Arsenal’s battling Women’s Champions League run over as Wolfsburg land cruel late blow at sold-out Emirates

·4-min read
 (Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

For so long this looked like it was going to be an historic night for Arsenal, but in the end it was a painful one.

Their Women’s Champions League journey is over and in the cruelest of ways too as Wolfsburg won this semi-final right at the death.

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After 180 minutes of football across two legs, the sides could not be separated and penalties were beckoning with the tie locked at 4-4 on aggregate.

Wolfsburg, however, had other ideas and forward Jule Brand robbed Lotte Wubben-Moy of the ball before crossing for Pauline Bremer to score in the 119th minute.

It was heartbreak for Arsenal, who had battled through an injury crisis to make it this far only to fall at the final hurdle.

When the dust settles, they will reflect on this run with some positivity, not least because they sold out Emirates Stadium for this game and drew a crowd of 60,063.

That is is the biggest crowd for a women’s domestic game in England, surpassing last year’s FA Cup final attendance of 49,094. It is also a record attendance for a women’s club match outside of Barcelona’s Nou Camp.

It is Barcelona who will face Wolfsburg in the final of this year’s competition, with the Spanish side beating Chelsea last week, but Arsenal will hope in the future they will be there instead.

It all started so brightly for the Gunners here too as they took the lead in the 11th minute when Stina Blackstenius pounced on some poor defending and an excellent through-ball by Lia Walti.

They had their tails up after that and the sell-out crowd cheering them on responded, raising the noise at the Emirates to levels they haven’t been heard here for a women’s game.

Blackstenius was causing Wolfsburg problems with her pressing up top and her willingness to run in behind. On more than one occasion, the German side were opened up and goalkeeper Merle Frohms had to make a good save to stop Blackstenius adding a second.

Wolfsburg were carrying a threat as well, however, and levelled four minutes before half-time. Jill Roord returned to haunt her former club, firing home from the edge of the box after a free-kick had been cleared to her.

Sveindis Jonsdottir, who like in the first leg had looked dangerous all half, went close to scoring moments later and Arsenal were relieved to hear the half-time whistle.

They looked like they had started the second-half in perfect fashion, with Blackstenius finishing off a slick move by tapping in from three yards out. This time, however, VAR was not on Arsenal’s side as Noelle Maritz was pinged for being offside in the build-up.

Alexandra Popp headed Wolfsburg in front in the second-half (AFP via Getty Images)
Alexandra Popp headed Wolfsburg in front in the second-half (AFP via Getty Images)

Just 10 minutes later, Wolfsburg were in front and it came from the familiar source of Alexandra Popp. The striker, who terrorised defences at Euro 2022 last summer, beat her marker at the near post from a corner and flicked a header into the net.

For the first time, the Emirates was silenced and the only sound came from a tiny pocket of Wolfsburg supporters tucked away in one corner.

It was now all or nothing for Arsenal and centre-back Jen Beattie was pushed upfront as they searched for an equaliser.

That was leaving space at the back and Wolfsburg wasted a glorious chance to kill the game with 20 minutes to go. Jonsdottir slid in Svenja Huth but, clean through on goal, she dragged an effort wide.

Moments later they were punished as none other than Beattie headed Arsenal level. Wolfsburg only half cleared a free-kick and Wubben-Moy crossed the ball back in for Beattie to nod into the corner.

As the two sides tired, the game ticked into extra-time and like the first leg the game was 2-2 after 90 minutes. Arsenal, who have been hit hard by injuries, looked dead on their feet, but they found a second wind and so nearly won it when Katie McCabe’s cross hit the bar.

Penalties seemed a certainty, but with a minute to go Bremer struck and the curtain finally came down on Arsenal’s Champions League journey.