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UEFA Women's Champions League group stage preview: Barcelona vs Arsenal

The current UEFA Women’s Champions League holders begin their defence of their crown against 2006/07 winners Arsenal.

Barcelona's Jennifer Hermoso
Barcelona's Jennifer Hermoso LightRocket via Getty Images

The current UEFA Women’s Champions League holders begin their defence of their crown against 2006/07 winners Arsenal.

Barcelona ended Lyon’s five-year grip on the trophy last term with a stunning performance in the showpiece match, as they ran out 4-0 winners against Chelsea in Gothenburg.

The Blaugranes, who qualified directly for the group stage as a result of being the reigning champions, are aiming to become only the fourth club to defend their title in this competition, after Swedish outfit Umeå (2003 and 2004), Lyon (2011 and 2012 plus 2016-20) and VfL Wolfsburg (2013 and 2014).

Arsenal, who finished third in the Women’s Super League last term, are in the competition for only the second time since 2013/14 and were eliminated at the quarter-final stage in their last outing, losing 2-1 to Paris in San Sebastian two seasons ago.

The Gunners have reached the last eight more than any other side in this competition, doing so in each of their previous 13 campaigns, but have only converted those into one appearance in the final – when they got the better of Umeå over two legs by a 1-0 aggregate margin back in April 2007.

Jonas Eidevall, who took over the Arsenal reins in the summer following Joe Montemurro’s departure, successfully guided his new charges through qualifying, getting the better of Kazakhstan’s Okzhetpes (4-0) – in what was the North Londoners’ 50th UEFA women’s club victory – and PSV of the Netherlands (3-1) in the first round, before an emphatic 7-0 victory over two legs against last season’s Czech Republic runners-up Slavia Praha (3-0 h, 4-0 a).

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Ones to watch - Barcelona

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Jenni Hermoso

The 31-year-old forward, who rejoined the club in 2019 after brief spells with Paris and a return to Atlético, where she started her career, capped off another fine campaign by finishing as the joint-top scorer in the UEFA Women’s Champions League with six goals last term, a tally that included a round of 16 hat-trick against Fortuna Hjørring.

Although she didn’t get on the scoresheet in the 4-0 final triumph against Chelsea back in May, she did win the penalty that led to the Blaugranes’ second goal, and at the end of August she was named the tournament’s Forward of the Season for 2020/21.

The Spanish international claimed her fifth Primera División golden boot in 2020/21 – her third in a row – with all those coming in the last six campaigns, whilst she lifted the Spanish top-flight title for the sixth occasion.

In February 2021 she overtook Verónica Boquete to become Spain’s all-time leading markswoman.

Sandra Paños

Currently in her seventh campaign with Barcelona after joining from Levante in 2015, the 28-year-old goalkeeper has a league winners’ medal in the last two campaigns, having finished as runner-up in her first four seasons with the club.

The Spanish international was named the UEFA Women's Champions League Goalkeeper of the Season for 2020/21, after keeping three clean sheets in the competition and conceding just twice.

Just days before she helped to secure a maiden UEFA Women’s Champions League trophy for Barcelona, she extended her contract with the club until 2024.

The Blaugranes custodian has won the award for the lowest goals conceded ratio in a Primera División campaign on four occasions, last scooping the prize for a third successive season in 2019/20, losing out to Real Madrid’s Misa Rodríguez last term.

Alexia Putellas

The Barcelona skipper, in her tenth season with the club following a move from Levante in 2012, had a spell in the side’s youth team before eventually making her senior debut at neighbours Espanyol in 2010.

The 27-year-old captained the side to their first UEFA Women’s Champions League title last season, converting the penalty for their second goal and assisting the third in the 4-0 final success against Chelsea in May. in August she scooped both the UEFA Women’s Player of the Year award – the first Spaniard to receive the honour – and was named the tournament’s Midfielder of the Season for 2020/21.

The attacking midfielder was one of seven Blaugranes players to feature in all nine matches on their triumphant UEFA Women’s Champions League run last season, with only María León playing more minutes in the competition for the club in 2020/21.

The Spanish international, who won her fifth Primera División title last term, extended her stay at the club until 2024 on 8 September.

New Women’s Champions League format explained

Ones to watch - Arsenal

Vivianne Miedema

The forward certainly has pedigree in this competition, having finished a UEFA Women’s Champions League campaign as joint-top scorer on two occasions, netting eight (whilst with Bayern München) in 2016/17 and ten two seasons ago.

She scored in all three of Arsenal’s fixtures in qualifying for the inaugural group stage, and her treble in the 4-0 Round 2 qualifying, second leg away victory against Slavia Praha brought up her century of goals for the Gunners.

The Dutch international was key as the Netherlands won the Women’s EURO in 2017 before finishing as runners-up at the FIFA Women's World Cup two years later. She broke the individual goalscoring record at an edition of the Olympic Games, netting a total of ten goals as she registered in all four of her country’s matches at the tournament this summer.

The 25-year-old is the leading scorer in England’s Women’s Super League, securing the golden boot in successive seasons, including a competition-best 22 as Arsenal were crowned champions in 2018/19.

Kim Little

The midfielder has a rich goalscoring history in this competition, with a penalty in each leg of the qualifying tie against Slavia Praha propelling her back into the competition’s top ten markswomen with a total of 39. She has retired legends Hanna Ljungberg, Nina Burger and Lotta Schelin in her sights immediately above her in the rankings.

The Gunners’ skipper first joined Arsenal at the age of 17, having started out with Hibernian in her native Scotland. Spells at American club Seattle Reign and a loan move to Australian W-League side Melbourne City followed, before returning to the North London outfit four years ago.

The 31-year-old, who has won a total of 13 major honours across her two spells with the WSL club, made her UEFA Women’s Champions League bow at the tender age of 16, with Hibernian.

The former Scottish international announced her retirement from international football last month, having amassed 140 caps over a 14-year period, netting 59 goals in the process.

Nikita Parris

The summer signing, who joined the Gunners for a club-record fee from Lyon in July, opened her Arsenal account on her debut for the North Londoners in the 4-0 qualifying victory against Okzhetpes on 18 August.

The forward scored four goals in six appearances on Lyon’s run to the final of this competition in 2019/20, but missed the 3-1 showpiece success against Wolfsburg through suspension, following a red card in the semi-final victory against Paris.

The 27-year-old spent two seasons with Lyon following a move from Manchester City in June 2019, scooping the treble in her first campaign with Les Lyonnaises.

The English international was a product of Everton’s youth set-up, making her debut at the age of 16, before a move to The Citizens, where she lifted five major honours.

Top five goals of the 2020/21 UEFA Women's Champions League

Key stats

• Barcelona have won 19 of their last 23 UEFA Women’s Champions League matches (W19 D1 L3)

• Barcelona have won each of their last nine UEFA Women’s Champions League matches at Estadi Johan Cruyff F29 A3

• Barcelona have kept eight clean sheets in their last 12 UEFA Women’s Champions League matches at Estadi Johan Cruyff

• Barcelona have failed to score in just one of their last 24 UEFA Women’s Champions League matches

• Barcelona have conceded more than one goal in just two of their last 23 UEFA Women’s Champions League matches

• Barcelona scored inside of the opening 15 minutes in six of their nine UEFA Women’s Champions League matches last season

• There has been a total of three or more goals scored in eight of Barcelona’s last nine UEFA Women’s Champions League matches

• Arsenal won each of the previous two UEFA Women’s Champions League matches between these two teams without conceding a goal (3-0 in Spain and 4-0 in England in the 2012/13 round of 32). That was Barcelona’s first ever fixture in the competition

• Arsenal have won 12 of their last 15 UEFA Women’s Champions League matches, including each of their previous four matches in the 2021-22 campaign

• Remarkably, the last time that Arsenal drew a UEFA Women’s Champions League match was in November 2011 vs Rayo Vallecano – they have played

• Arsenal have scored three or more goals in each of their previous four matches in the 2021-22 UEFA Women’s Champions League campaign

• Arsenal have kept six clean sheets in their last nine UEFA Women’s Champions League matches

• Arsenal’s Dutch striker Vivianne Miedema has scored a total of 23 goals in her last 15 UEFA Women’s Champions League appearances

• Arsenal’s Dutch striker Vivianne Miedema remarkably scored a hat-trick in just 13-minutes in their 4-0 victory over Slavia Praha in the second leg of their round two tie. Miedema had previously scored a hat-trick in both legs of Arsenal’s tie against Slavia in the round of 16 in the 2019/20 UWCL

Group stage: all you need to know