Photograph: Jeppe Gustafsson/Shutterstock
Leaving aside the failure to qualify for the Champions League group stage for a moment – which, make no mistake, is catastrophic – and Arsenal’s summer has been a good one. Jonas Eidevall has bolstered his side with five top-class players. Swedish defender Amanda Ilestedt, who scored four goals at the World Cup (one behind the Golden Boot winner, Hinata Miyazawa), World Cup winner Laia Codina, Canada striker Cloé Lacasse, Australia midfielder Kyra Cooney-Cross and the England forward Alessia Russo have all come in to strengthen a squad that was so heavily depleted by the end of last season.
The injury crisis that rocked the club left fans and players alike wondering “what if” at the close of the season, with the squad falling narrowly short in their Champions League semi-final against Wolfsburg and battling to secure third place.
Beth Mead is on her way back from her ACL injury and targeting being involved from the start of the campaign, Vivianne Miedema is a step behind her while Leah Williamson has started running and Laura Wienroither has said her recovery is on track. The steady return of those players will be a big boost both to the squad and morale. Arsenal need a positive domestic season and have the players to challenge. Having led the way in driving attendances at the club’s main stadium, culminating in a sold-out Champions League semi-final, maintaining that without European football will not be easy.
“Of course, it hurts because we had such a good experience in Europe last season and we wanted to build on that,” said Eidevall after the exit to Paris FC on penalties. There were caveats to the defeat. Like Manchester City last season, they had a very short turnaround after a major tournament, with some players having only a week off after the World Cup before being thrown into Champions League preparations and no chance for any warm-up games prior to the qualifying fixtures. Whether it was a blip or a sign of deeper and future problems remains to be seen. The positive is that Arsenal can concentrate on domestic competition, having struggled to maintain challenges on four fronts in recent years, and that could give them an advantage over Chelsea and Manchester United.
Jonas Eidevall is one of the most tactically astute managers in women’s football and his analysis as a pundit and in columns during the World Cup and Euros highlighted this. How the Swede navigates a squad in constant flux with players returning from injury will be a real test. Rafaelle Souza’s departure to Orlando Pride and Williamson’s ACL injury mean there will be a new-look backline to start the season too. Getting that settled will be key.
Players may come and go but Kim Little remains Arsenal’s heartbeat. The recruitment of 21-year-old Cooney-Cross, after the arrival of 24-year-old Victoria Pelova and 20-year-old Kathrine Møller Kühl, is to future-proof Arsenal’s midfield but when 33-year-old Little eventually hangs up her boots or departs it will leave a gaping hole. Given the way she is playing, that hopefully won’t be soon. Little still delights and against Paris FC, despite defeat, it was no different.
High-profile summer signing
After two world-record bids in January, Alessia Russo has arrived for free at the expiration of her contract at Manchester United and expectations are high. Russo provides top-quality competition for Stina Blackstenius in the absence of recovering Vivianne Miedema. “There is the passion she plays the game with: she invests every inch of herself into every game,” said Eidevall of his new recruit at the start of the summer.
World Cup delight/heartache
Laia Codina started all of Spain’s games at centre-back as they won a first World Cup and was hugely impressive. Having had her path at Barcelona blocked by the brilliant Irene Paredes and Mapi León, Arsenal swooped. Since that magical final, the dispute between the Spain players and the federation has escalated and the world champions have had their victory overshadowed. Codina was not called up as part of Montse Tomé’s first squad, which is perhaps a blessing in disguise.
Social media status
Arsenal lead the way when it comes to engaging content. From dynamic signing videos to 35mm photos of away trips, there is huge diversity to their online presence. Most recently, the club has used messages from the players to drive their campaign to fill the Emirates, championing every big milestone passed for ticket sales, and it has proved hugely effective.