Arsenal's early Champions League exit may help them in the long run

Alessia Russo joined Arsenal to play in the Champions League but the Gunners have crashed out ALREADY and may have lost their chance to sign Mary Earps too… but it may help Jonas Eidevall’s side in the long run

  • Arsenal were defeated on penalties by Paris FC in Champions League qualifying 
  • The Gunners will however now only have to contend with one game per week 
  • Listen to the latest episode of Mail Sport’s podcast It’s All Kicking Off! 

Arsenal’s defeat by Paris FC had all the hallmarks of a pre-season fixture. The Gunners were rusty, defended poorly and lacked sharpness.

The problem is that it was not a pre-season fixture but a Champions League qualifier – and their defeat means they will now go without European football for the rest of the campaign.

Arsenal’s third place finish in the Women’s Super League meant they were forced to enter at the first qualifying round – which consisted of two one-legged matches. Jonas Eidevall’s side beat Swedish club Linkoping 3-0 in their first fixture but suffered penalty shoot-out heartbreak in their second match.

There are many who think teams having these qualifiers so soon after a major tournament is unfair and also detrimental to the welfare of players.

Arsenal had 14 players that took part in the World Cup, with seven reaching the final week of the tournament in Australia and New Zealand. Alessia Russo, who came off the bench, was back in training a week after landing. Eidevall himself was working at the World Cup as a pundit for BBC Sport and would have arrived back at a similar time.

Jonas Eidevall’s side were rusty and lacked sharpness in defeat to Paris FC at the weekend

Alessia Russo joined Arsenal to play in the Champions League but her side were defeated in the qualifiers

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It was always going to be tough for Arsenal to prepare in such a short space of time, but they are not exempt from criticism.

The same fate befell Manchester City last season. Many of Gareth Taylor’s side had represented England at the Euros and had only one week of rest before they were back in training. City won their first game but were beaten in their second by Real Madrid. They were afforded little sympathy.

Arsenal went 1-0 down in the 56th minute then conceded a second straight from their own kick-off. The defending for both goals was extremely poor. Still, substitutes Russo and Jen Beattie scored to force extra-time before Russo equalised again after Paris had re-taken the lead.

Eidevall’s decision to leave Russo and Katie McCabe on the bench was questionable. The Arsenal manager will perhaps argue he had to rotate his team given the quick turnaround between fixtures, but Russo’s impact off the bench showed she probably should have started.

The early elimination is a particular blow for the England striker, who joined Arsenal with ambition of competing in the Champions League.

The club had already planned to host group games at the Emirates had they qualified. The Gunners sold out their main stadium for the second leg of their semi-final last season and would have hoped to build on that success.

Moreover, an early exit could come back to haunt the Gunners in their pursuit of England’s No 1 Mary Earps, who Arsenal have been heavily linked with as she enters the final year of her contract at Manchester United. 

Failure to qualify for the Champions League does not necessarily close the door on a potential move, but it perhaps makes a deal more difficult. 

Arsenal were not the only notable club to crash out early, with Juventus – who are managed by the Gunners’ former boss Joe Montemurro – beaten by Eintracht Frankfurt.

There is widespread feeling that the women’s Champions League needs to be expanded. Only 16 teams reach the group stages, meaning several big clubs miss out each year.

The Gunners have the superior budget and playing personnel than the French side, and should have won the game

They will however have to only contend with one game a week for the rest of the campaign

Arsenal’s pursuit for Mary Earps may be hampered by an early exit from the Champions League

UEFA announced the introduction of a group stage in 2019 but by the time it was actually implemented in 2021-2022 – the women’s game had already grown rapidly. This will be only the third year of this format but it already feels like the competition is ready to expand further.

Arsenal, with their superior budget and squad, should have beaten Paris FC. They did not play well enough on the day and ultimately got what they deserved. But it is also true that the scheduling of qualifiers and the expansion of the competition has to be looked at as a priority.

It will be of little consolation to Arsenal now but, in the long run, not having Champions League football may help aid their bid to win the WSL title. Chelsea have already qualified for the group stage and there will come a point in the season where they will have to manage playing two games a week while Arsenal just have to contend with one.

Eidevall’s side must use this early disappointment as motivation for the upcoming domestic season. There is still plenty to play for and the need to finish in the top two to avoid a repeat of this summer is greater than ever.


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