Well, we sat through the game and must say it was a frustrating evening for the Arsenal Women at Meadow Park, as the first leg of the Women’s Champions League qualifier with Ajax ended in a disappointing draw. Arsenal definitely have a score to settle on their return leg against a very organised Ajax team.
The Gunners are off to Amsterdam next week to play the 2nd leg against Ajax Vrouwen. They have got a lot to do to secure their place in the group stages of the competition. The decisive qualifying leg will kick off on September 28th at 6.00pm UK time, and will determine which team moves through to the group stage.
Ajax started strongly, with a very different kind of play. For a very young team, Ajax were very organised and certainly the game was much more physical than Arsenal´s clash with Brighton in the Women´s Super League last week. Ajax certainly had much more of the ball in the first half and dictated the tempo of the game.
An early shot on target from Ajax was saved by Manuela Zinsberger though they successfully got one past our keeper in the 16th minute, after a series of short, precise, impressive passes inside Arsenal´s box ended in Ajax´s star striker Romee Leuchter firing in a goal from close range.
Lina Hurtig (her first full game debut for the club) received the ball in a dangerous area, where she was fouled. Beth Mead took a beautiful free kick but Ajax keeper Lize Kop saved it, denying Arsenal the chance to equalise.
Arsenal did level the score line quickly. An Arsenal corner saw Rafaelle Sousa jump high to meet the ball in but her header cruelly hit the crossbar, however, with lightening quick reaction Blackstenius got on the end of the rebound and put in straight into the back of the Ajax net.
Captain Kim Little came close to scoring a few minutes later, showing a great piece of determination to win the ball back and race down the right wing. Her attempted cut-back was just knocked away for a corner.
Just before half-time, Zinsberger made a great block at point blank range to keep the score at 1-1 as the players headed to the changing rooms.
Arsenal looked like a different team as they started the second half with much more of the possession, managing of the games pace and creating more chances. Centre-back Rafaelle (on her Champions League debut) showed some great skill, at both ends of the field. In one highlight, she took a powerful shot which unfortunately hit the near post.
Arsenal managed to take the lead to 2-1 when Beth Mead was brought down in the box and a calm, collected Captain Kim Little scored from the penalty spot, sending the keeper the wrong way.
Apart from a couple of long-range efforts from Blackstenius and Leah Williamson, Arsenal didn’t cause much more trouble for the Ajax goalkeeper.
Half way through the second half Arsenal seemed to lose their momentum and I must say, there were some sloppy passes that allowed Ajax to get back into the game and back on the attack. Arsenal could perhaps feel upset that their margin was not greater. Substitute Caitlin Foord was released through the middle and goalkeeper Kop took her down in a mighty tackle but the offside flag was controversially up denying Arsenal a possible penalty and red card. Moments later, as some chaotic defending saw Noelle Maritz beaten and England captain Leah Williamson fail to clear the ball allowing Leuchter to swipe in from close range. in the 83rd minute, taking her second goal of the game and the score to 2-2.
Substitute Katie McCabe smashed the ball into the net from a long ball. Despite being onside (as an Ajax defender was in the box) the linesman had her flag up and the goal was not given.
There were 6 minutes of added time which is a lot in the women´s game, indicating just how physical and how much player downtime there actually was.
Despite a couple of near misses from Arsenal, they failed to add to the score sheet and the game ended in a 2-2 draw.
Jonas Eidevall on the first half “We knew they were a very pressing team,” said Eidevall of their first-half struggles. “When you look at their PPDA [which measures passes allowed per defensive action] versus all the teams in the WSL and the Dutch league they were the team with the lowest PPDA in all the games that [analytics platform] Wyscout covers. You can only have that when you have a lot of pressing. We did our homework on that – even if it didn’t look like it.”
In summary, this game was great to watch. It was a surprising result given that Arsenal Women were the favourites going into the game. Some decisions didn´t go Arsenal´s way though overall the refereeing was fair and allowed the game to flow. Arsenal´s focus will now be on the North London derby at Emirates Stadium on Saturday, with a record-breaking 48,000 tickets sold for the event, before focussing back on Ajax and the 2nd leg coming up next week.
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