Saturday, May 25, 2024

Vivianne Miedema: Arsenal legend

I have been watching Arsenal Ladies / Women since 1996. I have seen Marieanne Spacey, Kelly Smith, Kim Little, Jayne Ludlow, Julie Fleeting, Lianna Sanderson and Rachel Yankey in their respective primes. I haven’t seen a better player in an Arsenal shirt than Vivianne Miedema.

When she signed in the summer of 2017, I was aware of her exploits with Bayern Munich and how highly she was regarded in the game. Super charged by her talents, Netherlands had just won Euro 2017 on home soil and the crowning talent of that team was coming to Arsenal. I immediately requested to interview her.

The media picture was slightly different then and the interview was easy enough to get. I knew about Viv the player, though the extent of her talent would still turn out to be in excess of what I expected. In the interview, conducted after a pre-season friendly against Everton at Meadow Park, I got an insight into the character Arsenal fans would grow to love.

Her international teammates Danielle van de Donk, Sari van Veenendaal and Dominique Janssen were already at the club upon her arrival. I asked Miedema how much their presence was a factor in her deciding to join Arsenal. ‘That wasn’t so important,’ she said in a manner that I would soon come to recognise as very Viv Miedema. ‘I went to Bayern when I was 17 and I was alone there so I knew I would be fine going somewhere without any Dutch players.’

I was already beginning to build a picture of a player and a person with a fiercely independent streak. Demonstratively undemonstrative, she never left you in any doubt as to what she was thinking. Her range of facial expressions passed into Arsenal meme folklore. I stopped her in the Meadow Park mixed zone for an interview in the pouring rain after a 4-0 win over Brighton in September 2019. I sheepishly held my umbrella towards her and thinking I had interviewed her enough times to have established a vague rapport, I asked, ‘do you have one minute?’

‘I’d rather go inside to be honest,’ she shot back before reluctantly huddling under the umbrella. That week she had been omitted from the FIFPRO World XI despite shooting Arsenal to the title and breaking the Netherlands goal scoring record before her 23rd birthday. I asked her about it. ‘It’s just a popularity contest and I am not on instagram or twitter very much. I don’t really give a shit about awards but I think it’s a joke,’ she said before making her way to the dressing room.

We’ll come back to her football in a minute but Miedema struck a cord with fans as an anti-star, a player who wasn’t afraid to say when she wasn’t feeling it, who openly rejected the importance of trinkets like Player of the Year awards and Golden Boots- all of which she collected with something close to an air of reluctance.

In November 2019, when she went down holding her calf in the final minutes of a Conti Cup game over Charlton, I asked Joe Montemurro about the severity of the injury. ‘It’s a Miedema calf injury,’ he joked, unconcerned. I interviewed her a few days later ahead of a big WSL home game against Manchester City. ‘How is the calf, Viv?’ I asked, eyeing the ice pack cradled around it as she sat. ‘It hasn’t fallen off….yet,’ she sighed. When that City game arrived 48 hours later, Arsenal won it 1-0. I’ll let you guess who scored the winner.

She rarely celebrated goals but smiled broadly when she made assists, her fierce independence and her teamwork coalesced into something unstoppable. During the 2018-19 season, when Arsenal won the league, Miedema enjoyed what must be regarded as the best individual season any player has turned out in the WSL’s history. I took to having ‘1-0 Miedema’ in my Twitter drafts unironically.

She broke the WSL goal scoring record in 2020 but remained steadfastly untouched by the achievement. She overtook Ellen White to break that record. When the WSL instagram account published a fun cartoon of her celebrating breaking the record in front of White, she took issue with it in the comments section, remarking, ‘how about *applause emoji* @ Ellen White’?

It would be wrong to describe her brilliance as effortless because that is scarcely true at the elite level, but there was always that overriding impression that she could play at a 50% tilt and still be the best player on the pitch. Her build, tall but lean, is perfect for a striker and under Montemurro, she was given license to drop deep and join in with play while the likes of Nobbs and van de Donk ran beyond her into the area, benefitting from her craft (and the fact that it took three defenders to try to stop her).

As the years advanced, she gradually seemed to shed that sense of reluctance in the spotlight and began to speak openly on subjects like mental health, the overloaded football calendar and became a source of inspiration for LGBT fans with her easy openness about her relationship with Beth Mead. Miedema is also a patron of the War Child charity in Netherlands.

Football wise, there has been a sense of tactical drift away from the player. Jonas Eidevall favours an intense style of counterpressing football with a physical, box filling striker that runs a little counter to Miedema’s very Dutch, more fluid style. Her ACL injury in November 2022 and the resulting complications, which rumble on, have seen a Miedema-less Arsenal become a familiar occurrence when previously it was impossible to imagine a line-up without her.

Her willingness to be vulnerable about her injury showed a person that had retained her sharp honesty but revealed a player becoming more comfortable with the spotlight and intent on finding ways to use it for the greater good. ‘I won’t be telling you I’ll come back stronger or that I’m looking forward to spending however many months in the gym. It will be tough with plenty of difficult days,’ she wrote when revealing her diagnosis.

At her best, Miedema was a force of nature on the pitch whose forthrightness and unwillingness to be anything other than unabashedly herself won her countless fans and admirers. On the opening day of the 2018-19 season she scored four goals in a 5-0 win over Liverpool and it’s one of the best individual performances I have ever witnessed.

And what of her record breaking six goals and four assists in an 11-1 victory over Bristol City in 2019? (She was subbed off on 65 minutes). I wrote an article about that performance here. I spoke to Viv after that game and asked her about her omission from the Ballon D’Or nominees list. ‘I don’t know, fine, I am not going to the ceremony…It doesn’t do much for me.’

In women’s football, individuals matter more than in men’s football for they are often the hook for people to uncover and adopt the sport. Miedema brought scores of supporters to Arsenal and even by the neon standards of Arsenal Women, Miedema’s Gunners legacy burns bright.

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Ringoxiii

She’s not my favourite ever player – for me that’ll always be Katie – but no player leaving Arsenal will make me as sad as Viv leaving does. As a player for sure, but even more as a person, the hole she’ll leave in the club won’t ever truly be filled. Devastated that she’s going, and obviously really hope she doesn’t go to another english club, but even if that comes to pass I’ll still have nothing but the best wishes for her for the future. Good luck and thank you for everything Viv, you’ll always be a Gunner and… Read more »

Sam

An excellent tribute to a truly special player (though, no less than I’d expect from you, Tim). The last paragraph particularly resonated with me as Viv was my portal into the women’s game, in particular that 10 goal involvement game against Bristol City. I was at work and remember idly opening the BBC Sport app and seeing the top story being the live updates from the game being the top story with a headline like “Arsenal 10-1 Bristol – Miedema double hat-trick” – went and told the only other Arsenal fan at work about it and looking up the highlights… Read more »

Chippy

No one will be able to replace viv and all arsenal fans will be sorry to see the goat leave. Where ever she ends up she will be a success. Good luck for the future viv you will always be the G.O.A.T

Daveo

Viv really spiked my interest in the WSL. Doesn’t make sense to me to lose such an amazing player like this. Give her the summer and she’ll be back to her best post ACL (which takes time). Sad to see her leave…

Chippy

Really worried where she will end up

Michael

My money is on Feyenoord, but not sure they could afford her.

Chippy

Now Michael that is very good call

Chippy

Barcelona were in the wings last time and has always said she wanted to win things

Betty

This one hurts. Sorry to see Viv go and wishing her only the best.

Fun Gunner

Thanks, Tim. Lovely words and you’ve nailed what Miedema means to Arsenal fans. Thanks. I watched the 2017 Euros and the performance of the then 20-year-old Miedema absolutely entranced me. Even though she clearly wasn’t a classic target woman number 9 type. I couldn’t believe that *this* was the player we had just signed. She’s the best player I’ve ever seen in real life – and I’m including Kim when I say that. Miedema is the most extraordinary footballer I’ve seen in the WSL. They better have somebody amazing up their sleeves to replace her.

WayBackWhen

Irreplaceable – hopefully going for ‘more than the sum of the parts’ approach instead.

Chippy

Who can replace her can’t think of anybody but plenty of clubs that need players replaced BY HER

Fun Gunner

We’re not Arsenal Women without her.

WayBackWhen

As legendary as she’ll always be, no player’s ever bigger than the club.

Fun Gunner

I didn’t say that she is bigger than the club. What I meant is that she is an icon.

WayBackWhen

Becoming irritated with someone else because you didn’t express yourself clearly is just tiresome.

PaulM

Excellent article Tim.

Egil Hofsli
An outstanding player, one I have been a great admirer of. But is she really going to Manchester City? What a disappointment.
Goonersince55

A lovely tribute, Tim. Like everyone else, I just feel gratitude and send best wishes for the future.

Peter Scarisbrick

What a player! Viv made the game look so easy, whether scoring goals or assisting others. So tragic that her ACL stopped her in her prime. The goal she scored at Liverpool was spectacular, at a vital at a stage in the game when Arsenal looked out of ideas. The assist for Stina to equalise against Manchester United equally spectacular. She will be sorely missed, but at least I had the chance to admire her talent.

Protect-Katie-McCabe

Viv is a generational talent, Eidevall is an everyday clown. Crushed to see her leave, counting the days until he’s thrown out so the AFC women can get back to the top.

Manuel Buchwald

Couldn’t agree more. Arsenal is trading a top player for a second-rate manager

Bill Hall

Gutted to see her leave, as a player she is irreplaceable. I do hope she does not go to a rival club but likewise do not want her to go abroad because of Beth and the strain that might cause on their relationship!

SLC Gooner

Rough to see her go, but not surprised. Between the injury and the tactical changes, seems like the writing has been on the wall.
It’s been a pleasure watching her, and best wishes for the future, though if she does end up at City, I’m not wishing her that much success 🙂

Going to be interesting to see what the plan is for the next couple seasons. With Viv gone and Kim getting towards the end of her career, there’s some big shoes that need filling.

Jeff Febus

Sad news – no other way to slice it

Vangooner

For me, first Jordan and now Viv. Not gonna lie, I prefer that Jonas was gone, instead.

GoonerSuz

TIm’s previous blogs have discussed the change of playing style and how Viv doesn’t appear to feature in that. Nevertheless, so hard to see a true world class player not offered a new contract. It’s not like we’ve had a trailblazing season. To lose someone of her her calibre is truly baffling. I can’t quite get my head around that Arsenal don’t see her in their future plans but seemingly Man City do.

Salvador Berzunza

Why offer to her a contract if the manager is not going to play her? only to avoid she is going to a rival club, seems to me not fair and selfish. Its hurtful see her leaving, I know but is fair.

1NiltotheArsenal

This is a great tribute to a truly special player and person. Like many commenters, Vivianne Miedema got me following Arsenal Women, perhaps like Henry and the Invincible players did for so many a generation ago.

Tim Stillman’s excellent writing and coverage are the other things that got me (and my daughter) into the women’s game. Tim is by a wide margin the best journalist on Arsenal Women and women’s football. Please keep up the excellent work. Forever and always – COME ON YOU GUNNERS!!!

kazoo

She should have left two years ago. She’s got 79 goals in 105 WSL appearances, and 95 goals in 118 appearances for the Dutch—scored 10 goals in the Olympics, led Dutch to Euro Championship and World Cup final–but the comical Arsenal coach has never liked her game! I was shocked that she signed a one-year extension given Eidevall’s lack of respect. If he had coached the Arsenal men back in the day, he would have moved Henry to defensive mid so that he could bring in two strikers who were half as good.

Chin

This man is not only comical, but also lack of self-confidence. Multiple times of tactical talks after several underperformed matches, out of the blue came these wind and external factors as excuses for the most recent match. Perhaps we do need a clown for the bigger stadium🙂

sumsang61

It feels like someone died. It really is so upsetting for one of our biggest legends to be leaving us….. Is it the right decision? Im not sure

Adrian Scott

It is a great shame that Viv is leaving. In her 172 appearances she has contributed 175 goals, either directly or by assists. Has management gone mad? It will serve Arsenal right if she goes to City for her service there would virtually guarantee that City win everything every year!

Watching her play has been a highlight of every match that I’ve seen her play in. Very few players in the world are capable of matching her ability. If Jonas cannot find a way of allowing her to play her style it is possible that we need a new manager!

Carolamcfoam

Just to repeat what others have said in that this is an excellent piece of writing on a truly remarkable player. Thank you, Tim.

Chrishgooner

Lovely tribute Tim.
Wow. Viv leaving us. Still can’t really grasp this.
Viv, may you find peace and happiness wherever you go.

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