The Arsenal Women Journal – Defeated in Germany but ready to fight in London [FCB 1-0 ARS]

How could we not score at the Allianz Arena?
This question is still working me up, several hours after the final whistle.
We definitely deserved more from the first leg of the UEFA Women’s Champions League quarter-finals, especially in the second half, yet we head home with what is probably the worst possible score we could take.

Leah Williamson pep-talk to her teammates

Leah Williamson trying to galvanize her teammates (Photo by Arsenal media team)

Bayern were as solid as we could expect, well-drilled at the back and very dangerous in attack, where Lea Schüller showcased all her sublime qualities, and pushed us back in the opening minutes, only to gradually lose their aggression as the minutes went by. We did absorb the hosts’ pressure and slowly took control of the operations, especially through the wings where Caitlin Foord was unplayable at times, but could not capitalize on the chances we had.
Bayern grew again in the second half of the opening 45’ and deservedly got the lead, courtesy of Lea Schüller towering header over Laura Wienroither, who was made to pay the price for the physical gap with the German striker. From that moment onwards, though, it was all Arsenal: Caitlin Foord hit the post, Stina Blackstenius had a header cleared off the line and Leah Williamson could not hit the back of the net from close range, in the middle of a scramble in the heart of Bayern’s penalty area. To some extent, we could consider ourselves lucky to get away with a narrow loss, though, as Manu Zinsberger had to produce a very fine save to deny Damnjanovic with five minutes to go.

After the game, Jonas Eidevall said he felt part proud, part disappointed and part angry, for different reasons: proud for the performance, disappointed with the result and angry at the referee and lack of technology in such a big game. It is unclear whether he referred to VAR or to goal-line technology but I agree that the officiating has been very below-par throughout the game, although it was not a decisive factor for our loss.

The team acknowledges the 200+ travelling fans after the final whistle (photo by Arsenal)

The team acknowledges the 200+ travelling fans after the final whistle (photo by Arsenal media team)

The return leg at the Emirates Stadium is going to be a very tricky affair because it is always difficult to chase a game without committing too many bodies in attack and therefore leaving too many spaces in behind. If the team keeps its composure and structure, showing patience and calmness, we have a good chance to progress because last night’s game showed that we can put our opponents under huge pressure and create enough chances to win the tie.

I am not sure about potential changes and twists from Jonas Eidevall, given the performance produced by the team, but Victoria Pelova surely is in contention for a place in the starting XI, next Wednesday, as she truly changed the momentum of the game when she stepped in for Noëlle Maritz. Much will depend on Steph Catley’s availability, because the Australian left-back was sorely missed at the Allianz Arena: if she is fit, she will play at left-back with Victoria Pelova and Katie McCabe battling for the right-winger position; if the Australian is not available, then I guess Katie McCabe will play at left-back and Victoria Pelova in the attacking trio.

It’s all about balance, in the end: balance between attack and defense; balance between aggression and structure; balance between progressive play and secure possession. It is going to be a tough test for the team but one that can ignite another spark after the Conti Cup win against Chelsea.

Before that, we will play Tottenham at Brisbane Road, on Saturday afternoon: on our side, we need a win to keep chasing Chelsea – who will play Manchester City the next day – while on Spurs’ side the North London Derby will be a very important game to slide away from the relegation spot, still dangerously close.

The next seven days are going to be crucial for the remainder of the season, as all-important games start piling up – for us and for our opponents as Chelsea play Olympique Lyonnais twice, with Manchester City in between.

We’ll talk again on Monday, on the aftermath of the North London Derby.
Get your popcorn ready. Or your anxiolytics.

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