Arsenal face a tough trip to Amsterdam next week, after a 2-2 home draw against Ajax, putting their hopes of reaching the Champions League group stage in the balance.
Arsenal came from behind in the first half, with Stena Blacksteins parrying Romi Lochter’s shot before Kim Little put the hosts ahead from the penalty mark. The controversial offside decision denied Arsenal a second penalty, and then Leicester secured the Dutch side’s return home at the same level.
“You have to look forward,” said manager Jonas Edvall afterwards. “You have to say that there are lessons in this game to be learned. You can argue based on the chances we should have won. It will be a tough match next week but we have to be brave. If you want to go to the Champions League group stages, you have to win. With these matches, you can either be afraid of those challenges or look forward to them.”
If there was a question mark over Eddival’s Arsenal last season, it may have been whether there was enough flexibility and fighting back when the team conceded first. Only twice, in all competitions, will Arsenal come from behind to secure victory – although they will also save a point each against Manchester United, Manchester City and Tottenham.
This perceived weakness will be tested early on against Ajax, a team not among Europe’s elite, but a well-organised squad backed by Netherlands international Sherida Spetsey, who has capped more than 200 caps for her country, and young star Viktoria Belova. 21-year-old Leuchter.
It will be Ajax who will have the best chances when Belova forced an early save from Manuela Zinsberger before Leutcher’s cross from Chasity Grant from the right flanked the home side’s goalkeeper at the near post.
Arsenal players looked very frustrated after they conceded their first goal since April. They sought an immediate response, as Euro Golden Boot and Championship player Beth Mead scored from a free kick – goalkeeper Liz Cobb silenced the ball but Blacksteinius could only pass the rebound off the post.
Three minutes later, the Swedish striker wasn’t too extravagant, rebounding after Rafael’s header hit the crossbar for a shot past Cobb.
Arsenal continued to dominate the tempo, but struggled to find a way to beat it. Instead, the visiting team was threatening again, with Zinsberger forced to tackle it near the post after Leuchter overpowered Rafael and fired into the net.
“We knew they were a very pressured team,” Eidevall said of their struggles in the first half. When you look at their PPDA [which measures passes allowed per defensive action] Against all the teams in the WSL and the Eredivisie, they were the team with the lowest PPDA in all the games they played [analytics platform] Wyscout covers. You only get that when you have a lot of pressure. We’ve done our bit for it – even if it’s not like that.”
Arsenal came out after the break with a chip between their teeth but they struggled to find a way through the resilient centre-back partnership between 17-year-old Issa Cardinal and 21-year-old Lisa Dorn.
Arsenal hit the post twice, through Steve Catley and Raphael, but it would take a foul to force the goal, with Soraya Verhoff penalized for a powerful blow to Meade’s header inside the penalty area. Captain Little who had sent the guard in the wrong direction stepped up and quietly dashed off.
Arsenal may feel aggrieved if their margin was greater. Substitute Kaitlyn Ford fired from the middle and fell into Cope’s hand, but the offside flag controversially denied them a potential penalty and a red card. Moments later, they regretted the decision even more, with some chaotic defense seeing the defeat of Noel Maritz and England captain Leah Williamson failing to allow the Leuchters to move in from close range.
Edval said some of the decisions were frustrating but added: “Let’s not put the focus there now because we have things we can learn here and that’s where we need to focus. They won’t re-make the decisions.”
Arsenal went in search of the winner. They seemed to have one when substitute Katie McCabe fired a free kick into the roof of the net from close range but the flag was offside.
Eidevall’s team faces Tottenham at the Emirates Stadium on Saturday, where there will likely be a record WSL crowd with 48,000 tickets sold, before they fly to the Netherlands for the second leg.