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n Sunday, it was Chelsea, now domestic treble winners, reasserting their status as the dominant force in the English game.
Tonight? The team that, it turns out, were denying the Blues a quadruple when they hammered them 4-0 in last season’s Champions League final.
The phrase ‘out of the frying pan and into the fire’ hardly does justice to the nature of the challenge facing Arsenal as they prepare to welcome the planet’s best team, Barcelona, to the Emirates in the Women’s Champions League, just four days after their hopes of lifting the FA Cup were destroyed by Emma Hayes’s side at Wembley.
The proximity of two such colossal fixtures (which, incidentally, came straight off the back of an international break), is a result of Covid interruptions to last season. In normal times, Arsenal’s players might have had a whole summer to go away and stew over a cup final defeat, to lie on a beach somewhere and forget about football.
Instead, less than 24 hours after Sam Kerr’s instantly-iconic chip sailed over the head of a helpless Manuela Zinsberger, Jonas Eidevall’s side were back together for a recovery session, their minds turning towards the visit of the all-conquering Catalans.
“We were really disappointed,” forward Beth Mead tells Standard Sport. “We played well below our standards so we’ve got to come away from that, reflect on it and hope it doesn’t happen again.
“The lucky thing is we have games coming quickly at the moment and we can refocus on something else, challenging ourselves against a top, top European side.”
Mead is enjoying a superb campaign, bouncing back from her surprise omission from Team GB’s Olympic squad, and says she is thriving on the unprecedented workload.
“I just love getting a lot of games and not as much training!” she says, speaking at an event to mark Italian coffee maker Lavazza’s partnership with Arsenal Women. “You play for football matches and we all love doing it.”
The fatigue is manageable “when you’re not doing too bad”, she adds, rather modestly given her terrific form for club and country, but her assessment of tonight’s opponents as a “top, top European side” could be seen as a similar understatement.
The reigning European champions sit top of the Primera Division with a 100 per cent record after a dozen games in which they have, unfathomably, scored 72 goals and conceded just three.
In the Champions League they have been just as dominant, winning four out of four, including beating Arsenal 4-1 back in October. As Chelsea found out in Gothenburg in May, there is no tougher assignment in world football.
“It was a big test for us,” Gunners winger Caitlin Foord says of that first meeting in Catalonia, which Arsenal went into with their own perfect league record, including an opening day win over Chelsea.
“We knew we were going into a tough game, but it was a bit of a reality check for all of us, to see how good they are. I heard one of them say in an interview that that was the best game they’d played in a while, so for them to be at their best and us not, that’s what a team like that will do to you.
“We know what we’re in for this time, we’re at home and we want to get the result, especially after the loss against Chelsea.”
More than 10,000 fans are expected at tonight’s game and the Emirates should provide a fitting stage for a match that – for all Barcelona appear to be in a league of their own – pits two of Europe’s finest teams against one another.
Perhaps the club’s greatest night at the Emirates came when the men’s team overcame a similarly daunting task in beating Pep Guardiola’s legendary Barcelona side 2-1 a decade ago and a victory for the Gunners would provide another landmark moment – not only in the stadium’s history, but also in the development of Eidevall’s team.
“We need to class it as our home,” Mead says. “Hopefully, we play there more regularly, we play again there in March against Tottenham.
“It’s an amazing stadium, we’ve got good memories there from the game against Chelsea and hopefully we get a really good crowd in to back us because we probably will need them to be that 12th man.”


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