Arsenal Ladies and Reserves: Column #1
As a man in his twenties, I probably should have better things to do than to take such an active interest in the goings on of the Arsenal Reserves and the Arsenal Ladies` sides. But if you`ve spent any length of time on this site you probably know I don`t! Starting today, I am going to write a weekly column that will appear here every Friday, overlooking the Ladies and Reserves sides. I can`t pretend to have the access enjoyed by Jamie at the brilliant YoungGuns Blog or by Jeorge Bird`s equally excellent Arsenal Youth Blog.
However, I do get to a fair amount of Reserve games myself- presuming spectators are permitted. The aim is to cast a critical, sometimes whimsical eye over the second string. I shall try not to simply regurgitate the output of the official website and rather give a point of view from the front row. Regular readers will know I`m passionate about the Arsenal Ladies side too and coverage of their exploits is simply not wide or varied enough. Again, I get to most of their home games- particularly with the scheduling changes in the Women`s Superleague. Again, I`ll aim to cast a critical and light hearted eye over them too.
Beginning with the Reserves, who were back to winning ways with a consummate 2-0 win over Swansea last week after a drab performance at Motspur Park against Fulham- which I attended. With the January transfer window closed, the Reserves side often begins to change shape at this time of year. Mainstays such as Chuks Aneke, Ryo Miyachi and Sanchez Watt have left on loan. This has freed up space for the likes of Dutch midfielder Kyle Ebecilio and 16 year old German creative midfielder Serge Gnabry.
In what was a fairly pedestrian showing by the Gunners at Motspur Park, Gnabry was the star of the show in a creative midfield role, threading passes a plenty and always managing to find time on the ball. Signed from Stuttgart in August, Gnabry is another highly regarded youngster whom the club are trying to keep under wraps. Gnabry capped a man of the match display against Swansea with a goal and an assist in a 2-0 win and his progress in the Wolves game will be monitored closely.
The home fixture with Wolves will be the last played behind closed doors at London Colney before the spring. The last two home fixtures against West Brom on 13th March and against Everton on Monday, 7th April (both kickoffs at 7pm) will be played at the Reserves surrogate home at Underhill, Barnet. For the last two seasons Arsenal have cut down on the amount of Reserve games played in this quaint Hertfordshire stadium, preferring the more genteel conditions of the training ground in the winter months. It was only in response to fan pressure that a compromise was reached meaning the Reserves played there at all.
But Barnet announced in December that they were being forced to relocate from their home of 104 years due to conflicts with Barnet council. It seems incredibly unlikely that Arsenal Reserves will ever play there again after the Everton game and indeed, the Stadium will likely cease to exist come the summer. I would encourage anyone to visit this charming slice of Hertfordshire`s community history while you can for either the West Brom or Everton games. Kick offs are 7pm. Entry, as always, is free.
One would think Reserve matches will simply be played at London Colney next season. Whether they will remain behind closed doors, or whether they will erect temporary stands for spectators is not yet known. As I mentioned earlier, I went to watch the Reserves away fixture at Fulham at their Motspur Park training base and Fulham have done this to some effect. There is something rather detached and eerie about it- particularly with the stands both being on the same side and set back a long way from the pitch. Nevertheless, the chance for the Reserves to play in front of any sort of crowd has to be good for their development.
Moving onto Arsenal Ladies and Laura Harvey`s side are currently in pre season preparation for the imminent return of the Women`s Superleague in April and, more pertinently, their Champions League Quarter Final against Gothenburg Ladies on March 14th. Inclement weather saw to their first arranged friendly against Colchester Ladies on Thursday night, but warm up games against Gillingham (at Chatham Town F.C., next Thursday, tickets £5 £2.50 conc.) a pre season tour of Scotland and a match against Nottingham Forest Ladies on February 21st at Corby Town (7.45pm, £5 adults, £2.50 conc.), Harvey`s side should be in good shape for the season ahead.
The Champions League Quarter Final against Gothenburg will be their most pressing concern though, having eased past Rayo Vallecano in November. The women`s game in Sweden is thriving- you may recall it as Swedish side Umea that Arsenal Ladies overcame to win the 2007 UEFA Cup Final, so Gothenburg will be dangerous opponents. The Ladies tumbled out at the Quarter Final stage last year against Olympique Lyonnais. The first leg will take place at Borehamwood F.C.`s Meadow Park on Wednesday, 14th March at 2.30pm. As always, it`s £5 adults, £2.50 conc.
In an attempt to attract crowds, last year the Women`s F.A. decided to move to a summer schedule. Therefore Arsenal`s defence of their WSL crown launches with a tantalising fixture against last season`s title rivals Everton on Sunday, 8th April at Borehamwood. Mo Marley`s side finished 7 points behind WSL Champions Arsenal last season, with Arsenal also having knocked them out of the F.A. Cup in the last two seasons- beating them in the Final in 2010. The Ladies will be playing home fixtures at Borehamwood throughout June and July. If your thirst for live football is in need of slaking, I`d thoroughly recommend getting along.
Tickets are usually peanuts, but this year, for the first time, the club are offering season tickets for the Ladies games at £30 adults and £15 concessions. When you consider the level that Arsenal Ladies play at, that`s something of a bargain. Last year`s treble winners have been able to keep the squad together- with only 20 year old Reserve keeper Rebecca Spencer leaving on a 6 month loan to Soyaux. Spencer is seen as the heir apparent to long term number 1 Emma Byrne. With the short lived professionalism of Fulham Ladies long since expunged and the professional women`s league in the States on hiatus for financial reasons, Arsenal have no issues retaining their best players.
Harvey has been bequeathed a well balanced squad, with exciting dynamic young players such as Jordan Nobbs, Kim Little and Gilly Flaherty providing the energy and impetus, with a backbone of experience in the likes of the pacey Rachel Yankey, the experience and leadership for captain Faye White and the steely presence of Jayne Ludlow in central midfield. Last season was something of a breakthrough for youngsters such as Spencer, forward Danielle Carter and 19 year old Lauren Burton, who will be expected to kick on as the likes of Ciara Grant and Ludlow enter the twilight of their careers.
That will do for this week, more next Friday. LD.