The wondergoal that changed everything for Arsenal in the Women’s Champions League
You must have seen the goal by now. You must have. If not, go and find it, and drink in its four seconds of angular magnificence. It’s the goal that changed everything for Arsenal, on the night they truly made the Emirates their home in the Women’s Champions League. It may even be the moment where they begin to look towards a permanent future here.
Arsenal have been through so many nearly-moments in the Champions League, occasions where Jonas Eidevall’s side didn’t look up to this level or ready for this stage. This could have been another, but Arsenal have instead learned from their past and grown from the experience of falling short. Still, Arsenal were 10 years without a Champions League semi-final, while Bayern Munich arrived on the back of a 14-match win streak, and with a one-goal advantage.
How Frida Maanum changed that. How Lia Walti changed that, with her first-time pass through to Stina Blackstenius to start it all. Then there was the lay-off to Leah Williamson – intricate and precise – leading to the flick. Quite how Williamson saw Maanum is another question, but it formed a neat square on the edge of the Bayern box. Maanum took two steps back and swung, the shot rising perfectly, completing a sequence of meticulous touches, an exhibition of trigonometry.
Yes, Bayern had played themselves into trouble, not once but twice, but Arsenal’s press also forced it. In what was a cagey start to the second leg, the German side looked to draw Arsenal out and were beginning to exert control in a quarter-final that had been finely poised since last Tuesday night in Munich. Then Arsenal raised it, to a level that Bayern simply could not match. In the end, Tuva Hansen’s loose ball out from defence was when it started to slip away.
Arsenal were outstanding from there, their attacking play sublime, as Eidevall’s side blew the Bundesliga leaders apart. Victoria Pelova, whose introduction on the right side of Arsenal’s attack helped change the tie, was a menace and pinned back the dangerous Klara Buhl. Katie McCabe and Caitlin Foord overwhelmed Maxi Rall on the opposite flank. Blackstenius, playing with freedom and confidence, pieced it together. Williamson, Manuum and Walti operated superbly – so much of their play was instinctive and one-touch, a product of 20 months of work. “If we hit things right, we can beat any team,” Eidevall said.
The rest of the Champions League will take notice now Arsenal have broken through, with the club returning to the semi-finals for the first time since 2013. The Gunners are there now and will have nothing to fear when they face either Paris Saint-Germain or Wolfsburg. The Emirates will rise too, as it did on Wednesday night with an attendance of 21,307, a record for a Women’s Champions League match in England. Arsenal deserve credit for that - on both men’s and women’s sides, this is a club where everyone is pulling in one direction.
“I really hope that it continues to push,” Eidevall said. “I get the sense of belief that we're seeing history getting created very quickly in front of our eyes, when I see how the attendances and the culture is here at the Emirates Stadium. Five years ago, if someone would have said that Arsenal's long-term plan is to move permanently to Emirates Stadium, people would probably have asked 'how is that going to happen?', but now I think people understand that that might be a realistic vision for the future."
The regret for Arsenal was that for all of their scintillating play, they didn’t reach the four or five goals their performance deserved. Bayern were stunned, dazed by the sight of Arsenal in full flight. Blackstenius made it two with a header from close range after McCabe skipped past Rall and produced a wonderful, dinked cross to the six-yard line. Williamson went close with a back-post header, set up superbly by Foord. Blackstenius hooked wide before Lotte Wubben-Moy’s sliced cross struck the bar, with Maria Luisa Grohs beaten.
Bayern remained in the tie on the scoreboard. They threatened from set-pieces but offered little else, despite the lingering sense of unease that comes with a slender one-goal lead. Arsenal created fewer moments of danger after the break, but the quality remained devastatingly high. McCabe went close after a dazzling run. Foord should have buried Bayern after a delightful flick from the brilliant Maanum, who had set the Gunners on their way.
How Arsenal needed a moment like her stunning strike. The Gunners performed well in Munich and did everything but score, with two shots cleared off the line and another thudding off the post at the Allianz Arena. They then lost captain Kim Little to injury in the opening 10 minutes here, as the ball squirmed and slipped out of reach on a lightning fast surface following a flurry of heavy rain at the Emirates. Bayern were beginning to put together passing sequences, sucking out any momentum, but then Williamson pushed into midfield as Little hobbled off. The England captain was immense and Bayern couldn’t keep up.
It all came without Beth Mead and Vivianne Miedema, whose anterior cruciate ligament injuries earlier this season saw Arsenal’s chances of challenging for silverware dismissed. They have since beaten Chelsea to win the Continental Cup, and have now produced their best performance under Eidevall. “Process is important, process with results creates belief,” he said. “You need results to back it up and that is what this month has given us, it has shown us we can create something.
“Time is important, we can deal with more situations now together. I think it is huge what we have built together with the supporters. If I look back at my first game here against Chelsea and the game against Wolfsburg last year, and we see the progress that the club and the team and supporters have made together to create the night we do tonight. That is part of making us successful.” Arsenal’s fortunes in Europe have now changed, on a night where Eidevall’s side truly arrived.