It’s shortly after Arsenal have seen off Spurs Women with a consummate 3-0 victory at Emirates Stadium when Arseblog News speaks to Gunners defender Leah Williamson.
Leah comes from a family of Arsenal fans bar a notable exception- her Spurs supporting father. I ask whether he was in attendance at Emirates Stadium.
“No, my brother had a playoff game so he was there tonight instead!” Williamson explains. “He was gutted about it, he wouldn’t have shouted come on Arsenal, for sure, we might have got a ‘come on Reds’ out of him! But I would have put him in the away end!”
For Williamson, playing in a North London derby at Emirates Stadium has an extra dimension, having supported the club all her life and played for Arsenal since she was nine. However, Arsenal had a job to do to take the WSL title race to the final weekend.
Back in November, Spurs held the Gunners to a draw and the importance of Beth Mead’s early opener was not lost on the number six. “You have to respect what they did to us last time. We could have lost the league in that game and that hurts but to get the early goal was so crucial. But they nearly responded straight after and Viv clearing off the line was just quality for us!”
After that scare, Leah says that the team felt confident that the result would follow. “After that, I wasn’t worried that we would lose or draw, it just felt like being patient about getting the second but that it would be a matter of time.”
She LOVES a goal at the Emirates! 🙌
— Barclays FA Women's Super League (@BarclaysFAWSL) May 4, 2022
It was Williamson’s pass that set Mead on her way to goal, her third assist in three games, though Leah is reluctant to take too much credit. “Can you call that an assist? Beth picked that up on the halfway line didn’t she?”
Williamson passing to Mead has been a future of a few of Arsenal’s goals this week and Leah insists that teeing up Arsenal’s attacks is a big part of her job from centre-half. “I have to think about how I can have an effect on the game from centre-half and sometimes that means playing up high and pulling out a pass and giving it to Beth when she can run forward always seems like a good idea!
“In the last couple of games we’ve nailed that. If Beth is in that position, I am not going to dribble, I am going to give her the ball.” This was another physical contest with Tottenham employing rotational fouling and Leah says that the team were prepared for this in advance.
“When we played them last time there was an exceptional amount of fouls and to be honest, that probably threw us off a little. This time the referee dealt with it early doors which helped. But we knew that especially once they tired it was going to be like that. It was about playing around that and picking them off.”
The victory means Arsenal go into the final day of the season one point behind Chelsea at the top. The Gunners travel to West Ham while Chelsea host Manchester United. Leah says that the team’s main objective was to finish the season strongly after a disappointing defeat to Chelsea in the FA Cup semi-final recently.
“The Chelsea defeat really annoyed us- I could use different words there. But I think you’re seeing us play to fight for everything we have and the fact that it was Spurs today added something extra to the occasion but we were very focused on what we needed to do.
“We said at the beginning of the week we just wanted those three wins to finish the season and see where we end up. We’ve got two of them now we want that last one and to do that we have to think less about the opponent and more about the job in hand.”
Arsenal certainly haven’t looked nervous or tetchy about the title race at any point. I ask whether the players are excited to be involved after a couple of seasons in 3rd place. “I am, yes. I think we always think about what’s good for the women’s game and it going down to the wire is exactly what you want. Playing our way and finishing the season strongly and building for next season is what we want.”
More than that though, the focus for Arsenal is internal. “In the games where we’ve dropped points, we haven’t been ourselves and we made a pact with ourselves to finish our way, being who we are. If that’s not enough, it’s not enough but right now there’s everything to play for in that final game.”