For Arsenal, this year’s Women’s Champions League win-or-go-home tournament is more like win or stay home because the truncated English season has left the team out of next season’s competition.
The seven other teams in the knockout tournament scheduled to begin Friday in Spain’s northern Basque Country have already qualified for next season’s Champions League. Arsenal needs to win it to get back into it.
“We do know in our minds that we have to win this thing to still be in the Champions League, which is massive for us,” Arsenal forward Caitlin Foord said. “As footballers, you want to be playing in the Champions League, so that definitely gives us something to drive towards.”
Arsenal will play Paris Saint-Germain in San Sebastian on Saturday. The winner gets to face either defending champion Lyon or Bayern Munich, who play the same day in Bilbao. The other quarter-finals are Friday and pit Barcelona against Atletico Madrid and Glasgow City against Wolfsburg.
The final is scheduled for Aug. 30 in San Sebastian.
Arsenal finished third in the Women’s Super League, which was curtailed because of the coronavirus pandemic. Chelsea was declared the champion and Manchester City was second.
Beginning with the 2021-22 Champions League season, UEFA will allow three teams to enter from the top six European leagues. But for now, the pressure is on.
“It’s a good incentive,” Arsenal captain Kim Little said. “It doesn’t come around too often in your career to play these kinds of games, especially with how competitive the league is in England now.”
Arsenal last played in the Champions League in 2014. It is the only English team to have won the continental trophy — in 2007 when it was called the Women’s Cup.
Arsenal bolstered its defence by signing Steph Catley and Noelle Maritz, as well as goalkeeper Lydia Williams.
“We know PSG have the big guns,” Arsenal manager Joe Montemurro said. “Their attacking third is a very, very exciting prospect for them, in regards to their speed, their ability to find space over the top and obviously for one-on-one transition. It’s an area which we’ve identified.”
PSG forward Marie-Antoinette Katoto led the French league with 16 goals, Kadidiatou Diani netted 12 and Nadia Nadim had eight.
“Games are won and lost on moments,” Montemurro said.
Bayern in rhythm
Lyon restarts its bid for a fifth consecutive Champions League title against Bayern Munich. The German team completed its domestic season after the coronavirus stoppage, took a two-week break, and returned to training.
“We are in a little bit of a rhythm now,” Bayern defender Amanda Ilestedt said. “That’s an advantage for us.”
The French leagues had been cancelled, so Lyon is still shaking off the rust. They won the French Cup on Aug. 9 but scored only once in two matches — clearly missing striker Ada Hegerberg, who is recovering from ACL surgery.
“If she plays, I know who she is and how she plays, but the other ones are also really good,” Ilestedt said. “We will have to be prepared for everything. They have a lot of speed, a lot of skill.”
Bayern signed 22-year-old Lea Schuller, who scored 16 goals for German club Essen, and Viviane Asseyi, who scored 12 goals for Bordeaux in France.
Bayern also added defender Hanna Glas, who has plenty of experience against Lyon from her two seasons at PSG.
The German squad lost its captain, however, when midfielder Melanie Leupolz signed with Chelsea.
Back in training
Atletico Madrid returned to training Monday after a coronavirus scare in the buildup to its quarter-final match against Barcelona on Friday in Bilbao.
The team had cancelled an Aug. 8 friendly when one person tested positive, and days later it suspended training when additional testing revealed four more positive cases.
Atletico said Monday that the full team and staff completed a period of home isolation and that new, UEFA-supervised testing determined that there were no new cases beyond the five positives.
Wolfsburg is a big favourite against Glasgow City on Friday in San Sebastian. The German team played a full domestic season while Glasgow only played once in March before the spring Scottish season was voided because of the coronavirus outbreak.
Wolfsburg won the Champions League trophy in 2013 and 2014. Glasgow has only been to the quarterfinals once — in 2015 when it lost 7-0 on aggregate to PSG.