Arsenal turn tables on Bayern to reach Women’s Champions League last four

<span>Photograph: Tom Jenkins/The Guardian</span>
Photograph: Tom Jenkins/The Guardian

The performance was fluid, controlled and blistering as Arsenal booked a place in the Women’s Champions League semi-final for the first time in 10 years with a 2-0 defeat of the Bundesliga leaders Bayern Munich.

Two goals in seven minutes from Frida Maanum and Stina Blackstenius in the first half had the 21,307 fans rapt as the Gunners overturned a 1-0 first-leg deficit in style.

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There is a real feel-good factor around Arsenal, one that well and truly surrounds the women’s team as much as the men’s. More than 20,000 tickets were sold before the game, exceeding the 12,232 record for a midweek Women’s Champions League game in England and sporting director Edu, the men’s team manager Mikel Arteta and long-term backer of the women’s team, Ian Wright, were in the crowd for the thrilling performance against Bayern.

Jonas Eidevall, the Arsenal manager, said: “I got a very nice message from Edu after the game. The support from the whole club is magnificent. They talk a lot when you’re in Arsenal and around that, that we always act with class, but when you’re in the organisation you really understand the meaning of those words. It’s not just something written on the wall, it’s ingrained from the top down.

“Five years ago, if someone would have said that Arsenal’s long-term plan is to move permanently to Emirates Stadium, people would probably have asked ‘how is that going to happen?’, but now I think people understand that that might be a realistic vision for the future [for the women’s team],” he added, fuelled by an atmosphere at a rain-drenched stadium that was passionate, loud and uplifting.

That was needed for the visit of Bayern. The Gunners looked good in the first leg but Lea Schüller’s goal gave the German side the win and despite Arsenal hammering at the door for much of the second half, Bayern proved difficult to break down. It was a solidity familiar to teams that have played the German side this season. The Frauen Bundesliga leaders have conceded just four times in 16 league games, with a Georgia Stanway penalty at the weekend earning a 1-0 win over Wolfsburg to lift them above their fellow quarter-finalists to the league’s summit.

There was some bad news 11 minutes in for the home team, as influential midfielder and club captain Kim Little received lengthy treatment after being brought down by Sarah Zadrazil, before handing Leah Williamson the armband as she trudged off, at least on her feet and not on the waiting stretcher.

The response from Eidevall was an rejig, with centre-back Lotte Wubben-Moy replacing Little and Williamson shifting forward into the middle. Rather than send the Gunners spiralling, the uplift to their slight underdog status galvanised them. Birthday girl Williamson was central to the opener too, playing a neat backheel to Maanum that the Norwegian midfielder drilled into the top corner.

Bayern’s defence had finally been breached and Arsenal’s second, to put them ahead on aggregate, followed not long after. Katie McCabe raced to the byline and whipped the ball into the middle where Blackstenius leapt above Saki Kumagai and headed powerfully in.

Frida Maanum
Frida Maanum is surrounded by Arsenal teammates after her spectacular strike. Photograph: Tom Jenkins/The Guardian

Eidevall had said before kick-off Arsenal needed “to master all aspects of the game” and in London they had found the missing piece of the puzzle: goals.

They went in at the break two goals up, but they should have been further ahead, Blackstenius and Maanum forcing saves from Maria Luisa Grohs in quick succession and Wubben-Moy sending a searching cross off the crossbar from distance.

Arsenal began the second half with their tails up. Pelova glided into the box but her touch let her down and the chance vanished, but the momentum was still firmly with the home side.

Bayern weren’t totally without chances, but they were few and far between. Just past the hour mark Lina Magull got her head to a Klara Bühl corner but Rafaelle Souza got a touch on it to turn it behind for another corner. The first German substitute came not long after, with Jovana Damnjanovic replacing Kett and running on to the pitch clutching a note for her teammates.

“We did something today that we normally don’t do. We did it a little bit last week in the Allianz Arena; we gave the ball away too easily,” said the Bayern manager, Alexander Straus.

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The best chance of the half would go to the home team who, at each sniff of a shift in momentum, bit back. Maanum’s backheel found Foord in space on the left but the Australian forward sent her effort over the bar.

It was still agonisingly tense, with the one-goal margin keeping the crowd energetic until the last moment. A clash of feet between McCabe and Emelyne Laurent left the Republic of Ireland captain hopping off the pitch after a long spell down and seven minutes of added time at the end only added to the nervy feel, but the Gunners clawed over the line to book their semi-final berth.

Eidevall’s team will play the winners of Thursday night’s encounter between Wolfsburg and Paris Saint-Germain, with the German side 1-0 up after the first leg. Meanwhile, Chelsea welcome the holders Lyon to Stamford Bridge tomorrow with a semi-final against Barcelona awaiting the winner, following the Spanish side’s 6-1 aggregate defeat of Roma.