Monday, April 22, 2024

‘This Arsenal team is hungry for trophies.’ Arseblog interview with Beth Mead

‘I always appreciated football but I think you appreciate it even more when you are taken out of the game for nearly a year and you miss big moments, like the Conti Cup Final, like the sellout game against Wolfsburg in the semi-final of the Champions League. I have been at the club quite a long time now and you want to experience those moments with the team.’

Beth Mead is in reflective mood as Arseblog News sits down to talk with her ahead of this Sunday’s Conti Cup Final against Chelsea. Mead missed last year’s final, one of only three trophies the club have won since she arrived in 2017, due to her ACL rupture.

Mead insists that missing that final makes her even more hungry to repeat last year’s victory over the same opponents they will face down on Sunday at Molineux. But the 28-year-old also says her focus has been a little more micro than macro since returning from her ACL rupture in October. ‘I have been hungry to get back on the pitch and play a lot of football and continue to improve.

‘It has been a new-found hunger and motivation to try to be a part of that and push on and make things better for the team.’ We are talking at London Colney’s indoor training centre a few days after the Gunners’ chastening 3-1 defeat to Chelsea at Stamford Bridge in the WSL. Beth admits there is very little hiding place for the performance that night but that they will use the mistakes, and the hurt, to help them to prepare for this Sunday.

‘Chelsea clearly wanted to rectify their performance from the first game (at the Emirates in December when Arsenal were 4-1 winners) and we turned up this time, they did something a little different and we didn’t handle it very well and they punished us. It is going to be a game of which team turns up best, which tactics come off best for each team.

‘As a team and individuals it is on us to get that right but as well, the managers will try to outsmart each other and they have both done that against each other this season. It’s one for one, I guess! We have to do what we do well too, we didn’t remotely do that last time.

‘We made it very easy for Chelsea to do what they do well. We have looked in depth at that, our meetings have been very long this week but for good reasons. We are trying to learn from the process and holding ourselves accountable and we need to make sure that doesn’t happen again.’

This game will mark the last time that Emma Hayes comes up against Arsenal as Chelsea boss. Hayes will take the reins for the US Women’s National Team at the end of the season. ‘She got it very right on Friday against us and we got it very wrong. She’s a great manager. She sets her team up well so it’s going to be a big transition for them when she leaves. I guess it’d be interesting to see what Chelsea you see when she’s not there anymore.

‘But we’ve just got to concentrate on ourselves as an Arsenal team and we’ve got to keep improving. There’s been a lot of inconsistencies throughout our season this season so we’ve got rectify that and look at what is causing the losses and the defeats that we’ve had so far this year.’

The England international suggests, as Jonas Eidevall does, that lots of starting line-up upheaval and inculcating new players and returning injured players has played a part in an inconsistent season. ‘We’ve always held ourselves accountable and we want to be the best version of us. And that’s not always the case, it’s not always that easy. System changes, personnel changes – these are factors that are hard.

‘We spend enough hours on the pitch together in training and doing what we do so we still need to rectify that and be better at that.’ Mead says it has been a season of forming new partnerships. Alessia Russo, to her left, and Emily Fox, behind her, have come into the team this season.

‘I’ve played with a lot of different forwards, wide players, 10s, fullbacks behind me; for different reasons, it’s changed. I constantly try to speak in meetings and say that we need to be better at bringing each of our strengths out on the pitch. You’ve tried to get a rhythm on one person, then it changes, and this and another player comes back. It’s tougher than just being on the pitch and it just clicking like that.

‘Of course, we’ve got a bunch of amazing players that can do amazing things on the pitch, but it’s now knitting it all together.’ Mead explains that Sunday’s game is so meaningful for Arsenal because they know they have not delivered enough silverware in recent years- largely due to Chelsea’s domestic dominance.

‘This Arsenal team are hungry to win trophies. Over the last so many years, we’ve not done that so consistently. You want to beat Chelsea, you want to win games, and ultimately, that’s what we’ll be out to do. And, of course, we would love to retain the cup again, but although it’s not always pretty, we always do want to go out and win games.’

Mead has played consistently since returning from her ACL rupture in October but she admits that her injury has changed things for her, not least her post-match routine. Previously Beth was a player who would stay after games and see every fan that stayed behind to meet her for an autograph or selfie.

In fact, for a while I stopped requesting Beth for post-match interviews because I knew I would be in for a long wait while she signed and snapped away with supporters. Mead says the increased crowds, as well as her post-match routine for her knee, means she cannot spend as much time with supporters as she would like.

‘I wrote it in my book recently, fans know we like to show for the fans in good and bad. But it’s hard now, especially with the game changing the way it is,’ she tells Arseblog News, her eyes briefly dropping to the ground as she does, the guilt clearly taking hold. ‘I would love to go around and see everyone but, ultimately, to be ready for our next game, I have to go in and do my workout to help my knee.

‘My left knee has started to get tendinitis because I have loaded from my right knee and my right knee has it because I have a patellar graft on my ACL. I think people expect us to come back and that’s it, that you are back how you were and that’s not the case. I think you see that with all of us who have come back, it takes a bit of time to get back to our level and we keep pushing to be better.

‘After the game, we are still working in the changing room and we don’t leave for a while after because we need to get that right to come in the next day for recovery and then go again with training. I think people can forget that and come with a banner asking for your shirt and we do feel like we are letting people down in a way but it’s not fair for us to feel that way anymore.

‘We are very appreciative of the support, in recent years especially, it is becoming increasingly difficult to balance that with keeping ourselves fit and ready for the next game. It has been different for me since the ACL, I feel things a lot more now than I did before.’

That said, Mead has yet to experience any setbacks and has largely been reintegrated without any visible signs of disruption. ‘So far my comeback has been handled really, really well, I feel good on the pitch physically, I am starting to feel better. I am knitting all of that together but I would say I am quite proud of the way I have come back.

‘I am not perfect but I know a lot of people who came back from this injury before I did it and people who are doing it now and am seeing how they are coping with it. It is no secret that the last year and a half hasn’t been the easiest ride but I still think with everything that has happened I have dealt with the situation and getting the minutes and trying to perform at the best level I can to earn my right to be in the team.’

When it comes to Sunday, Mead is less reflective and more defiant. ‘The game is going to be wide open. And I think even as a player, you back yourself and you back your team.’ If Arsenal are to lift the Conti Cup again on Sunday, Beth Mead will almost certainly be one of the main reasons behind it.

With thanks to Emily Keogh of ESPN and Tara Anson-Walsh of Mail Sport.

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Al M

They may well be hungry but will continue to starve until they get a new mouthpiece

Fun Gunner

Don’t feel guilty, Beth! Any sensible fan will understand that you have to look after your fitness.

Interesting that she talks about working on new on-field relationships because I think she has gelled very quickly with her new partners.

Best of luck tomorrow to all the girls and JE. That Cup came back home and it’s staying!

Fun Gunner

Gah – not tomorrow, Sunday!

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