Wednesday, May 22, 2024

Stay with the pain: on Arsenal Women processing the disappointment of their European exit

After scrapping with their fingernails through an unbearable injury crisis in the spring to grab the last Champions League qualifying spot on goal difference, Arsenal Women won’t play Champions League football this season after all. After all the progress in Europe last season, the 5-1 thumping of Lyon, the win from behind against Bayern Munich, fighting toe to toe with Wolfsburg with the squad down to the bare bones, some of last season’s most memorable nights won’t be repeated in 2023-24.

There is no hiding or concealing what a monumental disappointment that is for fans and players alike. Yesterday, I sat behind Arsenal’s press officer for the penalty shootout and alongside Arsenal.com’s staff. People who are invested in the players as much as the badge, people who had the additional emotional tie of watching colleagues and friends have their dreams cruelly taken away.

After disappointing defeats, I never ask to speak to any players, just the coach. The players don’t want to talk and, frankly, we don’t really have the demand for the extra content anyway. As an introvert I understand intrinsically that, for almost everyone, processing disappointment is a largely solitary process. As the fallout of the penalty shootout defeat began to percolate I leant over to Dan, the press officer. ‘No players, just Jonas will be fine.’

The way UEFA games are structured there is a very defined mixed zone between the dressing room and the team bus. It brings you face to face with the players, on nights like Lyon away last October, it’s glorious. Everyone is happy to stop, even those that don’t shoot a smile or a clenched fist as they pass.

Obviously I have to be professional and neutral in these environs but I am sure my face tells the story too just as it does for the players. On this occasion, it felt awkward and grating, like intruding on a private grief. You also want to take care that your expression doesn’t give away your own hurt. Just because I try it doesn’t mean I succeed, however.

Katie McCabe passes and we exchange a raise of eyebrows, Jen Beattie, who really should have been the heroine of this game, raises her eyes and puffs out her cheeks. Kim Little passes with a rueful smile. Lina Hurtig, Frida Maanum and Stina Blackstenius are stopped by the Swedish press. I have no idea what any of them say except to observe that the answers are short and pushed out among a sea of sighs.

Arsenal will now play in the Conti Cup group stage which feels, with all due respect to the competition the Gunners won last season, like an extra gut punch. A reminder of the gravity of this defeat. That reminder will be served regularly during the autumn and winter months. Trading in trips to the likes of Lyon, Turin and Munich for Crystal Palace or Lewes just isn’t the same.

Arsenal sold out their last Champions League game at Emirates Stadium but won’t have the opportunity to match that feat for their next European match for at least 12 months. There has been and will be a time to discuss whether this Champions League format is the best one, there are certainly questions that need to be asked of UEFA and FIFA as Alessia Russo, 17 days after starting a World Cup Final in Sydney, was starting a Champions League qualifier on a plastic pitch in Sweden. It is utterly lamentable that FIFA and UEFA combine to disregard player health so flagrantly.

At the moment, such conversations feel futile as Jonas Eidevall and his team are left to pick over the bones of this disappointment. ‘We are neither better nor worse as a team than we were yesterday,’ Eidevall told the small gaggle of journalists post-match. The squad travels to Germany until Thursday to lick their wounds and prepare for the WSL season opener on 1 October.

 

As another reminder of the lunacy of the women’s football calendar, most of the players will be away with their countries in the days leading up to the curtain raiser against Liverpool at the Emirates. But Arsenal have to make the best of this situation and this is where coaches and athletes and supporters are often at cross purposes.

Athletes cannot afford to dwell too much or indulge the urge for self pity or frustration and anger. They have to quickly adapt to the situation and make the best of it. They also have to find a way to use the disappointment as rocket fuel. The Conti Cup group stages give Arsenal, at least, the opportunity to better integrate younger squad players in need of minutes. Now it ought to be easier to give needed rest to players who went into the final stages of the World Cup and were robbed of a break by women’s football’s allergy to sane scheduling.

Free of European football last season, Manchester United were able to form a proper challenge for the league title and the FA Cup and the challenge is there for Arsenal to use their European disappointment to fuel a bountiful domestic season. That will certainly be an expectation among supporters and rightly so.

Even if Arsenal retain the Conti Cup this season, that competition ends in early March. The calendar for the crucial final weeks of the campaign are going to be clearer this year come what may. Clearly, all of this talk still feels a little sour, a little hollow in the wake of this disappointment.

There is a scene in the movie Fight Club, where Ed Norton’s character is having his hand burned with lye and vinegar by his alter ego Tyler Durden. As Norton flails and begs for the agony to stop, Durden urges him ‘don’t shut this out, stay with the pain.’ That is what today feels like. Sometimes you need to stay with the pain to properly process it, because that is the best way to let it go.

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Maxin In The Shade

Wonderfully written Tim.

Pain can be a great motivator. Here’s to better things moving forward

PeSt

The players were so disappointed. I sat right behind the bench. And the look of the faces said all you needed to know! I believe they will mount a real challenge in the league using this as fuel.

After a short thanking of the crowd they left the pitch. All but Katie who returned to the pitch and gave her shoes to my son. Best day of his life so far.

Keep it Real

This one has to be on Jonas and his selection. No McCabe starting and no Russo starting is a massive error – the club has backed by him fully – he needs to deliver

Ray's ice cream Parlour

With so many of our best players out with injuries with over playing a contributory factor – sharing load through the squad in two pre-season games is sensible player management. I think Paris FC had just one player at the World Cup (on the other side of the world) – pretty much all of our squad was out there. Saying that – their first goal was a bit lucky and then the team switched off for the second goal. With had more than enough quality and experience to win the match, but heh-ho…. If we win the league and have… Read more »

Arsenallive23

Paris FC had a team of kids and two at 37/38 years old. You can’t seriously believe that Arsenal just got unlucky? It was a disaster to go out in qualifying to them. We only just managed to keep third place last season because City lost a game to freaking Liverpool! And even then it was down to a better goal difference.

Catlike1

We had 3 world class players injure their ACLs last season—Mead, Miedema, Williamson. Plus Wienroither toward the very end. To advance to the CL semifinals last season and come in 3rd in the WSL were big accomplishments. We should not have lost to Paris FC given the quality of the squad but some of the players have barely played with one another. Others had barely any break from the World Cup.

Goonersuz

Exactly. The bitter pill to swallow from yesterday is that the team fought so hard whilst running on fumes to secure the 3rd spot in the WSL, only to miss out on the chance to play UWCL. It’s easy to say we had the quality but the impact of the World Cup campaign cannot be underestimated. The Swedish players also had many media activities once they got home, further reducing their recovery time. Now we have more international campaigns coming up and I feel Arsenal need to be more “strategic” about player availability. Stina, as just one example has clocked… Read more »

Heavenly Chapecoense

Excuses.

Heavenly Chapecoense

Excuses.

Heavenly Chapecoense

Excuses.

Tim Stillman

I didn’t have a problem rotating McCabe and Catley, there is little difference in quality between the two players and a measure of rotation was going to be needed. The few minutes Katie played at RB however really illustrated that that is not going to work.

Salvador Berzunza

exactly those improvisations killed us, we need a proper RB, Lotte played inverted she usually plays right CB, Codina wasn’t ready on time for this match, and we still don’t have a proper back up for Waelti. Anyway COYG.

Texas

Felt odd they had to play this level of qualification when they finished top 3 in the WPL, and were in the semis of the WCL last season? A single knockout tie like the male 4th place side would frel more logical.
Is there a country/league weighting as with the men’s CL, if so how many English teams gain direct entry?

itswildfir3

1. 2nd place plays a payoff qualifier, third place plays a mini tournament to qualify for a playoff qualifier.

The rules were made during a period before the Spanish and English teams started heavily investing in their women’s teams. It’s probably time to revisit the qualification.

Regardless, we can’t make excuses. We were by far the favourites to come out of this group and should have done better.

Peter Story Teller

Should have done but how many of the oppositions’ squads were playing in the last couple of games at the World Cup just over 2 weeks ago on the far side of the planet?
The players are human beings not football machines with 100% duty cycle!
The competition format and scheduling were stacked against us from the start and that is not an excuse but simply reality!

Chinese Gooner

Well, Paris FC beat us didn’t they. So no matter how high we finished in the supposedly best league in the world, they deserve to be in the champions league in place of us.

valerie jacobs

No this one is definitely on the governing bodies, couldn’t organise a p*** up in a brewery

Arsenallive23

It was good enough for the likes of Brondby, Frankfurt, Koge (remember them?) and even Shelbourne to make it through to the next round. So it was fine for a lot of teams that aren’t as ‘professional’ as Arsenal. This is nothing more than Jonas Eidevall getting it wrong and underestimating the game. We were so damn lucky to even take it to penalties but face facts, the team were underprepared and simply not good enough. Excuses are just that, even City accepted going out in the qualifiers two years running without demanding the format changes or the woe is… Read more »

Catlike1

Questions need to be asked about how Jonas prepared the squad. But you are ignoring that virtually all of Arsenal’s Squad played in the WC and many of the starters went deep into the competition. The teams you listed did not have many players playing in the WC so they were rested and the teams had lots of time to prepare for these games and also bed in new signings. We still should have won. No q question. But it’s fair to raise questions about the format especially with the World Cup starting and ending so late this year. This… Read more »

Jeremy Cunnington

Questions for you: And how many of those teams had players at the World Cup let alone the latter stages of it? Frankfurt knocked out Juventus who got to the knock out stages 2 seasons ago. So how could Arsenal have prepared any better with over half the start 11 playing in high intensity international games 2 weeks before and most of the rest having only an extra week or twos rest lets not forget 4 others coming back from long term injuries? Final It’s got nothing to do with newbies with woe is me attitude, it’s just appalling fixture… Read more »

Doonhamer

Your pre match video highlighted this could be a tricky match, Tim, which is how it turned out. I was able to catch parts of the game on the Arsenal website and despite the apparent dominance the team had, felt that a Penalty shoot out would prove costly.
Your article brilliantly sums up the disappointment but its now time to regroup and use the experience to kick on for the rest of the season.

Flashman71

Dreadful article. How about the pain of undergping some criticism for an absolutely appalling display from the players and the coach alike? If their “defending” had been as perhaps as good as yours, then maybe just maybe they would still be in the competion. No doubt the coach and players (who you obviously know reasonably well in a football context) appreciate your kind words and your “reasoning” for doing so. As a long time supporter and follower of all things Arsenal, on this occasion I certainly don’t. The obseqiousness of your article will surely serve you well for the rest… Read more »

Arsenallive23

He needs to keep his ‘press’ access so you’ll never see Tim openly criticise Jonas or any of the players.

Tim Stillman

My ‘access’ is not in any danger. Arsenal have never banned or restricted the access of a journalist because they criticised the manager, the team or the club.

Tim Stillman

In fact, for full transparency, I put in a request for a sit down interview in Sweden with Jonas and didn’t get it because they decided against doing media in the time between the Linkoping and Paris games.

Tim Stillman

I can absolutely guarantee none of the players will read this (I imagine they’ll all be on a kind of lockdown for the training camp). If I was looking to convenience Arsenal or be ‘obsequious’ I wouldn’t do the reporting I do (I assure you they would very much prefer for me to not report on transfer targets, for example). I don’t have a close personal relationship with any player. The ones I mention in the piece have been at the club for a long time and are used to seeing me. Those players know who I am and might… Read more »

BIGMAL

Why does it take you so long to report the result?

Tim Stillman

We post the full transcript of Jonas Eidevall’s press conference immediately after it finishes. But we don’t ‘report the result’ here per se. Not sure that’s really necessary?

Matthinc

Tim, thank you so so much for an article I loved reading and all the work you do reporting on the women’s game. I love your heartfeltness and honestly.

Gunner H

Poor comments – whilst appreciating that you are a long time Arsenal supporter, we are very fortunate to have such an empathic and intelligent reporter as Tim on our blog site.

I do agree of course that it was a below par performance, whilst Paris appeared to be very physical & pushing the boundaries of gamesmanship.

Jeremy Cunnington

So what would you have done differently given that half the team were in competitive action 16 days beforehand and the other half only had an extra couple of weeks off?

Gunner4life

Half the team were in action 16 days beforehand? Half the team? Half? Are you sure about that because we had Russo put in 45minutes for England, LWM did not play. Foord and Catley for Aussies. ILestedt for Sweden but Hurtig and Blackstenius played 30 and 70 minutes of the game. That’s 3 players that actually played a full game over 3 weeks ago. 3 weeks isn’t enough time for recovery? Hm. Sounds like clutching at straws for losing but okay. Most of the players yesterday (over half the team and most of the starters) had longer than 3 weeks… Read more »

Redwall

agree… saying the team isn’t recovered from the WC seems like an excuse to me – these people are professionals. And they didn’t deiiver against Paris FC.

Timbo

Arseblog is a site serving supporters. Therefore a report after a game like this is not going to make the same criticisms that a newspaper report might. I thought Tim’s report was excellent for connecting with other supporters. We saw the errors. We felt the pain as supporters. And we know full well that the team and coach are even more painfully aware of those errors than us. So I don’t need to read an article on this site giving them a kicking while they are down. If you want a detailed analysis of the onfield errors you can find… Read more »

Bren

So sorry to see you girls drop out of Europe but right behind you as always for the season ahead.
Thanks Tim, I never expected to see my little home town in the same sentence as Lyon, Turin and Munich.

Arsenallive23

Winning the league is now all he can do to save his job, anything less and he needs to be sacked. Embarrassing start to the season. The impact of no Champions League nights at the Emirates can’t be ignored, that’s a serious loss.

Tim Stillman

His current contract expires at the end of the season. I imagine the next few months might be a game of ‘wait and see’ from Arsenal.

Karen

Thanks Tim, you managed to give us some realistic positives. I just really feel for the players, who deserve better than this miserable pre-season replacement. uefa need to care a lot more about the players with scheduling and pitches. They are people and athletes, not work horses

Goonersuz

Add Sweden and Wolfsburg player Rebekah Blomqvist to the ACL list…

Arsenallive23

It’s been three weeks since the World Cup final, players get less breaks and recovery time with international breaks, and Arsenal didn’t have that many players in the Final did they? It’s a strange excuse to say the players needed more time off, isn’t that Jonas’ job to have the team in preseason and ready for these games? Quoting Fight Club is a little strange but if it makes this loss easier for you Tim that fine, it’s still an absolute disastrous start to the season and nothing but a league win will make up for it. Aston Villa won’t… Read more »

Catlike1

Because Chelsea have won the league the last three years, they have not had to go through these two early qualification rounds for the CL group stage and had more weeks to prepare for the PL and CL. They also have had a deeper squad. Man City got knocked out by Real last year in the second round of CL qualification. The women’s CL format is just ridiculous now that the women’s game had greatly progressed. And you’ve still not acknowledged this summer was different given how late the World Cup was and where it was held. Having come back… Read more »

Tim Stillman

Yes, I completely agree it’s a disaster. I say so in the piece. I did not say it was a good thing. It is 100% not. I said the players have to make the best of it. They have no choice now.

Salvador Berzunza

Chelsie always has enough depth; we went to these matches with a small squad of competitive players. 20 or 21 counting 3 goalkeepers, Mead wasn’t ready to play. We waste 4 or 5 spots. The number of available players is short again, one season more with a minimalist squad.

Gunner H

A poetically & empathically brilliant report, Tim.

No pain, no gain, as you say – the League title must now be the primary focus and aim of the team for 2023/24.

Goonersince55

Really well written, Tim. Like you, I have to live with the pain. If you love someone or something, then there’s a price to losing it. It’s a price I’m willing to pay when the alternative is indifference.

Goonersince55

Just to add, in my 68 years of being a football supporter, yesterday was in my top three disappointments, along with the 1970 World Cup when England lost to Germany after going 2-0 up, and the match I went to at Elland Road in 1971 when we could have sealed the league title but Jack Charlton scored a last-minute goal.
(But redemption in the 1-0 win at White Hart Lane!)

Peter Story Teller

Yes I was there when poor old Ray Kennedy nodded in the goal for the First Division League title.
Those were the days when Bertie Mee went through an entire season only using 15 players; break into that squad if you can! You knew the team selection before you got off the train at Arsenal Station 🙂
Even better Man Utd finished 8th and Man City 11th but it would be a while before they became serious challengers!
Anyway we digress down memory lane.

CarollaMcFoam

Interesting article and I enjoyed the different slant on it. I agree that the scheduling of this tournament was extremely poor and em failed to take into account the impact of the wellbeing of the players in the World Cup. It was, however, a really poor performance for most of the game. I thought Pelova coming on made a huge change. We then kept the ball better, passed it quicker and disrupted Paris’ block far better. Both Wubben-Moy and Ilestedt jumped out of position to try and win the ball higher up leaving spaces in behind which Paris easily exploited.… Read more »

Tim Stillman

Yeah I watched Paris on Wednesday and asked Jonas about them and we both agreed they were dangerous on the counter and good at springing in behind. He said before the game they were preparing for that but who knows?

Jeremy Cunnington

Really think the format of the WCL is too restrictive in terms of teams and with the growing quality of the game should go up to 32 teams especially as there is no second tier competition. Last year quality teams like Man City and Ajax missed out, but equally then it could have been Real Madrid or Arsenal. This year Arsenal and Juventus have missed out already before the final qualifying round I suspect that money is the only language UEFA understands that with a consistent number of big clubs or clubs from big tv audience countries consistently missing out… Read more »

Patrick Horan

I watched the game live on ARSENAL. com just like I watched every minute of the European games last season on DANZ a=d others I feel said this season on how we performed in both games and did snot play well in either .We should this game in normal tine given the chances had, especially, Frida Maanum 

Peter Story Teller

On the back of a penalty shoot out the number of cries for “Jonas Out!” appear to have intensified. I feel he has done ok without setting the world alight and this will be his make or break season because he now has a much deeper squad of players he wants not those he inherited. Ok now to the point. Rather than just negatively suggesting we ditch the coach how about some positive, and realistic, suggestions for his replacement for next season if this one fails to be a success for which the WSL title plus anything else we can… Read more »

arsenalfan

I hope the players and staff use this disappointment, anger and the barrage of, quite frankly, abuse that comes with this from rivals as fuel and go and steamroll everything in the upcoming season. Take the bad and makes something good out of it

Peter Story Teller

I see Ebony Salmon has just gone to Villa. So not only are they now stronger it just goes to show that she was available, prepared to come back to WSL, and I am convinced as a willing runner she would have been a good fit by getting on the end of Leah’s long diagonal balls! Not that there is anything wrong with Lessi. I have been a fan for several years but we had a different recruitment mentality when we let her go to United!

Tim Stillman

Maybe, but Villa wanted Stina before they went for Ebony.

Peter Story Teller

Confirms that they are viewed similarly I guess. You can never have enough eager runners!
Just looked at the training photos on the official website and good to see Viv back on the grass and Leah in the gym.
I wish someone would have a word with Katie, however, it looks like she is wearing a nappy!

Redwall

LOL on the nappie- but agree. with regards to the willibng runner, is it only me, but seems like Lauren James (talent of a genration etc) is not a willing runner?

Sebastian Månsson

Well written, Tim! I was the Swedish reporter in the blue shirt whom stretched out my hand when you were all covered in chocolate. When I stood beside you in the mixed-zone I was nervous as I’m a introvert myself and was doing my first journalistic gig – ever. Never seen a mixed-zone, been a Gunner since 2005 but this was my first live-game, and knowing how to deal with crushed players was daunting. I’m glad to have gotten the responses out of Blackstenius and Hurtig that I did, through their understandable sighs, and even though Hurtig gave a small… Read more »

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