Arsenal have had to show resilience in abundance this season, defying the odds to reach the last four after injuries to key players threatened to derail their European challenge much earlier
Arsenal’s Women’s Champions League semi-final defeat to Wolfsburg was a crushing blow, but amid the hurt was a sense of immense pride for manager Jonas Eidevall. Arsenal have had to show resilience in abundance this season, defying the odds to reach the last four after injuries to key players threatened to derail their European challenge much earlier.
Conceding a goal in the final seconds of extra time was tough for Arsenal. They lost captain Kim Little, defender Leah Williamson and forward Caitlin Foord in recent weeks, having begun the new year without key strikers Beth Mead and Vivianne Miedema because of anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) injuries. So when they lined-up at Emirates Stadium on Monday night with tired legs and a thin bench, Arsenal knew it was a tall order to beat two-time champions Wolfsburg for a place in the final.
However, having come from behind to beat Bayern Munich in the quarter-finals, then again to draw 2-2 with Wolfsburg in the first leg of their semi-final, belief remained. What followed was a dramatic 120 minutes – both teams scored twice in normal time, before Wolfsburg substitute Pauline Bremer crushed Arsenal hearts with a winner in the final seconds of extra time to put them through 5-4 on aggregate.
“It’s tough,” said Eidevall. “It was a game of such fine margins that were not on our side. We are allowed to be hurt and feel empty, but we’re also allowed to feel proud of the performance and the occasion with our supporters. There is a lot of emotions in the brain.”
Winger Katie McCabe added: “I’m quite speechless. I’m just so proud of the girls. We gave absolutely everything out there. We ran for each other, we walked for each other, we came back into the game. We’ve instilled that belief that we can challenge and go on in these sorts of tournaments.”
Arsenal must now turn their attention back to the Women’s Super League (WSL) where they remain in a battle to qualify for next season’s Champions League. Only the top three in England will compete in Europe and Arsenal sit fourth, two points behind Chelsea, having played one game more. With injuries still to contend with – substitute Laura Wienroither adding to the concern when stretchered off after just 18 minutes of action against Wolfsburg – it does not get any easier for Arsenal.
“We need to try and qualify for the competition next season,” said Eidevall. “It’s a tough WSL. We’re in a tough situation to get our feet and heads back from here.
“We’re hurting but we have a really important game against Leicester [on Friday]. If that can be the standard for how teamwork can be applied then that is a really good foundation.
“We are always thinking to the next game. We need to push.”
Arsenal’s next game is against Leicester on Friday. Leicester are currently 11th in the WSL table and have lost their last three games. Arsenal will be hoping to take advantage of this and secure a win to keep their Champions League hopes alive.