As with the rest of the WSL, there has been a big turnover of players at Arsenal Ladies in the close season. Out have gone Yvonne Tracey, Gilly Flaherty, Ciara Grant, Ellen White, Gemma Davison, Kim Little and Katy Chapman and the Gunners have acquired Casey Stoney, Anouk Hoogendijk, Christie Murray, Yukari Kinga and Shinobu Ohno.
However, Arsenal didn’t lose their long standing goalkeeper Emma Byrne. In fact, the experienced Irish international even signed a new contract in December. Therefore it was with some surprise that Shelley Kerr recruited experienced England goalkeeper Siobhan Chamberlain from Bristol Academy.
Tim Stillman caught up with Siobhan for Arseblog News as the girls prepare to overturn a 1-0 deficit in Sunday’s Champions League quarter final second leg with Birmingham City.
Siobhan, you’ve come to a club with a long established goalkeeper. Emma Byrne started against Birmingham on Monday night and has also signed a new contract recently. What did Shelley say to you about your status as Arsenal goalkeeper? Did she tell you you’d start as number 2 and fight for your place or was it left more open than that?
It was quite open. I know Emma well, she’s a great goalkeeper and she’s been at the club a long time, for me coming from Bristol, I really enjoyed my time there and I thought I had a good season last year and the year before. But I felt I needed a new challenge. I needed more competition; I was the only goalkeeper at Bristol. However well or however badly I played I knew I was guaranteed to start.
That was great in one way because you want to play games, but from another perspective, I wanted to be challenged and you want to know that if you don’t play well you’re not going to play. I knew Emma was going to sign a new contract and whoever is the best goalkeeper will play, if I’m not good enough to start, then I won’t start and if I am good enough then I will. It will be good competition between the two of us and hopefully it’ll push us both on.
Were you worried that that might affect your 2015 World Cup chances with England?
No, I’m confident in myself and my ability. I know if I’m playing well, training well and working hard I’m giving myself every opportunity, not only to play for England, but to play for Arsenal too. But 2015 is a way off, my first focus has to be playing and training well at Arsenal and being selected here.
Arsenal have lost a few experienced players of late, not just over this close season, but with the likes of Faye White and Jayne Ludlow retiring. One of the things that always struck me about you is how vocal you are in goal. Has Shelley spoken to you at all about being a leader on the pitch?
It wasn’t really discussed, but communication is one of my strengths, on the pitch and in training. Especially at Bristol where a lot of the back four were very young players and weren’t necessarily as experienced, so it buts a bit more pressure on you as a goalkeeper and a more senior player to give more information and to help the defence more.
That’s developed me and my ability to communicate on the pitch. Arsenal’s backline is a lot more experienced. Casey, Kinga, Alex Scott and Emma Mitchell are all full internationals so they’re experienced players. But they still need that communication and information from their goalkeeper to help them on the pitch.
There’s been a big turnover of players at Arsenal this summer, but that also seems to be the case all across the WSL with lots of players trading clubs. Who do you see as the big title challengers this year?
Who knows at the moment? There’s been so much movement and we’ve got Manchester City coming into the league for the first time and there’s a lot more movement than you would normally see. Liverpool, having won it last year, are going to be very strong and they’ve strengthened again. Chelsea have signed a lot of good players as have Notts County.
After our result against Birmingham on Monday you can see they are still a very strong side even though they’ve lost a few players. It’s difficult to say who’s going to be strongest, but it’s going to be a very competitive league all round.
Going back to the Champions League, I felt both teams looked a bit rusty on Monday night having just come out of pre-season. Is there a feeling that having the WSL as a summer league is a bit of a handicap to the English teams in the latter stages of the Champions League?
I’m not sure it was so much that we were rusty as individual players, I think it was maybe because it was the first competitive game a lot of that starting XI had played together. I think perhaps it was more that we need you need to gel as a team and playing pre season friendlies where you’re not challenged as much isn’t going to develop that.
A lot of players have played a lot of games in the build up for their countries, we’ve had girls away with England, Ireland, Scotland, Japan, the Algarve Cup and the Cyprus Cup have taken place as international tournaments recently. So we’re ready to go, but I think it’s more us getting used to each other’s styles.
Arsenal are obviously a goal down to Birmingham and need to score, but at the same time, an away goal for Birmingham makes it very tough indeed. How will Arsenal approach Sunday’s game?
We’ll go into it like every other game, we’re confident that if we put our gameplan into place and play as we all know we can, that we’re good enough to win the game and the tie. We just need to stick to our plan, play well and create chances and the goals will come.
I understand you have a degree in sports science and have done some lecturing and coaching. When I spoke with Emma Byrne last year, we talked a bit about the lack of dedicated goalkeeping coaches in the women’s game. Is this something you think you’d want to explore in the future?
I’m not a massive fan of coaching myself, I am the club’s digital ambassador as I was at Bristol Academy and I think I prefer the PR communications side of things, that’s more the area that I want to go into. I was one of the WSL’s 8 digital ambassadors when I was at Bristol Academy and I’ve taken that over from Steph Houghton (who joined Manchester City in December) at Arsenal. I have my coaching badges and it’s an area that needs developing and maybe I should think about giving something back.
But it’s difficult to do goalkeeping specific coaching; the courses tend to run at the same time as the season when I’m playing games. I’ve got my outfield badges and I’ve done bits of youth coaching, but it’s not necessarily an ambition for me to go into once my playing career is over. Too much standing outside in the cold for my liking!
How does the coaching situation for keepers work at Arsenal now? Emma said last season that she mainly took sessions, but that Tony Roberts occasionally dropped in when he could. Is that still the case?
Yes, that is still the case.
Finally Siobhan, I wanted to know who your goalkeeping idol was when you were making your way in the game, be it from the men’s game or the women’s.
I’m a Fulham fan and me and my Dad were season ticket holders so when I was a bit younger, Edwin van der Sar was probably my favourite, I loved watching him. He was certainly the best I saw watching Fulham. There wasn’t really anybody that inspired me from the women’s game when I was younger simply because there wasn’t the coverage of even top level women’s football. So it was difficult to aspire to anyone or to have any role models like I think there probably are now.
Arsenal play the second leg of their Champions League quarter final against Birmingham City on Sunday at 2pm at Barnet’s Hive ground. Tickets are £5 adults, £2.50 concessions and available on the gate. Canons Park, on the Jubilee Line, is the nearest underground stop.