During the summer, Team GB took part in the women’s football tournament in Tokyo, only the second time a women’s football team had taken part in the Olympics after London 2012. Interim England manager Hege Riise was given the task of selecting and coaching a squad of 18 for the tournament in Tokyo.
The Norwegian, surprisingly, elected to omit Arsenal’s Beth Mead and Jordan Nobbs from the squad and the reserve list, which was largely staffed with players under the age of 21. The blow was particularly savage for Nobbs, who missed the 2019 World Cup with England due to an anterior cruciate ligament injury.
“Obviously it was disappointing, not even being on the reserve list was the hardest thing probably,” Jordan tells Arseblog News from the Emirates Stadium’s plush new changing room. “From my side, I had played nearly the whole season as a left-winger and I don’t think that helped my case. Looking back, I know that was unfolding but when you’re getting minutes, you get stuck in that zone.
“If I had played in central midfield a bit more, maybe I would have got in; but I definitely think I could have improved or helped the team, given the chance.” At least, from an Arsenal perspective, with Champions League qualifiers during August on the horizon, two of the Gunners’ key performers would be fit and raring to go.
Arsenal faced Chelsea at Emirates Stadium in August in a pre-season friendly and Nobbs enjoyed an electric first half performance. That was, until her ankle buckled awkwardly after a challenge from Chelsea’s Erin Cuthbert. “The injury against Chelsea in pre-season was so annoying, I felt like I was in a really good place,” Jordan recalls with anguish. “I had refreshed mentally having not gone to the Olympics.
“Beth and I really enjoyed our time off and when we played Chelsea, I felt really at the top of my fitness again and then you get another knock and then it’s harder to get back into the team.” It represented another disruption for Nobbs, who tore her ACL in November 2018. She returned in August 2019 and just as she was beginning to find her best form again, covid curtailed the 2019-20 season.
Last season, Jordan was played on the left of the front three and she endured a couple of soft tissue injuries during the campaign. “Mentally, the last few years have been crazy for me because I have gone from such a high in terms of my rhythm (in the winter of 2018) but since then, it seems to have been one thing after another knocking me back; but I still really believe in myself and I know I just have to be patient and take my chances when I can.”
Fortunately, this injury was not as bad as first feared. Images emerged of Nobbs’ ankle buckling beneath her and as she was stretchered off, everyone watching certainly envisaged a lengthy lay off. “We were thinking it would be four months out if the injury was what we thought it was but it only ended up being two months, which was a relief,” the 28 year-old from Stockton-on-Tees explains. “But it was still really bad timing because I was raring to go for the season and that all took a knock. That injury really felt like the final mental hurdle that I could take, it really knocked me back quite a bit.
“I have worked hard with every setback though and I believe that will pay off. I’ve worked hard every time. It was tough, especially when I thought the injury might be worse, I was just thinking ‘oh my God, this is not happening again?’ Touch wood,” she says, tapping her head, “I am back fit now though and I have a lot of opportunity to shine with Arsenal.”
Sarina Wiegman says "a lack of minutes" is down to Jordan Nobbs missing out on the #Lionesses squad.#AFC head coach Jonas Eidevall insists she has the quality to be an #ENG player. pic.twitter.com/4Peiv8AVb5
— Anton Toloui (@SkyAnton) October 13, 2021
During the summer, Arsenal appointed former men’s team and England men’s team physio Gary Lewin as their head of Medicine and Sports Science. That, together with a larger playing squad, appears to have reduced the level of injury suffered within the squad. Having entrusted herself into his care, Jordan is of the opinion that Lewin was possibly Arsenal’s signing of the summer.
“Gary is one of the best people we’ve brought into the club. On the medical side in women’s football you don’t always get the top, top people. Gary is one of the top physios around. He’s got so much experience so he is a go to guy for all of us. When I got injured I got back in the exact time limit they had said. I worked really hard to come back but I trusted what the medical team told me. As a player, if you trust your physio it puts you in a great place because you don’t overthink or worry.”
Lewin is not the only new blood at Arsenal this summer. 38 year-old Swede Jonas Eidevall took over the reins as coach from Joe Montemurro, who departed during the summer. Eidevall immediately outlined his blueprint for Arsenal to become a much more front-footed, high pressing outfit. This was music to Nobbs’ ears, Jordan has always been revered for her tireless kinesis.
“It really excites me, I think high pressing really suits me. We’ve been in more of a mid-block the last couple of seasons but I think we are at our best when we are front footed and we have the players that can do it. It helps players like Viv to get the ball even higher up the pitch.” Jordan is hopeful that the move to a new style can benefit her, as well as the team.
“We only saw Jonas over Skype for the Chelsea friendly but I had a really clear instruction to play in the 10 and to press the centre-backs and that’s what I want to do in my game. Hopefully I can keep showing Jonas that I can do that well.” Eidevall has also rotated his team very frequently during the season, with a larger squad and a much more energetic style, he argues that rotation is a necessity.
I ask Jordan whether this is an adjustment for her, as a player who has been a first choice pick for close to a decade now. “It is a bit, when I came back from injury I looked at the competition and thought, ‘you’ve got to fight for this.’ But we’re probably not going to be playing the same starting eleven very often, we have three games a week and it’s physically impossible, with the high press Jonas wants to play with, to play every minute.
“We are all on the same page, we know players can come in and out but I think it’s a big part of why we’ve been able to win so many games recently. We can regroup and refresh players, we won against a really good Brighton team in the FA Cup semi-final even with three big players totally rested from the squad. It’s exciting, this is probably the strongest squad we’ve had in a while.”
Arsenal are shaping up for a mouth-watering Champions League group game against Barcelona at Emirates Stadium on Thursday, 9th December. Jordan has played at the Emirates several times back in 2012 and 2013 when women’s games happened at the stadium at least once a season. However, chances have been limited for her recently.
Arsenal Women didn’t play at the stadium for six years. Nobbs was recovering from an ACL injury when they played a friendly against Bayern Munich there in July 2019. Then she was injured playing there during a pre-season friendly against Chelsea in August, causing her to miss the opening game of the WSL season against the same opposition at the same venue.
“This place has been a bad omen for me!” she jokes. “Playing at the Emirates is amazing for us every time and everyone wants to get on the pitch and play. To play Barcelona here is so special, they are one of the best teams in the world and their quality is unbelievable. This is the perfect place for a game like this and we’ll give them a good fight.”
⚽️ Jordan Nobbs' goal v Barcelona, 2012 pic.twitter.com/FqA7Wng7Ui
— miedemastuff (@miedemastuff) October 4, 2021
The Gunners were well-beaten by the current European champions in Spain in October, falling to a 4-1 defeat. Barca defeated Chelsea 4-0 in last season’s Champions League Final, they are the best team in Europe bar none. However, Nobbs argues that Arsenal are richer for their experience in Catalonia.
“We haven’t gone crazy on the detail yet but we got a bit of a shock in the first 15 minutes, the way they pass and control the ball, we couldn’t get out. We learned a lot from it though, especially on how we deal with those big pressure moments. We believe we will be in a better position to compete this time, we have to respect them, they are the best passing team I have ever played against.
“We know we need to be diligent and have more composure on the ball this time. They are the type of team that you can’t make even tiny mistakes against. But we want to face the best teams in the world to improve and compete with them.” The Champions League is a big target for Arsenal, to date still the only British team to win the tournament back in 2007.
Jordan has other targets in the rear-view mirror, however. The small matter of the European Championships in England next summer. Nobbs went to the 2015 World Cup but was dogged by a hamstring injury. An ACL injury robbed her of a place at the 2019 World Cup and she wasn’t selected for the Olympics in July. For such a stellar player, Jordan has not had the international tournament career she has deserved.
I ask her whether the Euros are in her mind at all. “It is a little bit, yes,” she admits. “With my injury history over the last few years I can’t afford to think about it too much because I know things can change quickly. But the best thing for me is to work as hard as I can to get into the Arsenal team, shine when I am on the pitch and hopefully England will come but right now, I have to take things game by game with Arsenal.”
Arsenal play Barcelona at Emirates Stadium on Thursday, 9th December at 7pm. Tickets are on general sale here. Tickets cost £12 for adults and £6 for concessions.