Last night I suddenly realized how much I missed this kind of European night.
Sure, the men’s team played a couple of Europa League semifinals at the Emirates but nothing really beats a Champions League knock-out game at home.
Although the result wasn’t great, the performance from the girls was very encouraging and I bet that everyone came out of the game with a few valuable lessons – the first being that every small mistake gets punished, at this stage.
Losing would have been very harsh on the team, yet we were dangerously close to coming out of the game empty-handed and risked to concede a second goal when Wolfsburg hit the post twice in a matter of seconds, which would have pretty much wrapped the tie up. We got a well-deserved equalizer through Lotte Wubben-Moy, who controlled a sharp pass from Tobin Heath and smashed the ball past Wolfsburg goalkeeper from inside the box, liberating everyone from a big pressure.
I believe that the team felt that pressure from the very first minute and it resulted in some players rushing their decisions, especially in the final third and especially through Beth Mead and Katie McCabe. I can’t help feeling that we could have finished the chances we created in the first half, with a bit more of composure, before and after Wolfsburg’s opener. Speaking of the goal scored by our opponents, it was an eye-opener in terms of ruthlessness and level of competition because Wolfsburg was very cynical in punishing a first mistake in the build-up and then the miscommunication in the box between Leah Williamson, Kim Little and Beth Mead, which led to Tabea Wassmuth’s free header from close range.
The opening goal is often decisive in such games and conceding such an easy one could have been a sucker punch for our girls, who reacted very quickly instead and kept putting pressure on a quite passive Wolfsburg side that seemed happy to hit on the counter; Vivianne Miedema, Beth Mead and Katie McCabe were the most productive upfront while Stina Blackstenius grew through the game and started to find her feet in the second half, when she couldn’t finish a golden chance and then saw her goal ruled out for offside, rightfully. We had the chances to win the game but Wolfsburg were always a threat, so I guess that the draw is a fair result, in the end, although it leaves a feeling of unfulfillment, overall.
The return leg is going to be a nervy affair because the away-goals rule has been scrapped so it will feel like a final, more than a second leg. Will it be an advantage for us? I think it could be but we cannot underestimate Wolfsburg superior experience in such games as the Germans are into their tenth consecutive Champions League quarter-finals while we chase our first semi-final for the first time in nine years.
If there is something that helps building some positivity, is that this team doesn’t quit: we fought back to earn a point against Tottenham in the last second, we did it again both Manchester teams and snatched a draw against Wolfsburg – these aren’t just coincidence anymore.
Pressure will be huge in Germany so I guess that Jonas Eidevall will rely on some more experienced players and especially on Tobin Heath, who started the home game on the bench but is expected to start the game at the Volkswagen Arena, next Thursday. The American had a huge impact when she came on, setup Lotte Wubben-Moy for the equalizer and created all kind of problems to Wedemeyer down her flank. Jonas Eidevall referred to Tobin Heath as the ultimate “points player” so he might be tempted to give her a central role on the biggest stage and take the maximum from the player’s skills, experience and mentality, both to galvanise the team and intimidate the opponents.
Let’s not get carried away too quickly, though, because there is very important North London Derby scheduled on Saturday, or should I say there could be? It is going to be very interesting to see what happens with Saturday’s game against Tottenham, given how the neighbours had their game against Chelsea postponed following a Covid-19 spread in their ranks. I think I’d rather prefer to see it postponed to a later date and give the team a whole week to prepare for the Champions League game in Germany but it might result in a severe fixture congestion, so I still have doubts about it.
Anyway, let’s celebrate this positive result for the time being, take in all the feelings from a memorable night and the lessons we all learned, then we will start thinking about what lies ahead.
There is nothing quite like a Champions League night at the Emirates Stadium, under the lights.
Thirty-something Italian, currently in Switzerland. Gooner since mid-ninties, when the Gunners defeated my hometown team, in Copenhagen. Twelve years ago I started my own blog (www.clockenditalia.com) after after some experiences with Italian websites and football magazines. Debate, don’t insult or you’re out.