Champions League, here we come!
The narrow home win against Leicester, followed by the empathic four-nil thumping of a valiant Brighton team and coupled with the unexpected Manchester City loss against Liverpool, propelled us to the third place, the last one that gives access to the European’s top competition.
Once again, I want to hail this team’s ability to pick itself up and keep fighting despite the blows. The cruel elimination from the Champions League by the hand of Wolfsburg could have been too much to take, yet these players managed to overcome Leicester’s resilience to stay in touch with the Citizens, then blitzed through Brighton to grab the third place, which is now ours, although on goal difference only.
Leicester and Brighton were two very different wins from each other, and both showed different qualities within the team: against the in-form Leicester, the team had to keep their cool against the visitors’ intense pressure and move the ball intelligently, something that could have been very tricky after such an intense semifinal against Wolfsburg. The players, and Victoria Pelova in particular, responded brilliantly, especially after Jonas Eidevall changed the formation from 3-4-3 to 4-3-3.
It took a curler from Frida Maanum, the player who benefitted the most from the change of setup, to break Leicester’s resistance but the players did extremely well to keep their composure in the unprecedented ten minutes of added time.
To quote Jonas Eidevall: “I think you and me were more nervous than they were on the outside, which is the way it should be.”
Everyone’s nerves were much more relaxed at the Broadfield Stadium, where the team produced an impressive first-half performance and basically closed the game after ten minutes: a quick brace from Stina Blackstenius, who had another goal incorrectly disallowed for offside shortly after, made it clear that the Gunners meant business in Crawley. Frida Maanum and Victoria Pelova added one goal apiece before half-time and the three points were in the bag. It was good to see Manuela Zinsberger, Jen Beattie and Lotte Wubben-Moy fight so hard to keep their clean-sheet and put their bodies on the line to protect their goal, as the third place might go down to the goal difference. We are level on points with Manchester City at the moment, but we have a game on hand, nevertheless we need to play Chelsea away from home and Aston Villa in the final game.
It is in our hands, though, which is the most important thing.
We won at home, we won away but we also won off the pitch: the club announced that the team will play five WSL games at the Emirates Stadium, next season, and hopes to build on the 240,000 tickets sold this season, when Jonas Eidevall’s team played Tottenham, Manchester United, Juventus, Olympique Lyonnais, Chelsea, Bayern Munich and Wolfsburg at the Emirates Stadium. The demand is there, the momentum is extremely favorable and the upcoming Women’s World Cup will grant even more visibility to the movement, so we can expect a great turnaround for every game hosted at the Emirates Stadium. Jonas Eidevall once said that playing in an empty Emirates Stadium would be pointless, so my guess is that he was reassured about the actual demand and potential atmosphere in the stadium.
Finally, the club just announced that Lia Wälti signed a contract extension and will remain at the club after next summer. The Swiss star recently spoke to the media while on international duty and insisted a lot on the importance of this new long-term contract, on how this would be a very important decision for her career, and I admit that I didn’t feel very optimistic when I listened to that interview. Lia Wälti said that she “was open to any solution”, that “no decision was made and everything was open” and that she was “sure that it will be a big club, if it’s not Arsenal”, to then conclude with “I believe that I have a choice to make between several big clubs and I’m looking forward to it”. She also slipped a “I’m very happy where I am now” in between but it sounded very gloomy.
The club made a big statement by retaining the services of one of the best midfielders and most consistent performers in England, so I consider this a big win, too.
It’s four wins in a week, then – quite a rate.
Next up is Everton away in the league, our game on hand. The match will be played at Walton Hall Park on Wednesday night and a win would take us three points ahead of Manchester City, with a better goal difference, and three points below league leaders’ Manchester United, although Chelsea will probably leapfrog Mark Sinner’s team at the top, as they take on West Ham on the same day.
There is still much to play for in the final three games of the season, especially as we face Chelsea in the penultimate game of the season, shortly before the Manchester derby: that day will shape the league table for good, we need to be ready for the final showdown.
We’ll speak again on Thursday, after our tricky away game at Everton: the Toffees are safe and have nothing to play for, except for taking an illustrious scalp on their penultimate home game of the campaign.
It doesn’t feel right, does it?
Italian living in Switzerland, Gooner since mid-nineties, when the Gunners defeated my hometown team, in Copenhagen. I started my own blog and podcast (www.clockenditalia.com) after after some experiences with Italian websites and football magazines. Covering Arsenal Women with the occasional rant about the boys.
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