Were we watching Arsenal’s first string or second string? It is becoming increasingly hard to tell. Either way, two goals from Lina Hurtig, who returned to the starting lineup, and a stunning volley from Jordan Nobbs, making her first start of the season, gave the Gunners a comfortable 3-1 win over Swiss side FC Zürich in the Champions League group stage.
With Juventus having held Lyon to a 1-1 draw in the earlier game, Arsenal would take a two-point lead at the top of Group C with a win against Zürich at the Emirates Stadium, before a tricky trip to Juventus, the team led by their former manager Joe Montemurro, in late November.
After back-to-back wins – a 5-1 defeat of reigning European champions Lyon and 2-0 win at Liverpool – with an unchanged XI, Jonas Eidevall relegated seven to the bench for the visit of Swiss champions Zürich.
The changes spoke to the depth of Arsenal’s squad, which is arguably the strongest it has been in recent years. With that, though, comes challenges.
Mana Iwabuchi had looked crestfallen when making her very brief cameo in the dying seconds against Liverpool and Vivianne Miedema could be seen talking animatedly with Eidevall on the final whistle. Managing the expectations of a squad packed with talent is a real test of management.
“This game really came at a moment where we needed to trust the whole squad,” said Eidevall. “It’s nice. It’s the Champions League so everything is at stake, and I hope the players feel that and that we trust them. When you put players on in a Champions League game it’s because you trust them. I’ve been really happy with how people have been training and how the spirit has been.”
Zürich, who put 10 past Baar in the Swiss cup at the weekend, held Juventus for 70 minutes last week before falling to a 2-0 defeat and although they are far from European elite, they are a well organised side.
Leading the line for the visiting side was Fabienne Humm, currently the league’s top-scorer with nine goals and who scored deep into extra time in Switzerland’s playoff with Wales to earn a spot at next summer’s World Cup.
The Zürich manager, Inka Grings, said afterwards: “You have to remember 90% of our team still have a full-time job so just to be here was a huge honour for us. We were clear it wasn’t a holiday. We have a fantastic young generation. We wanted to be able to keep up with Arsenal and to score a goal and that is what we achieved here today.”
If there was any worry that this new-look Arsenal would struggle to click, those fears were assuaged in the first half, where Arsenal’s first class stand-ins staked a claim for more regular minutes.
The first goal was stunning, and the screams of delight from Nobbs, who has struggled to get game time since her ACL injury before the World Cup in 2019, showed what it meant to the long-serving Arsenal midfielder.
Steph Catley, returning to her favoured left-back position after a spell alongside Lotte Wubben-Moy in the middle, sent the ball in from the left and Nobbs, lurking near the penalty spot, lifted her leg high to power a volley past goalkeeper Lourdes Romero.
Arsenal’s second came shortly before half time and it was perhaps even more spectacular, and was crafted by more players hoping to give Eidevall a selection headache. Iwabuchi won possession in the Zürich box and weaved to the byline before dinking the ball into the middle where Hurtig was waiting to head past Romero.
The second half was scrappy, and the challenges came thick and fast, twice Arsenal could feel aggrieved to not have been awarded penalties with Katie McCabe was brought down and Miedema took a fist to the face.
The sole shock moment was delivered against the run of play and warned of a creeping complacency. Julia Stierli’s ball into the box swung to the waiting Seraina Piubel, who had snuck in behind Wubben-Moy and hammered past debutant Kaylan Marckese before being mobbed by her teammates and the Zürich subs warming up.
The response from the frustrated Gunners was instant, with Nobbs finding substitute Stina Blackstenius, the Swedish forward forcing a save from Romero, but Hurtig was on hand to pounce on the rebound and punish the perhaps still mentally celebrating Zürich players.
In the end, it was routine. “Happy with the result but we have only played two games,” said Eidevall. “There is nothing won yet. We are happy with that but there are a lot of tough games left.”