Were we looking at Arsenal’s first string or second string? It’s getting harder to say. Regardless, two goals from Lina Hurtig, who returned to the starting line-up, and a stunning volley from Jordan Nobbs, who made his first start of the season, gave the Gunners a comfortable 3-1 win over Swiss side FC Zurich in the Champions League group stage.
With Juventus having held Lyon to a 1-1 draw in the previous game, Arsenal would take a two-point lead at the top of Group C with a win against Zurich at the Emirates Stadium, before a tricky trip to Juventus put the team ahead. by their former manager Joe Montemurro, in late November.
After back-to-back wins – a 5-1 thrashing of reigning European champions Lyon and 2-0 win at Liverpool – with an unchanged XI, Jonas Eidevall relegated seven to the bench for the visit of the Swiss champions.
The changes spoke to the depth of Arsenal’s squad, which is arguably the strongest it has been in recent years. However, with that comes challenges.
Mana Iwabuchi had looked fallen when she made her very brief cameo in the dying seconds against Liverpool and Vivianne Miedema could be seen talking animatedly to Eidevall at the final whistle. Managing the expectations of a squad filled with talent is a true test of management.
“This game really came at a moment when we needed to trust the whole squad,” Eidevall said. “It’s good. It’s the Champions League so everything is at stake and I hope the players feel that and we trust them. When you put players on in a Champions League game it’s because you trust them. I have been really happy with how people have trained and how the spirit has been.”
Zurich, who put 10 past Baar in the Swiss Cup at the weekend, held Juventus for 70 minutes last week before slumping to a 2-0 defeat and while they are far from Europe’s elite, they are a well-organised side.
Leading the way for the visiting side was Fabienne Humm, currently the league’s top scorer with nine goals and who scored deep into extra time in Switzerland’s play-off with Wales to earn a place at next summer’s World Cup.
Zürich’s manager, Inka Grings, said afterwards: “You have to remember that 90% of our team still have a full-time job, so just to be here was a great honor for us. We were clear that it was not a holiday. We have a great young generation. We wanted to be able to keep up with Arsenal and score goals and that’s what we achieved here today.”
If there were any concerns that this new Arsenal would struggle to click, those fears were eased in the first half, with Arsenal’s first-class stand-ins logging more regular minutes.
The first goal was stunning and the screams of delight from Nobbs, who has struggled for game time since her ACL injury ahead of the 2019 World Cup, showed what it meant to the long-serving Arsenal midfielder.
Steph Catley, returning to her favored left-back position after a spell alongside Lotte Wubben-Moy in the middle, sent the ball in from the left and Nobbs, lurking near the penalty spot, lifted her leg high to drive a volley past goalkeeper Lourdes Romero.
Arsenal’s second came just before half-time and was perhaps even more spectacular, created by more players hoping to give Eidevall a selection headache. Iwabuchi won possession in the Zurich box and weaved to the byline before dropping the ball into the middle where Hurtig was waiting to head past Romero.
The second half was scrappy and the challenges came thick and fast. Twice Arsenal could feel aggrieved at not being awarded a penalty when Katie McCabe was brought down and Miedema took a punch to the face.
The only moment of shock was delivered against the run of play and warned of a creeping complacency. Julia Stierli’s ball into the box swung to the waiting Seraina Piubel, who snuck in behind Wubben-Moy and hammered past debutant Kaylan Marckese before being mobbed by her teammates and the Zurich substitutes warming up.
The response from the frustrated Gunners was immediate, with Nobbs finding substitute Stina Blackstenius, the Swedish forward forcing a save from Romero, but Hurtig was on hand to pounce on the rebound and punish the perhaps still mentally celebrating Zurich players.
In the end it was routine. – Satisfied with the result, but we have only played two games, says Eidevall. “It’s not won yet. We’re happy with that, but there are many tough games left.”
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