Arsenal Women kick off their WSL season at home to Chelsea on Sunday at Emirates Stadium. You can buy tickets here at £12 adults and £6 concessions. Ahead of the game, Tim Stillman spoke exclusively to Gunners defender and lifelong Arsenal fan Anna Patten about life under new coach Jonas Eidevall, playing at the Emirates and…..those TikToks….
Anna Patten returned to Arsenal in January after three-and-a-half years on scholarship in the US college system. Patten had advanced through the Arsenal academy and played a handful of first team games before leaving for the US in 2017. A childhood Arsenal fan, Patten’s signing represented a homecoming- but that didn’t mean it wasn’t without its challenges, arriving halfway through the season right in the middle of the UK’s second wave of Covid infections.
“Coming in when I did it was hard even to bond with the girls because of covid restrictions, we were in and out of the training ground and there wasn’t time to bond really,” Anna explains to me. “Towards the end of the season we were able to do more together as a team as restrictions relaxed and I’ve really built on that in pre-season and I feel much closer to my teammates. I have settled into the speed of play in the WSL. I definitely feel more settled in now.”
Patten now has half a season with the team and a full pre-season behind her and the 22-year-old is really feeling the benefit. “I felt really ready and fit when we joined up for pre-season, there was a really good group of us and we created a really good atmosphere for those first few weeks while a lot of the other players were at the Olympics. I felt confident and because of the lack of numbers, I moved into midfield which was a bit new, though I had played there a bit in the US.”
Anna scored in the 4-0 pre-season victory over Tottenham Hotspur- a feat not lost on someone who went to her first match at Highbury at the age of six. Anna says she felt the unfamiliarity of the position gave her a sense of freedom, “Because it’s not my position, I let the reigns off a little bit. I just thought to myself, ‘there’s nothing to lose here Anna, why don’t you take this shot from outside the box?’ I really enjoyed that and I’ve really enjoyed pre-season.”
Fine goal this from Anna Patten. As with quite a few players at the club, she’s properly Arsenal through and through. pic.twitter.com/OWfglmfjui
— Adam Millington (@AdamGMillington) August 8, 2021
It has been a unique pre-season for Arsenal, with nine players away at the Olympic Games, four Champions League qualifying games to play and the arrival of new coach Jonas Eidevall, who joined a couple of weeks into pre-season. I ask Anna whether it has felt hectic, “Yes and no,” she considers. “Jonas wasn’t there at first but he kind of was because Aaron (D’Antino) and Leanne (Hall- Jonas’ assistants) were already teaching his philosophies.
“There were about 12 of us there from the beginning of pre-season and when the others came back from the Olympics, we were able to help them get up to speed with the new ideas. We’ve really helped one another out, granted it has been hectic but I think you can see in the games that we are a very together team.”
Increased intensity has been the by-word for Arsenal Women in pre-season, the schedule has certainly been intense but new coach Jonas Eidevall brings with him a style fuelled by counter-pressing. The 38-year-old Swede is also a livewire on the touchline and the change in approach from previous boss Joe Montemurro has been clear for the players.
“Intensity is the right word,” Patten says. “You can see it on the sideline, he is up on his feet and he is loud and very encouraging when we do what he wants. I think that intensity is bringing out the best in us and he really strives for high standards in training. What also comes with a new coach are fresh eyes, fresh competition, there are lots of new players that have come in and everyone has to start all over again with a blank slate to prove we can play how Jonas wants us to.”
Eidevall has made it clear that his attacking style will be based on possession but on counter-pressing in the final third too. “The whole idea is that as soon as you lose it, you don’t dwell on the mistake or your teammate’s mistake, the idea is to react immediately and get numbers around the ball and win it back. We think that really suits us and it suits our attacking players. We don’t want teams to get the ball back and have their way with it and we want to try to get the ball back and counter while the opponents are out of position.
“You can see it already in the games and when it works and Jonas gets really excited when it does work! Every coach wants their team to react when they lose the ball but for him, it’s one of the main things and everyone knows that.” Despite pre-season appearances in midfield, Anna is still considered a right centre-half or right-back. Lisa Evans, one of Arsenal’s right-back options, was recently loaned to West Ham.
I ask Anna whether she saw that as an expression of faith in her from the coach. “Yes, definitely. I know I am arguably the back up in that position at the moment but we will play a lot of games this season. I feel he has faith in me to play in any game and I feel ready to play in any game. I want to play and prove myself in an Arsenal shirt.
“Honestly, I probably didn’t look at Lisa going much in that way at the time because I think Lisa was going to be considered more of a winger. I know she played full-back under Joe (Montemurro) but I am not sure whether Jonas saw her as a right-back. But the talks I have had with him have made me feel positive, especially in terms of playing at right-back because we have a lot of centre-halves.”
For Anna, Sunday will be a doubly special occasion as Arsenal open the season against Chelsea at Emirates Stadium. A lifelong Gooner, Anna came through the club’s academy and comes from a family of Arsenal fans. “It’s a dream come true to play there,” she beams. “I didn’t expect it when I signed because Arsenal Women haven’t played much at the Emirates in the last few years.
“It wasn’t even in my thoughts but it’s such an exciting and positive thing and it’s so great for the fans and for us to show the fans a good game. I have one of those Emirates Stadium road signs in my room, do you know the ones I mean? I’ve had one of those in my room since I was about ten. I look at it every day and now I will get to play at the stadium, it is just crazy and it’s going to be such a big occasion.”
Arsenal haven’t beaten Chelsea since a 5-0 win at Kingsmeadow in October 2018 but Anna does think the team might have an advantage over the defending champions having already played three competitive Champions League qualifiers this summer, whereas Chelsea have only played friendlies. “We know we had to almost force the Olympic girls back to be with us and for big knockout games too and they were absolutely great with it. Already playing under that pressure, knowing that a loss knocks us out of the Champions League, stands us in good stead. We take that as a positive going into the game.”
One of the players who has really caught the eye in the Champions League qualifiers is Japanese playmaker Mana Iwabuchi, who signed for the club from Aston Villa during the summer. Iwabuchi scored a golaço against PSV Eindhoven in Moscow and Anna says the games just show fans a small glimpse of what the players see from Mana at London Colney.
It’s Iwabuchi’s goal for me. The shot from that angle straight into the corner net. Screams power ⚽️ pic.twitter.com/M90sZE09Mk
— simcity (@kiiaurx) September 2, 2021
“She is absolutely world class, the things she does in training are crazy,” Anna gushes. “You guys see her for 90 minutes and she’s great, we see her every day in training and we see the quality she brings,” Anna pauses, “And….ah! She is outstanding. The goal she scored against PSV is a small snippet of what we can expect this season, I think.”
No interview with Anna can pass without mention of her escapades on TikTok, which always go viral on Arsenal Women Twitter. In Australian internationals Steph Catley and Lydia Williams, Patten has found a pair of TikTok acolytes for choreographed dance routines and other assorted silliness. “I knew you were going to ask me about this!” Anna laughs.
Our tiktok queen👑 pic.twitter.com/c6VvCOiAzP
— Maanum P.I. (@LagoonerBeach) August 27, 2021
“It’s always a great laugh to do them and it keeps spirits up. I would LOVE to be able to rely on everyone on the team to produce TikToks with me but I know for a fact that if I ask Viv (Miedema) to do a TikTok, I’ll get the stare and a raised eyebrow and I’ll know, ‘ok, that’s a no from Viv!’ Lyds and Steph are always up for it; so we’ve become a bit of a TikTok trio. There are some other dark horses in the group though, Jen Beattie has been getting on the TikTok hype but all the girls know that if they are producing a TikTok, they come to me!”
Arsenal play Chelsea at Emirates Stadium at 12.30pm on Sunday, 5th September. Tickets are available here. The match is also being screened live on Sky Sports in the UK.