Arsenal play their first Champions League semi-final for ten years this Sunday, against the same opponents they played the last time they found themselves at this stage of the competition in 2013.
They also just happen to be up against the opponents who knocked them out of the competition at the quarter-final stage last season. On that occasion, Arsenal played the second leg away from home, this time the tie is reversed in that respect and with around 50,000 expected for the second leg, the Gunners will have an edge compared to last season.
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However, Jonas Eidevall’s team will be missing a series of key players. Having just gotten over the loss of Beth Mead and Vivianne Miedema to ACL injuries before Christmas, Kim Little is ruled out for the season and now Leah Williamson is the third Arsenal player to suffer a ruptured ACL this season.
It necessitates another midfield re-jig as Williamson had already been moved into midfield to replace Little. Eidevall reverted to a back three at half-time during Wednesday’s defeat at Manchester United, it remains to be seen whether he will be tempted to do so in Germany on Sunday but Arsenal’s game plan will surely involve staying in the tie ahead of a second leg at a packed Emirates Stadium.
Katie McCabe returns to the squad after serving a domestic suspension at Manchester United on Wednesday evening. Caitlin Foord is in contention for the squad after a hamstring injury. Leah Williamson (ACL), joins Beth Mead and Vivianne Miedema (both ACL) and Kim Little (hamstring) on the sidelines. Gio and Jodie Taylor are not registered for the UWCL squad, Lina Hurtig (foot) is also out.
GOALKEEPERS: 1.Zinsberger; 14.D’Angelo; 18.Marckese, 40.Williams
DEFENDERS: 2.Rafaelle, 3.Wubben-Moy, 5.Beattie, 7.Catley, 16.Maritz, 26.Wienroither, 29.Goldie, 62.Reid
MIDFIELDERS: 12.Maanum, 13.Walti, 21.Pelova, 22.Kuhl, 61.Earl
ATTACKERS: 15.McCabe, 25.Blackstenius, 59.Agyemang.
A WORD FROM THE BOSS
“They have a lot of power, a lot of speed and they have a lot of individual qualities that are very different from each other with the player types they have. It gives them variety in the way they attack but they also have different options from the bench in order to change or use different offensive tools.
“Definitely they have one of the best attacks in Europe so it will be a tough challenge for us. We have watched the game back from last year a little bit. They were very good (when they beat Bayern Munich 5-0 recently) against a very good Bayern Munich team.
“When their attackers get to use their speed and their power they have some excellent quality. That game played very much into their strengths, it us up to us to play a game plan that plays into our strengths.”
LAST TIME OUT
When the teams met in the UWCL quarter-finals last season, Wolfsburg were 3-1 winners on aggregate. The second leg was played at the Volkswagen Arena after a 1-1 draw at the Emirates and Wolfsburg were 2-0 winners at home thanks to goals from Jill Roord and a Leah Williamson own goal.
Wolfsburg won the competition in 2013 and 2014 and are an absolute fixture in the final stages of this competition. Last year, after eliminating Arsenal they eventually succumbed 5-3 on aggregate to Barcelona.
Wolfsburg are the dominant force in the Frauen Bundesliga though a recent league defeat to Bayern Munich, whom Arsenal vanquished in the quarter-finals, has taken this year’s league title out of their hands.
However, they did manage to thrash Bayern 5-0 in the DfB Pokal semi-final last week and they deserved to beat PSG in the quarter-finals. Having knocked Arsenal out last year, as well as in 2013, Arsenal are underdogs but they know what they are up against and can draw confidence from their displays against the likes of Bayern and Lyon in the tournament this season.
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PLAYER TO WATCH
Arsenal are once again left to reconstruct a key area of the team, after losing Leah Williamson and Rafaelle to injury earlier in the season, the Gunners needed a defensive reshuffle. When they returned, Mead and Miedema suffered matching ACL injuries, requiring a reorganisation in attack.
Now Kim Little and Leah Williamson’s seasons are over, Jonas Eidevall is left to reconstruct his midfield again. Walti and Maanum are mainstays in that area but it’s who plays between them that will change and it’s likely that Victoria Pelova will shoulder that responsibility.
Pelova has largely filled the void left by Beth Mead by playing on the right this season but now she is the most natural player to drop into midfield, the position she says that she prefers overall. A swift acclimatisation will be required for the January signing from Ajax.
Subs: 5.Beattie, 14.D’Angelo, 18.Marckese, 22.Kuhl, 29.Goldie, 59.Agyemang, 61.Earl, 62.Reid.
HOW TO CATCH THE GAME
The game takes place at the Volkswagen Arena on Sunday afternoon with a 2.30pm kickoff UK time. The match will be broadcast live and free of charge on DAZN’s YouTube channel. No subscription is required to watch.
We will have Jonas Eidevall’s post-match reaction on the site on Sunday afternoon. We will also have a MD-1 vlog, Jason was at London Colney for the open training session on Saturday morning and i am ‘on the ground’ in Wolfsburg and will be attending Jonas Eidevall’s pre-match press conference in person.