Yesterday was a heavy news day for Arsenal Women, to say the least. The long awaited news that Leah Williamson has extended her contract with the club was finally announced. The news has been a long time coming with Leah, a lifelong Arsenal fan and academy product, seeking reassurances over the level of the club’s ambition.
That, in itself, is concerning for Arsenal fans. Leah Williamson is not someone that should need convincing to extend her contract at the club. I spoke to the 24-year old yesterday and she was candid about her thought process. The contract extension is only for 12 months at this stage too, her last deal was for three years.
“I had to weigh up whether Arsenal has the ambition that matches my own, do we want to be a team that is competing, can we compete? Those were the things that, I wasn’t so much waiting on as I wanted to confirm,” Leah told Arseblog News.
The new manager is not yet confirmed though, from what I gather, an appointment has been made and could be announced soon. I also asked Leah whether she had contact with the new coach and she said she hadn’t been able to but that she had spoken to Vinai Venkatesham, “I have been in regular contact with Vinai and those people higher up in the club because they understood where I was at. Every player needs that sort of information if they are about to sign a new contract.”
Later in the conference, in response to questions from other journalists, Leah talked about “paying back some of the faith the club put in me” and “the club showing the ambition it says it has.” The message seems to be clear that Leah has committed for 12 months and needs to be convinced by Arsenal to commit further.
North LDN soul 🧬 Another year with my Gunners🔴⚪️ pic.twitter.com/XGMygA9LlD
— Leah Williamson (@leahcwilliamson) June 16, 2021
A lot of that might well come down to the new manager and how well Leah hits it off with them. A lot of it might come down to the outcome of the much touted internal review at Arsenal Women as the club seek to fix elements of their structure that have clearly broken in the last two years.
Meanwhile, yesterday the news also broke that Arsenal are close to agreeing a deal for Nikita Parris from Lyon. There were some reports earlier in the summer that a swap deal with Lyon for Miedema might be on the cards. My understanding is that this deal would not be a swap and that Miedema will likely stay for this season.
Viv’s contract expires next summer and her message is pretty clear too, she is not in an outrageous hurry to leave the club but she too wants to be convinced of their ambition. Next summer, hers and Leah’s deals will expire, as will Jordan Nobbs’ contract. That constitutes arguably Arsenal’s three biggest players.
All of them have shown loyalty and Arsenal have some space now to demonstrate their plans to keep up with Manchester City and Chelsea and compete to win the Champions League. If the players are not convinced, they will probably leave, it’s that simple. And no Arsenal fan should be under any illusions as to why or where the fault lines would lie.
This is, in my view, a really good squad that has enough to compete for the league title and Iwabuchi and Parris are / would be impressive additions to the attack. But Manchester City and Chelsea will keep escalating their investment and there are clearly some elements behind the scenes at Arsenal that were unsatisfactory last season.
Historically, Arsenal have been the standard bearers for women’s football in the UK but the future comes quickly and Arsenal’s executive layer has to prove that they have serious plans to keep it that way- to the fans and, most clearly, to the players. The gauntlet is at their feet.