The Arsenal Women Journal – An Underwhelming Night Under the Lights

Leah Williamson
Not ideal, right? Last night’s result leaves us in a very tricky position because we have to go to Amsterdam next week and win, if we want to make it to the Champions League group stage.

All in all, the draw is a fair result as we started slowly and Ajax looked the better side for almost the entire first half, before we managed to find some rhythm and gain some momentum. It is especially frustrating because we didn’t look ready for such a big night and Ajax were stronger, quicker and sharper than us in every department.

We didn’t look the usual version of ourselves and were made to pay by our opponents, in a very cruel way. When Kim Little converted the penalty to complete our comeback, it looked like we had the job done and could control the final half-hour of the game, only to see Ajax increase their tempo again and take us by surprise. Their goal might have come against the run of play, but they were getting closer and closer to us and we could have tighten things up a bit more.

I don’t think we’ve been naïve, but we surely lacked some composure and probably weren’t expecting such a physical side on the other end, especially in the final stages of the game. I read plenty of takes about WSL being “too easy” for clubs like ours and there might be some truth in that, but I don’t think this is the reason behind last night’s result. We couldn’t truly find Vivianne Miedema between the line and Ajax did very well in limiting the spaces available to Stina Blackstenius, something that Brighton failed to do.

It’s not over yet, far from it, because we can go to Amsterdam and win but we will need more aggression and more sharpness in our passing or Ajax will limit us the way they did at Meadow Park. For all the possession and control of the ball, we didn’t truly trouble their goalkeeper except for those moments when we had the right level of urgency. As soon as we showed that urgency, we were able to carve some good opportunities and threaten them, which leaves me optimistic for the return leg.

If we manage to play like we did in the opening stages of the second half or in the last minutes, we have a good chance to progress to the groups stage.

Despite the result, there were some positive notes from the game: Lina Hurtig had a good debut and showed some promising glimpses of her directness and pace, but the standout performer was Rafaelle, who was very impressive at both ends of the pitch. The Brazilian, on his debut in the Champions League, was almost impeccable at the back and caught the eye with some powerful runs with the ball, coming close to scoring what would have been a memorable goal. Last night showed why Rafaelle is so highly-rated and how important she will become for the way we play because she can defend but she can also participate to the build-up and break the opponents’ press, whether it is through a dribble or an incisive pass.

Also, Rafaelle is slowly becoming our main aerial threat on set-pieces and had a hand (head, actually…) in Stina Blackstenius’ equaliser, following a very impressive tally of three shots in the home game versus Brighton, something a striker would be proud of!

Anyway, what is done is done and we cannot change last night’s result. We can, however, look forward to the all-important next seven days, during which we will face Tottenham at the Emirates Stadium and then travel to the Netherlands for the first in-or-out game of the season. Hopefully we will get the three points in the North London Derby and feed off the atmosphere in the stadium, where over 40,000 supporters will cheer on the team, and travel to Amsterdam full of confidence and positivity. Looking back, I believe it was more of a mental problem than physical, technical or tactical problem so I am confident that going to Ajax place with the right state of mind would prove to be decisive in us progressing to the groups stage. In order to get to the right state of mind, we need a memorable night at the Emirates Stadium on Saturday.

Be there if you can, and support the players as they arrive at the first crossroads of the season.

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