Arsenal did a professional job away to Slavia with a 5-2 win and all but secured qualification for the Champions League quarter-finals to be played next spring.
Joe Montemurro decided to play his best available 11 for the first leg, as follows: Peyraud-Magnin; Evans, Williamson, Beattie, McCabe; Walti, Little, Nobbs; Van De Donk, Miedema, Mead, with the subs Zinsberger, Veje, Mitchell, Roord, Quinn and Filis.
As expected the Gunners took early control of the game with Slavia happy to drop back into their own half before challenging for the ball. Arsenal, therefore, were allowed to settle into their rhythm and their possession game, carving the Slavia defence open. It was no surprise that the pressure soon paid off.
Beth Mead intercepted a ball in the middle of the park and with a quick-thinking sent Vivianne Miedema through to open the scoring. 1-0 after 24 minutes. Then, one minute later, disaster struck the Slavia goalie Lukoseva. She missed the ball completely on a simple clearance and Miedema was on hand to accept the gift and put the ball into the empty net.
The hat-trick goal from Miedema was superb as it was a brilliant team goal. Play developed on the right side of the pitch, as Leah Williamson came forward and slid a through ball to Danielle van de Donk. The Dutch forward did a Zidane turn on the goalie and probably got fouled. She still managed to lay it off to Miedema who shot and put it in for her hat-trick in less than 40 minutes.
It killed the tie and at half-time, Arsenal were in a position to make some substitutions. They could give playing time to the players who deserved a game and did not get many minutes so far this season.
The goal-fest carried on in the second half. Miedema got her fourth in the 52nd minute. Evans and Mead combined on the right side and the English winger sent a slide-rule cross for the striker who finished easily from close range.
At this point, we were thinking she could equal Julie Fleeting’s record of five goals in a game for Arsenal in the competition. The Scottish forward scored all five goals in the 5-4 victory over Rossiyanka back in 2006/07 in a game coached by Emma Hayes.
Alas, it did not happen as Viv missed a big chance and then was substituted.
In the meantime, Arsenal managed to get a fifth goal as Kim Little was fouled on the left side of the penalty area. She took it and shot low to the left and the goalie dived to the right. 5-0, game over. But Slavia had other ideas, they started the second half brightly and got rewarded with two goals.
They really took the game to the Gunners in the second half and came back with a much more attacking attitude. They scored their first goal from a cross and their striker Svitkova was left totally unmarked in the middle of the penalty area and took her goal well for 5-1 (71′).
Late in the game, Slavia found an opening in the Arsenal defence as a boulevard presented itself to a Slavia forward. Peyraud-Magnin made a superb one-on-one save but the ball came back to Persson who managed to finish by shooting between all the defenders who were covering for the goalie. 5-2 (88′)
Overall, it’s still an excellent result and qualification is 99% guaranteed. The quarter-finals should be a real test as all the favourites will be there and the draw might not be as favourable as it has been so far.
I spoke to our defender Jennifer Beattie about the game and how good the start of the season had been so far for her.
On the result and the game itself: “We are happy with the five goals, but the way we ended it was quite disappointing.”
There is no doubt that we would have signed up before the game for five away goals, but not sure about letting Slavia get two goals back. “It could have been better. We let them back into the game when we should not have. Saying that five goals away from home is a good result.”
I mentioned any potential hangover from the Chelsea game and the fact that having a game three days later was probably a good thing: “Absolutely, the best way to overcome a defeat is to play as soon as possible. We were happy to get back to winning tonight.”
Since she has come back to Arsenal, Jenny actually has the most playing time overall from the whole squad. I personally did not expect it when she signed, expecting rotation with Louise Quinn.
I asked her if she was expecting to have such a huge impact straightaway: “There is so much competition in the squad not only at centre-back but in every position, I don’t think anyone can come to a top team like Arsenal and expect to play. I knew I had to get a good pre-season under my belt and get my chance. I am just happy to be playing, it is such a strong squad “
When talking about pre-season, most teams have a problem after a World Cup as players come back late and it was definitely the case for Arsenal. Players came back in drip and drabs.
I asked Jen if she suffered any side-effects from the tournament: “We got knocked out pretty early with Scotland so we had no problems, but every else did well to recover to be ready for the start of the season”.
Next for the Arsenal is the Continental Cup group stage Round 2. The Gunners will be at home to bottom of the Championship table Charlton, one of our historic rivals. Rotation and game time for those who are lacking playing time are likely. Hopefully, the Academy players will get a chance to show their skills on Sunday.