Wolfsburg’s Jill Roord helps knock former club Arsenal out of WCL | Women’s Champions League

A harsh lesson for Arsenal, perhaps even a reckoning of sorts. Defeat at Hoffenheim could be written off an aberration and their humbling by Barcelona excused by the sheer class of the opposition. But on a freezing night in Lower Saxony there would be no escape from the cold reality that Arsenal – and by extension, the English club game as a whole – is still some way short of where it needs to be.

Jill Roord and an own goal by Leah Williamson put Wolfsburg firmly into the semi-finals of the Champions League. In truth they dominated without even being at their best. Certainly they will need to raise their game several notches to trouble the brilliant Barcelona Femeni in the last four. But their quick, enterprising, hard-running game was more than good enough here, a reinforcement of the old truth that a team with a plan will usually beat a team with none.

Perhaps that sounds a touch harsh on Jonas Eidevall’s side, missing Beth Mead and Lia Walti to injury, but there were long periods here when Arsenal seemed to have very little clue how to progress the ball, how to convert possession into chances, how to penetrate a standard of organisation they have so rarely faced in the Women’s Super League. In part Arsenal had no answers because they are so rarely required to find them.

The WSL is a fine product that has made supreme strides, but it remains a league in thrall to individual star quality, where the art of team-building remains – with a very few exceptions – largely neglected. To take one example: how has a club of Arsenal’s resources managed to arrive at this crucial stage of the season with no idea of their best midfield?

The lack of imagination here was collective, and in a game that was essentially the polar opposite of the first leg at the Emirates Stadium – Wolfsburg making the running, Arsenal forced to soak up pressure – their inexperience at this level was telling.

But you only really learn these lessons by living them, and Arsenal will be better for this experience. They will learn from Wolfsburg’s superior game management, the way they work the officials, the way they invariably emerge from 50-50s with a free-kick.

They will learn, too, from the stage: the still-giddy novelty of big European away days, the tyranny of fine margins, the importance of starting well.

Contrasting emotions at the Volkswagen Arena after Leah Wliiamson’s own goal settled the tie.
Contrasting emotions at the Volkswagen Arena after Leah Wliiamson’s own goal settled the tie. Photograph: Focke Strangmann/EPA

Even before Roord’s goal there were little fires appearing everywhere. The threat of Svenja Huth on the right wing was drawing Steph Catley out wide, leaving a big gap in the channel to exploit.

More than once the brilliant Lena Oberdorf made dangerous runs into that space, while a series of crosses and set pieces created an early swell of pressure.

From a ninth-minute corner, a goalmouth scramble, and a goal. Oberdorf won the first ball, Sveindis Jonsdottir nudged it goalwards and despite facing the wrong way Roord was able to hook the ball in with marvellous agility and improvisation against her former club. It never really worked out for Roord at Arsenal, more for lifestyle than footballing reasons – a product of being stranded far from home in the middle of a pandemic – but here was a bitter glimpse of what might have been.

Arsenal had no answers to Roord in between the lines, no real counter to Oberdorf in midfield. Stina Blackstenius and Tobin Heath struggled to get into the game, and Heath would later be withdrawn at half-time. More chances came: Tabea Wassmuth had a goal ruled out for offside, Manuela Zinsberger saved from Huth. Yet the margin remained just one goal, and in the second half Arsenal slowly began to come into it.

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Perhaps fatigue was a factor for Wolfsburg. This was their eighth game in a month, with Bayern Munich to come on Sunday. And so even as Arsenal half-chances began to appear like little snowflakes, they seemed happy to control without pushing too hard, confident in their ability to finish the game off. And with 18 minutes left, they were proved right. Again Arsenal failed to clear their lines, Jonsdottir put in a hopeful cross, Williamson stuck out a foot and Zinsberger was powerless to stop it.

It was a warming and deserved triumph for Wolfsburg, who over the last decade have shown what you can do with a little investment, a little pride and a little care.

The crowd of more than 11,000 at the Volkswagen Arena – almost a tenth of the town’s population – included several members of the men’s team who normally play here, and produced a relentless fiesta of songs and percussion, streamers and confetti, just 24 hours after 91,000 fans packed out the Camp Nou. It will be small comfort to Arsenal, but these are stunningly exciting times for the women’s game.

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