Change is a word defined by the Oxford English Dictionary as ‘an act or process through which something becomes different.’ If they needed an example, ‘Arsenal Ladies, winter 2013’ would certainly suffice.
The Ladies have seen a mass exodus since their last competitive game, against Glasgow City in November. Steph Houghton joined Manchester City, Gilly Flaherty and Katie Chapman moved across London to Chelsea, Ellen White moved to Notts Country, Gemma Davison signed for Liverpool and Kim Little left for America.
It hasn’t been all bad news though. The arrivals of Siobhan Chamberlain and Casey Stoney from WSL rivals Bristol and Lincoln (now Notts County) will add quality and experience to a relatively young squad. Scottish international Christie Murray and Anouk Hoogendijk, a defender capped 94 times by Holland, joined from Glasgow City and Ajax respectively, before the impressive double signing of World Cup winners Yukari Kinga and Shinobu Ohno.
Add to that the new contracts for Jordan Nobbs, Dan Carter, Alex Scott, Kelly Smith, Emma Byrne and Rachel Yankey and Arsenal seem well set for the new season.
The success of the new team will depend on how quickly they gel and the Champions League quarter-final tie against Birmingham later this month will give us the first indication of what to expect this campaign.
The pressure to perform is certainly on. A three-point deduction for fielding an ineligible player against Liverpool meant Arsenal finished 3rd last season behind the Merseyside team and Bristol – outside of the Champions League qualifying spots. To qualify for next season’s competition the Ladies’ objective is simple: win it this year.
There is a window of opportunity. Lyon, two-time winners and finalists in each of the last four years, are out, beaten on away goals by Potsdam – a team Arsenal knocked out last season. The favourites will undoubtedly be holders Wolfsburg, a professional outfit, but the Ladies can take inspiration from their successful campaign in 2007, when they beat full-time Swedish side Umea 1-0 over two legs.
Like Arsenal, Birmingham have lost key players to domestic rivals during the off-season. Striker Izzy Christiansen joined Manchester City, experienced defender Laura Bassett left for Chelsea and England international Rachel Unitt signed for Notts County.
Birmingham finished 4th in the WSL and, like Arsenal, must win the Champions League to be in it again next season. Unlike Arsenal, however, this is the first time Birmingham have reached the quarter-finals and Arsenal’s experience could be crucial.
This two-legged tie represents the first matches of the domestic season and, for two teams in transition, offers an opportunity to lay down a marker and make a statement of intent. It could well be a sign of things to come.
Hopefully, from an Arsenal point of view, the signs are good. Until next time.