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Wolfsburg 2-2 Arsenal Women: mentality monsters

Arsenal Women came from 2-0 down to draw 2-2.

Women’s UEFA Champions League semi final”VFL Wolfsburg - Arsenal WFC” Photo by ANP via Getty Images

Something extraordinary is brewing at Arsenal with Jonas Eidevall. Arsenal Women might not win the Champions League, but after the first leg, they are in a good position to advance to the Champions League final.

When the tie was drawn, there was optimism surrounding Arsenal. Arsenal had come through a block of games against Chelsea, Bayern Munich, and Manchester City, as well as WSL games, and won almost all of the games they needed to. But since Arsenal beat Manchester City off the back of Katie McCabe’s stunning winner, it was announced that Kim Little would miss the rest of the season with injury, and then Arsenal lost Leah Williamson to a ruptured ACL on Wednesday, and lost to Manchester United.

Jonas Eidevall started with a back 3 against Wolfsburg, in part out of necessity: Arsenal don’t really have enough forward or midfield players to play any other system. Yet despite playing three centre backs, Arsenal went 2-0 down inside 25 minutes. The first goal was a long ball that undid Arsenal, with Ewa Pajor running off of Jen Beattie and Rafaelle Souza to latch onto Svendis Jónsdóttir’s pass to score. The second goal was one of Arsenal’s own making: Rafaelle’s square pass went to Jónsdóttir, and not Beattie, and the Icelandic international slotted past Manuela Zinsberger.

Arsenal could be forgiven for thinking this was beyond them. With Laura Wienroither and Kathrine Kühl the only senior outfield options on the bench, the players on the pitch had to regroup. The Arsenal of last year might not have been able to; the Arsenal in the later Joe Montemurro years certainly wouldn’t have been able to regroup. But since Arsenal won the Conti Cup, this team has been different. It’s not only that the structure and process has been sound and solid, it’s the belief underlying this group all season that has allowed them to beat Lyon 5-1 without Leah Williamson and Rafaelle Souza, to beat Chelsea without Viv Miedema and Beth Mead, and to beat Bayern Munich and Manchester City without Miedema, Mead, and Kim Little.

It helps, too, that Arsenal got back into the tie on the stroke of half time: Steph Catley’s corner went long and Rafaelle headed it in at the back post to make it 2-1. And having been on the back foot in the first half, Arsenal were far more in control of the second half, with Stina Blackstenius’ hold up play and runs off the ball threatening. And on 69 minutes, Arsenal levelled: Lotte Wubben-Moy’s fantastic ball found Pelova down the right, and her pass was expertly out of the range of the goalkeeper, giving Blackstenius a tap-in.

The second half was not without its moments for Wolfsburg, with Jill Roord going close and Tabea Waßmuth firing over the bar, and Arsenal began to tire, the effort of getting back into the game on the back of Wednesday’s match against Manchester United starting to have an impact. But the Gunners were able to see out the final period of the game to leave the tie delicately poised ahead of next week’s second leg.

Arsenal (3421): Zinsberger; Wubben-Moy, Beattie, Rafaelle Souza; Maritz, Maanum, Wälti, Catley (Wienroither 70’); Pelova (Kühl 90’), McCabe; Blackstenius
Substitutes not used: D’Angelo (GK), Marckese (GK), Goldie, Agyemang, Harbert, Reid

Goals: Rafaelle Souza 45’, Blackstenius 69’

Yellow cards: McCabe