is a belief in the squad that we can do that.

"There is a great attacking potential at Birmingham and hopefully I can add to that."

Aluko, whose brother Sone plays for Rangers, also returned to England after playing in the United States.

And she said she is still adjusting to semi-professional status in English football after playing full-time for American side Sky Blue.

"It's been a bit of a culture shock for me," she added. "The American league is very different, and is a lot higher level in terms of the football that is played. The English league is very physical.

"Marcus has a certain way of playing, he gets his point across to the players and we try and put it into practice. You can see that in the way we have started our season, we have done well in getting results and long may that continue."