Monday, November 28, 2022

Exclusive: Casey Stoney interview

Arsenal Ladies have had something of a tumultuous campaign, with three managers and a level of staff turnover more akin to a fast food joint than a football club. The girls ultimately finished 4th in the FASWL, recovering from a poor start which saw them prop up the table at the season’s halfway point. They did however bag another Women’s F.A. Cup in June, which proved to be something of a launchpad for their season, taking 20 points from the last 10 games.

They have the chance to bring the curtain down on an eventful 2014 season with more silverware on Thursday evening, as they play Manchester City Women in the Continental Cup Final at Wycombe Wanderers’ Adams Park. The girls have won the trophy three times on the trot, but will have to work hard to retain it against a City side packed with renowned talent. Prior to that game, Tim Stillman caught up with Arsenal and England centre half Casey Stoney to preview the game and take stock on a rollercoaster of a year for the Gunners stopper.

1. Casey, it’s been something of a season of two halves for Arsenal after a disappointing start and the exit of Shelley Kerr. But the girls really seemed to hit some form after the mid-season break, taking 20 points out of a possible 30. How important was winning the F.A. Cup in giving the squad that momentum for the second half of the season?

You could see it was the springboard for our season. It gave the girls a bit more confidence, a bit more belief, putting the trophy in the cabinet was keeping on track with the Arsenal way. We can’t hide the fact that we had a poor start to the season, I for one wasn’t absolutely shocked and surprised by it when you look at the amount of changes in the starting eleven and the squad, it was going to take time to gel and we had a massive loss in Jordan Nobbs in the first half of the season.

2. Given how the F.A. Cup became the touchstone for the improvement in the team, are the girls looking at Thursday and the last domestic game as a potential marker for next season? Especially given the opponents Manchester City, who surprisingly finished below Arsenal in 5th and may feel they could have been more competitive in the title race as well.

To be honest, I don’t think we’re looking any further ahead than Thursday. Our sole focus is a big performance on Thursday. We know Manchester City will cause us problems and if we don’t play to our best we will have a difficult night. If we can hit the form we had in the second half of the season and play together as we have been and score goals as we have been, I think we have a good chance of winning it.

City will go into the game thinking exactly the same so it’ll be a really competitive game. It’s important that we make sure we perform well and win the tie. But also it’s an opportunity for the players to show Pedro (Martinez Losa, Arsenal Ladies manager) what they’ve got ahead of next season. This isn’t the squad he chose, this is the squad he was given. Who knows how many players he’ll want to keep? It’s an opportunity for us to showcase ourselves to the new manager.

3. Arsenal have had 3 managers during this season as well as a lot of change in the playing staff, which must have been quite unsettling. Has Pedro changed much in his short time in charge or has he kept things as they are for now?

He’s kept things as they are for now, but long term you can see he’s trying to get certain messages to the girls. His key message when he joined was that he wouldn’t change too much for this season, he only had 3 or 4 games at the end and he didn’t want to give us too many messages at this point. He just wanted us to go out and enjoy ourselves and perform well. He said that hard work is a given at Arsenal and that he shouldn’t need to motivate us.

I think he was just trying to leak a little bit of information without overloading us mentally for now. I’m sure come pre-season, we’ll see what Pedro is really all about and the football he likes to play, his ethos and his style. At the moment, he’s just saying ‘I know you’ve had a few new management teams this season, I just want you to go out and enjoy yourselves, enjoy the rest of the season and win another trophy and we’ll focus on next season when it comes.’

4. You touched on the loss of Jordan Nobbs in the first half of the season earlier. Personally, I believe it to be no coincidence that results picked up when she returned. With a lot of big players having left, how much has she grown in stature this season?

She’s a key player for us. Injuries are the most frustrating time as a player, but they can give you time to take stock and think of what you need to do to improve. The injury gave her an opportunity to watch the game from a different angle and I’m sure she learned from that too. Sometimes if you take something away from someone, they want it even more. She’s come back with a grit and determination and she’s a bright girl.

Her energy and enthusiasm is some of the best I have ever seen. She’s still got a lot to learn, as have we all, every game is an opportunity to learn. But she’s been absolutely key in the second half of the season, 4 goals in her last 2 games says it all. We missed her energy so much in the first half of the season, she would be a big loss to any team because she’s such a key player.

5. Manchester City have had quite an underwhelming season given the players they have available to them. But they have the talent to hurt any team, as they showed on Sunday when they beat Chelsea. With players like Toni Duggan they have a lot of attacking talent and Arsenal have leaked quite a few goals this year. Is this something Pedro and the squad have spoken about?

Yes, absolutely. As a centre half it’s been really frustrating, it’s been really niggling away at me personally and I know it’s been niggling away at Pedro too. We’ve leaked far too many goals, you can’t concede the amount that we have and expect to compete, so it’s something we’ll be looking to sure up on Thursday and next season as well. As a defender you pride yourself on clean sheets and we’ve barely done that this season, so it’s been a really frustrating time. We haven’t played as well as we could have in certain games, we haven’t kept possession of the football as we can.

Arsenal used to dominate the ball, that was how they kept clean sheets because the other team just couldn’t get the ball, we need to get back to that to become harder to beat. We need to stop the individual errors and the little mistakes that are costing us. We shouldn’t be conceding in the 94th minute against Liverpool. With better game management we win the game 3-2. We have to get better in certain areas of the pitch and I have to take responsibility for that as a defender too.

6. We touched on City’s win over Chelsea on Sunday and I wanted to stay with that because it was such an exciting finale for the WSL, just as it was last year when Bristol Academy and Liverpool played off for the title on the final day. Unfortunately, Arsenal haven’t really been involved in the excitement in the last two years, but how much do you think the WSL product has improved in those two seasons, even if Arsenal’s dominance has had to decline as a result?

It’s been very good to have an even spread. Yes we’ve won the F.A. Cup again and we’re back in the Continental Cup Final, but the league isn’t a one horse race anymore. The fact that it went to the last day of the season with three teams able to win it was a fantastic advert for the league. BT Sport were at all three games and right up until the final whistle, you didn’t quite know who had won it. In terms of excitement and the product, it’s the best it’s ever been.

That’s what everyone wants, nobody wants the league won with four games to go, you want it to go right down to the wire, not just in the women’s game but in the men’s game, in any league you want it to go to the last day. For the team in 3rd on the final day to go and win it was fantastic. City have performed well against Chelsea this year, they beat them in the semi-final of the Continental Cup and took points from them on Sunday, so we know how difficult Thursday will be for us.

7. Does it hurt the squad to see a pair of season finales like that but not to have any direct involvement?

Absolutely. I’ve only been here since January but I know what this club is about, this club is all about success. But success in the right way too, playing the right way to get it. We didn’t play well at the beginning of the season, there were also times we were pretty unlucky in games. There are more games we should have won where we’ve not been clinical enough. You look at the Liverpool game recently where we should have gone 4 or 5-2 up, but we end up drawing 3-3.

There are very fine margins in football and the fine margins have probably gone against us this year. Have no doubt that we regard this as a disappointing season. We’ve won the F.A. Cup and could yet win the Continental Cup, but finishing 4th isn’t good enough at Arsenal Ladies. We’ll be making sure that when we come back for pre-season, everything we do will be geared towards winning the title next season.

8. Do you think the fact that neither Arsenal nor Manchester City were involved in the title race will add an extra edge to the game? City must have been expecting to feature?

There’s silverware at stake and it’s a cup final and anything can happen in a cup final, at the end of the season you’re judged on what you’ve got in your cabinet, so City will be desperate to make a point in their first season. But I actually don’t think that there were many players in their dressing room that thought they’d be title contenders quite yet this season. From the signings they made, everybody outside of the dressing room thought they would.

They have a lot of players that hadn’t played in the WSL until this year, they came together with a completely new team. I didn’t expect them to win it yet, they would admit that they have had an up and down season and it’s the same for us. We’re both desperate to finish with a trophy and it will come down to who plays best on the day.

9. For you personally Casey, it’s been a year you’re unlikely to forget. You returned to Arsenal, collected your first silverware in 8 years and you’ve been amongst the goals too. (Stoney has 7 goals from centre half this season). But I think it’s fair to say your personal life has attracted a lot of attention. You came out with your partner Megan Harris this year and in July, you both announced the very happy news that you are expecting twins. To say it’s been an eventful year would be to understate it. What have you learned about yourself and the people around you in 2014?

I’ve learned that I have got fantastic teammates. Not many teams have had to go through what we’ve gone through this year in terms of players and managers leaving. We’ve remained a unit, we’ve stuck together and I think it’s made us stronger as a team and hopefully we can use that strength on Thursday. I’m a very fortunate person because I’ve got an amazing family and network of support around me.

Society has thankfully changed slightly and become more accepting and the happier I am off the pitch, the better I perform on it. Actually I set myself a target at the beginning of the season to score more goals, I haven’t really done that in the last 2 or 3 seasons and I feel like that is a box ticked for me. That said, I’m still massively frustrated about the goals we’ve conceded so there’s still a lot to work on.

10. Finally Casey, the @ArsenalLadies twitter feed is asking fans to nominate their player of the season. Full disclosure, I voted for Leah Williamson. Who would your Arsenal Ladies player of the season be for 2014?

That’s a difficult one. Leah has had a fantastic season. She’s 17 years of age, she’s played in just about every position and always been effective. She’s so composed that I forget how old she is. She’s a fantastic player. But there’s still one player that mesmerises me when she walks on the pitch and that’s Kelly Smith. She has the ability to turn a game on its head with the click of her fingers. If she turns the switch, she wins the game.

Against Bristol Academy, she comes on and scores a hat-trick. In the F.A. Cup semi-final against Chelsea, without a shadow of a doubt she owned that game and got us to the Cup Final, then scored a free-kick in the final. In terms of actual impact and winning us games and trophies and getting us towards where we want to be, Kelly has been instrumental in that, even if she hasn’t played as many minutes as the rest of us, but when she plays, it counts.

Many thanks to Casey for taking the time out to speak to us. If you’d like to see that final on Thursday, it kicks off at 7.45pm at Wycombe Wanderers’ Adams Park and tickets are still available here priced at £5 adults, £2.50 concessions or £10 for a family ticket. The game will be screened live on BT Sport for those that cannot make it.

Follow me on twitter @LittleDutchVA

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Mark Hughes

£5 to watch a cup final?! If only the men’s game was like that and they gave back to the fans after the increase in TV revenue.

Arsepedant

And if only Alexis Sanchez and Mesut Ozil cost £200 each and £10 a week in wages, then that would be a reality.

yo

7 goals from centre-half!

Good interview. Also loving the slick new site Blogs.

Lulu

Good interview Tim. I agree with Casey – Kelly Smith as player of the year.

MTZ

Great interview, thanks. I hope City gets completely flattened. It seems hard to find good coverage of the match here, but if I’ll definitely watch it if possible.

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