For Arsenal, this was the cruelest ending that could be written. A historic Champions League semi-final with Wolfsburg, with a packed Emirates Stadium and a record crowd for a women’s club match in England, did not end with the outcome that most of the 60,063 spectators craved. But that’s life, a reality this Arsenal team understands better than most, and Jonas Eidevall’s team can get something more out of this heartbreak.
It may not make up for being denied a first Champions League final since 2007 in the 119th minute, but receiving what at first glance appears to be the most rotten hand imaginable: a team decimated by injury and torn apart by the disgrace. – Arsenal can still get out of this after having carried out an extraordinary European campaign. Tonight, and the Emirates themselves, were proof of this. What could have turned out to be a turbulent season given everything that has transpired against him has exceeded anyone’s expectations.
But it’s still devastatingly tough for a team that simply refused to go down. Lotte Wubben-Moy was heartbroken at the end, but Beth Mead and Leah Williamson, her right leg covered in straps, limped off and did their best. Wubben-Moy had been stolen by Jule Brand and it was the Arsenal defender’s costly mistake that led to Pauline Bremer’s dramatic winner. But Wubben-Moy had been exceptional, as had the exceptional Jen Beattie alongside her.
Given everything Arsenal had been through, there couldn’t be a more suitable goalscorer than the Scotland international. A player who has recovered from breast cancer and battled chemotherapy, she had barely played before Williamson tore her ACL two weeks ago, she was a giant with both legs at the center of a patched up defence. Beattie was a symbol of how Arsenal have never given up, no matter how bad things have gotten. Almost ridiculously, they suffered even more injuries tonight.
Wubben-Moy, a lifelong Arsenal fan, for whom a night like this was beyond anything he could have dreamed, had set Beattie’s equalizer in regulation time. The England defense was another player who would not have played had Williamson been fit, but they supplied an impressive cross on his weaker foot to set up Beattie’s header – Arsenal were level once again at 4-4 in the tie , another dramatic moment in this breathless Semifinal.
As Beattie fell back after planting her header in the bottom left corner, she charged into Alexandra Popp. It had been Popp’s time before that, of course she was, Germany’s cunning and experienced striker, and it was fitting that she, like Beattie, had played her part. Beattie and Popp played for Arsenal and Wolfsburg in the 2013 semi-final; now they were playing the same game, locked in battle, but facing a landscape that had become unrecognizable. A decade ago their clash was played at Boreham Wood before 1,406. “It’s an emotional thing for everyone to experience,” Wubben-Moy said Sunday, speaking as much of those who had walked the trail before.
Wubben-Moy and Beattie were outstanding, a generation apart but sharing the stage, denying Wolfsburg until the end. The German champions were the favorites here. They had the experience of this level and were close to full strength. They controlled their first leg, despite a 2-2 draw, and could have been out of sight before Arsenal’s comeback. At the Emirates, possession of him in the early exchanges reflected his confidence and, on paper at least, superiority.
At first glance, most of what Arsenal have been through would be enough to send any club to a season of utter misery, with Mead, Vivianne Miedema and Williamson being robbed with ACL injuries, their captain Kim Little as well. , without Caitlin Foord. here. Then he lost Stina Blackstenius, the first-half scorer. Laura Wienrother, a substitute, was sent off on a stretcher, another terrible blow. Eidevall’s team had already reached the limit and the Arsenal manager would have every right to look up and plead for him to stop the rain, just for a moment.
But once again, this team stood up and refused to give up without a fight. They had come from a 1-0 loss to knock out Bayern Munich at the Emirates, then trailed 2-0 in Germany, then trailed 4-3. In overtime, Bremer shattered the noise and frenetic atmosphere, apart from the ripple of lime green in the far corner. Not stopping all night, though, Katie McCabe had kissed the crossbar with a drifting cross moments before. This is how close Arsenal came to their first Women’s Champions League final since 2007 and a date against Barcelona.
Emirates itself was resplendent at kick-off, a chunk of the pitch on the opposite side covered in the golden sun of the first May afternoon, a blue sky backing the rolling wave of the upper tier. And it was packed, row after row, level after level, a night many had dreamed of when most others hadn’t. It was a wonderful sight and in its glow Arsenal was too. Wolfsburg suffered at the beginning, both by the Emirates and by Arsenal.
It has to be said that McCabe didn’t win the ball as she slid back past Lena Oberdorf, just as the Wolfsburg midfielder opened up and walked away. But from there, McCabe got up, moved it aside to Lia Walti, who separated Wolfsburg with her through ball to Blackstenius. Experienced German internationals, Wolfsburg goalkeeper Merle Frohms and central defender Kathrin Hendrich became one. Blackstenius rolled the ball into the empty goal and the Emirates exploded.
Arsenal, a goal ahead, did something special: Jonas Eidevall’s team took everything to another level: their aggressiveness, their arrogance and their composure. Walti and Frida Maanum were magnificent in midfield: Maanum running and doing the work of two, Walti a class level and composer above. There was Victoria Pelova dropping a shoulder and rolling a daring nutmeg through the legs of Oberdorf, who was frankly having a hard time. McCabe almost broke in, then Blackstenius again. Arsenal repeatedly ran towards Wolfsburg and then chased after them just as intensely.
If you could freeze time as an Arsenal fan, perhaps you would choose that moment: to play like this, here, in front of this crowd, in the Champions League semi-finals and the biggest occasion in the club’s history, without going into the heartbreak that would follow.
Wolfsburg tied. After Jill Roord’s excellent goal from the edge of the box against his former team, Eidevall turned and asked for more, but Arsenal needed the break. Beattie was caught under a high ball, and then Rafaelle. Manuela Zinsberger and Catley rescued them, but Wolfsburg remained difficult. Svendis Jane Jonsdottir, tall and slender, excellent on both legs, got past Nicole Maritz and McCabe but shot straight at Zinsberger.
Arsenal needed to attack again and they nearly did: Blackstenius deflected Maritz’s cross from the right past Frohms, another blast, this time cut off by the offside flag. Wolfsburg, who was enjoying this now, raised it again. Jonsdottir’s header was cleared off the line by McCabe, then Steph Catley had to be sharp as Felicitas Rauch sliced past Arsenal from the right.
Popp was growing up, feeling her moment, everywhere in a role that was as much a force of nature as the number 10. Suddenly, there she was, the right corner coming down on her in a crowd of bodies. Svenja Huth could have finished it off with a shot that went to the far post. Lina Hurtig came close for Arsenal in extra time, parried by Frohms, then Pauline Bremer pulled a narrowly deflected shot from the corner. McCabe’s center hit the crossbar. Arsenal came close to penalties, and who knows what else. But then Wubben-Moy was caught, Brand pounced and was denied an extraordinary season by his latest miracle.