Mary Phillip believes this could be the year the English champions Arsenal LFC reach the UEFA Women's Cup final as they prepare for their last-eight tie with Breidablik.
While Arsenal FC's were not able to win the UEFA Champions League last season they did at least make it to the final after several years of near misses. Having reached the UEFA Women's Cup knockout rounds in all four previous attempts without progressing to the decider, Arsenal LFC now have hopes of at least emulating their male counterparts.
The omens are good. Twice semi-finalists, losing to Scandinavian duo Fortuna Hjørring and Djurgårdens/Älvsjö, Arsenal fell short in the last eight in 2005/06 after coming up against eventual winners 1. FFC Frankfurt following a group-stage defeat by Brøndby IF. This time, Arsenal overcame the Danish champions 1-0 in their group decider in Russia to set up a meeting with Breidablik of Iceland rather than 1. FFC Turbine Potsdam. Arsenal also have the advantage of a home second leg a week on Thursday having made the trip north seven days earlier.
Defeating Brøndby certainly delighted Arsenal defender Mary Phillip. "For ourselves, going out and getting the results we got out in Russia was fantastic," she said. "We are in the quarter-final, facing an Icelandic team. It's always a dream when you are playing in Europe to try and get to that final. Obviously at Arsenal it has been that, it proves how much English football is growing and if we won it would give another team a chance to get into Europe."
With the addition of Katie Chapman and Karen Carney in the summer, Arsenal now have most of the England team in their squad, with Phillip the most experienced among that number having captained the squad in clinching 2007 FIFA Women's World Cup qualification in France last month. "Having so many international players in the club is great...you get to know each other that bit more," Phillip said. "It can only be a positive, you learn a lot more about the players and how to respond to them. You know what you expect of them, and what they expect of you."
Arsenal's prowess in Europe is based on their recent domestic dominance, having won the English league five times in six years, helped by support from the men's club, who also employ several of the squad. As Everton LFC and England goalkeeper Rachel Brown admits: "It proves an advantage have that link - look at the media coverage men's football gets, and it can only pass on as an advantage. A few clubs are playing catch-up with Arsenal, they've proved to be the strongest team year on year."
Phillip believes Arsenal's example could soon benefit English women's football as a whole. "Not all the players work at Arsenal as people do assume - it's only a handful, we are doing our own coaching and working independently - but the club does support you in any way they can. Other clubs are doing that and are growing, give it a couple of years they will be at the same level."