Vivianne Miedema exclusive: Arsenal let standards slip - now we are moving in the right direction

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  • Arsenal
    Arsenal
    LiveTodayTomorrowvs--|
  • Vivianne Miedema
    LiveTodayTomorrowvs--|
  • Jonas Eidevall
    Swedish association football player and coach
Vivianne Miedema exclusive: Arsenal let standards slip - now we are moving in the right direction - Geoff Pugh
Vivianne Miedema exclusive: Arsenal let standards slip - now we are moving in the right direction - Geoff Pugh

If all you had to go by was Vivianne Miedema's demeanour in training, those unaware of her track record - the leading Women's Super League and Dutch national team goalscorer of all time - might question her effort.

There is a nonchalance to the way she roams the pitch at the Emirates Stadium, verging on languidness to her rangy strides. It is Arsenal's final session ahead of Sunday's FA Cup final and as head coach Jonas Eidevall yells "too many touches!" animatedly at some of her team-mates, Miedema is relaxed and expressionless, passing the ball in a triangle with wingers Caitlin Foord and Nikita Parris.

It is a similar scene to match days, when she will spend spells quietly dropping in and out of play, mapping out with an apparent casual air the best space to launch an attack from. But as soon as she needs to step up the intensity in the big moments, Miedema can flick the switch.

It happened at the north London derby last month, when she clambered over three Tottenham defenders to head in the stoppage-time equaliser to claim a vital point to keep her team's unbeaten league record alive. "It was very not me to be honest," she says smirking. "The girls were all laughing, saying 'you never go up for headers in training', and I’m like 'nope - but it’s a game.'"

When Eidevall arrived at Arsenal in the summer, armed with star signings like Tobin Heath and Mana Iwabuchi, Miedema was not worried about how she might be perceived. Everyone has adjusted to Eidevall's very energetic and vocal style, she says, but it does not mean she always answers his calls for explosive sprints. "I’m never going to be a player to change to get the coach on their side," she says, leaning back on the sofa and sipping on a cup of tea, her mousy hair still damp from her post-training shower. "I’m me and that’s my strength."

Vivianne Miedema at the Emirates - Geoff Pugh
Vivianne Miedema at the Emirates - Geoff Pugh

Miedema, 25, is more confident than ever in that regard - both on and off the pitch. Eidevall's arrival has ushered in a new era at Arsenal where they are finally the team being chased again after a couple of years languishing in third place. Currently leading the WSL, thanks in part to five goals from Miedema, on Sunday they will be vying for their first silverware since they won the league title in 2018, during Miedema's second season in north London.

The new high standards, Miedema explains, comes in part from the increased support the women's team is getting behind the scenes. "Arsenal has always been *the* club in England, I think the club has kind of let that slip over the last decade," she says bluntly. "I’m happy to say that they definitely are moving into the right direction again."

The women's team are training more consistently at the club's Colney ground where the men are based, and there was a recent internal review which saw increased investment in the women's backroom staffing. It is a good start, Miedema says, but she is not shy about voicing her opinion on how the previously looser standards troubled her. "Out of the blue we won the league [in 2018] and I don’t think the club was ready. The last two years, we held on to us winning the title, but we should have made the next step."

She says the club ambitions have improved, for now, after being convinced by conversations with "the big bosses" like Arsenal chief executive Vinai Venkatesham. "That's one of the great shifts we’ve had over the last six to 12 months, that the connection with people higher up in the club has been really good. They’ve been able to connect with us, listen to us and improve things directly. If people want to have a strong opinion, they know they need to come to me."

She laughs then, and says her outspokenness - and matter-of-fact honesty - is something she has developed over time. "Being Dutch, growing up in the north of Holland where nobody agrees with anything, you develop your own opinion. Sometimes I get in s---, and say stupid things and think after 'Viv, you didn't think that through, what the f--- are you doing, but you learn along the way. I won’t stop doing that. It won’t make me the most popular player out there but it’s very needed."

Vivianne Miedema of Arsenal scores her team's first goal during the Barclays FA Women's Super League match between Tottenham Hotspur Women and Arsenal Women - Getty Images
Vivianne Miedema of Arsenal scores her team's first goal during the Barclays FA Women's Super League match between Tottenham Hotspur Women and Arsenal Women - Getty Images

As much as things have improved, she is cautious about over-praising. She was linked with a move to Lyon last summer, and is non-committal when asked if she will be staying when her contract runs out at the end of the season. "It’s difficult. I’m always quite honest about those things. I’ve not made a decision. The good start to the season has definitely helped make me feel better about being at the club, but - and I’ve said this to the club - I’d like to see where we’re actually going and what the plans are. I want to win the Champions League and I want to win league titles. I definitely do believe Arsenal is capable to do so. I’d love to stay. But if I feel like the club is not going in the right direction then sadly enough I’d probably have to move to win the Champions League somewhere else."

She got an idea of how far Arsenal may still need to go, when in October they were given a 4-1 humbling by European champions Barcelona in the Champions League group stages. They play them again, this time at the Emirates, next Thursday and Miedema raises her eyebrows when asked about their previous meeting. "Different team," she says, shaking her head as soon as the word 'Barca' is uttered. "It was a massive reality check. In my whole life I’ve never played against a women’s side as technically and tactically better than they are."

She says they are ready for the challenge now. Last season she played every single minute of Arsenal's season, but has been given rest opportunities by Eidevall. With players like Beth Mead, Kim Little and Katie McCabe's superb form, she has been able to take a breather. But it will always be on her to deliver in the big moments: "No matter who we play, who’s on the pitch, who’s been in form, I always carry that pressure of having to do something for the team."

Just as soon as that flicker of intensity comes though, she returns to her relaxed default. When a press officer ushers her away to a photoshoot, she shrugs. "If it doesn't look good then whatever. What you see is what you get - I don't care."

  • Tickets for the Vitality Women's FA Cup Final on Sunday 5th December are available from £20 for adults and £2.50 for children and fans can still purchase tickets for the Final by visiting ticketing.thefa.com

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