We’re off to a great start -The Arsenal Women’s Journal

Good morning, Arsenal Women aficionados!

The 2023/24 season is finally – or already – underway. Earlier this week, in Sweden, Jonas Eidevall’s team comfortably beat hosts Linköping three-nil to advance to the final of the UEFA Women’s Champions League first qualifying round, which consists of a mini-tournament where the champions of leagues other than the top-3 (Champions Path) and runners-up or third-placed teams of top leagues (League Path) battle to reach the second qualifying round, the one that gives access to the group stage.

Arsenal were included in the Group 3 of League Path with Linköping, Paris FC and Kryvbas Kryvyi Rih and will now face the French side in the final, which will be played on Saturday. Should the Gunners progress, they will face one of Slavia Praha, Rosengard, Roma, Wolfsburg, PSG, Real Madrid, Sparta Praha or Häcken.

One step at a time, though, as Paris FC will be a bigger threat compared to Linköping.

Jonas Eidevall fielded a much stronger XI than anticipated, with several players going straight into the starting line-up despite being back from international duties only a week ago. The head coach handed their full-debut to Amanda Ilestedt, Alessia Russo and Cloé Lacasse, while he welcomed Kim Little after her lengthy spell on the sidelines and named Beth Mead on the bench.

I didn’t expect such a bold team-sheet for the first game of the season, but I get why Jonas Eidevall wanted to minimize any risk of a season-wrecking upset in Linköping, especially after coming so dramatically close to an historical Champions League final, last season.
The challenge, from today onwards, will be to manage the fitness level and workload of the players who didn’t truly had a summer break and could potentially suffer from fatigue in the long-term.


The good news is that the squad looks well equipped to allow Jonas Eidevall to rotate a bit more and prevent as many injuries and nibbles as possible.

The game in Linköping was very much a one-way affair, with our players dominating the possession and the field tilt despite a clearly visible rustiness in the fluidity of our build-up and overall passing game. Had Kim Little converted the generously-awarded penalty kick inside the sixth minute, the game could have been a bit easier for us but Captain Little had her kick saved by the goalkeeper, so we found ourselves unable to break the deadlock.
We were definitely not at our sharpest, but the impact of new signings Alessia Russo and Cloé Lacasse was undeniable, with the former providing a focal point upfront and the latter replicating a lot of Beth Mead’s movements, on and off the ball. The Canadian was impressive when taking on her opponent and provided the width that we missed when Victoria Pelova and Katie McCabe deputised for the England international, last season.


Alessia Russo should have scored when she was presented with a golden chance, in the second half, but her header from very close range somehow missed the target but overall, she had a strong game, showing her attributes in terms of ball-retention, pressing and technical ability. Jonas Eidevall, after the game, highlighted how the striker should improve that aspect of her game, to become the 20-goals per season forward she can be, and confirmed that the club is focused on making her an even better player.

Second-half goals from Caitlin Foord, Lina Hurtig and Stina Blackstenius were the result of our relentless work on both flanks, were Caitlin Foord, Cloé Lacasse and then Lina Hurtig found space and time to take on the fullback and create overloads, with the help of Katie McCabe and Noëlle Maritz, then Steph Catley. Our first goal of the evening came thanks to the trademark Caitlin-Foord-At-The-Far-Post move, with the Aussie heading in from three yards out after a brilliant footwork from Kim Little in the box, then Lina Hurtig out-jumped the Linköping goalkeeper to head the ball in from a set-piece, before Stina Blackstenius added the third with a nice flick at the near post.
Jonas Eidevall sounded very happy with the attacking options, after the game, and it is hard not to be very excited about the number and the qualities of our forwards, whose mix of technique, intelligence, presence, and versatility make it ours one of the most impressive attacking units in the league.
The former Rosengard coach will have to find the right balance and right chemistry between the players to maximize their potential and the team’s.
Compared to last season, we now have two players for every slot and, most importantly, players that are quite similar to each other in their respective positions: both Lina Hurtig and Caitlin Foord love to drift inside from the left side and attack the far post, while Beth Mead and Cloé Lacasse are excellent ball-carriers and very intense in their pressing.

The big question mark hangs upon the heads of Stina Blackstenius, Alessia Russo and potentially Vivianne Miedema, three strikers who are rather different from each other and offer a different skillset, when deployed as centre-forward.


The Swede excels at running the channels and likes to play close to the last defender, something that neither one of her teammates does regularly, preferring a more active role in the build-up and like to play with their back at the goal.

Of the three, Vivianne Miedema surely is the most accomplished player and the best finisher, but she is transitioning from striker to attacking midfielder and might end up playing as a ten more and more regularly, taking herself out of the fight for the striker role.

Alessia Russo, the youngest of this wonderful trio, has been a marquee signing and the club invested heavily to bring her to North London, so I guess she will become the offensive fulcrum of the team, but I won’t be too surprised to see her and Stina Blackstenius playing together or even dropped in favour of the former Linköping and Häcken forward, depending on the opponent or the schedule. Saturday’s game against Paris FC will be the first chance for Jonas Eidevall to provide some indications about his preferred options and how he will manage such a rich pool of talent.

That’s all for today, we will talk again after the big game on Saturday.
Speak to you soon!

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