Jonas Eidevall has watched back the tapes and crunched the numbers. He reckons 1-1 in the first leg was a fair result. But, crucially, the Arsenal coach also feels they have room for improvement in the second leg on Thursday and in a Champions League quarter-final that may be decided on the finest of margins that could just be enough.
It is nine years since Arsenal graced the semi-finals of the biggest club competition in women’s football. Lotte Wubben-Moy’s 89th-minute equaliser last week has made their task a good deal easier, particularly given away goals will not apply. But standing in their way is the green wall of Wolfsburg, a team in their own rhythm and winning groove, unbeaten in 14 competitive games and gracing Wolfsburg’s main VW Stadium for the first time since 2013.
Most weeks, Wolfsburg’s women play at the smaller AOK Stadion in front of crowds of a few thousand. But the decision to grant them the larger stage is a measure of the size of this game, with more than 10,000 spectators expected.
“This is why we play football,” their former Arsenal midfielder Jill Roord said this week, and Wolfsburg will hope to continue the strong run of form that has carried them to the top of the Bundesliga as they attempt to regain their title from Bayern Munich.
Rivals Hoffenheim and Eintracht Frankfurt have been handily dispatched in recent weeks, while Bayern await in a title showdown on Sunday. Round these parts they call them “Englische Wochen” – two games in a week.
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While Wolfsburg’s superior drilling and conditioning have carried them this far, there may just be cracks in the edifice that Arsenal – who enjoyed a weekend off after their game against Tottenham was postponed due to a Covid outbreak – can exploit.
Wubben-Moy’s late goal exposed what is becoming something of an achilles heel for Wolfsburg in this season’s competition. It was the fourth time in seven games they had conceded in the 89th minute or later, Chelsea and Juventus (twice) also having done so in the group stage. Patience, then, will be the buzzword for Arsenal in the event of a tight game, safe in the knowledge they can keep the pressure on right until the final moments.
“It’ll definitely be a factor,” said Leah Williamson. “We know we can fight back and can go into this game with a bit of freedom. If we can be patient and more clinical hopefully we won’t have to wait until the 89th minute again.”
Precision in the final third, meanwhile, was Eidevall’s main area for study from the first game in London. “In terms of scoring opportunities, 1-1 was a fair result,” he said. “But we should have created more situations from the positions that we got ourselves into.
“If we had been more skilled in 1 v 1, 2 v 2, 3 v 3 situations in the final third, we would have gotten way more out of the game. From a stats perspective, we were twice as often in the final third as they were, but we didn’t create as much from that. That’s somewhere we need to be more efficient.”
And so the cutting edge of Stina Blackstenius may well be the deciding factor, not just in punching holes but as a first line of defence in thwarting Wolfsburg’s quick counterattacks. Above all you sense the balance between attack and defence will be key, in a game where each team has the weapons to flay the other.
“The margins are so small, but that’s why we love this stage of the tournament,” Eidevall said. “Everything is at stake.”