Arsenal reach 100 Women's Champions League games: Star profiles
Friday, October 28, 2022
Arsenal became only the second team to contest 100 games in the competition when they beat Zürich 3-1: we celebrate six of the club's finest talents down the years.
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Arsenal Stadium staged a little bit of history on 27 October when the home team defeated Zürich to become only the second club, after Lyon, to reach 100 games in UEFA women's competition.
Neatly, their first also came against Swiss opposition, the Gunners beating FC Bern 4-0 at Stadion Neufeld on 1 October 2001. They went on to top their qualifying group that season and reached the first of their record 14 quarter-finals in the UEFA Women's Cup/UEFA Women's Champions League (from as many European campaigns) – one of the few competition benchmarks not set by Lyon, who are one behind.
Speaking of Lyon, the French giants were Arsenal's victims in their 99th match, a remarkable 5-1 away win which ranks among the Gunners' very finest European displays. However, pride of place undoubtedly goes to their 1-0 aggregate defeat of two-time champions Umeå in the 2007 final, Alex Scott's goal at the end of the away first leg proving enough to claim what remains England's only title.
That triumphant team contained several survivors from Arsenal's landmark first game in the Swiss capital: Emma Byrne, Ciara Grant and Jayne Ludlow, not to mention manager Vic Akers, who led the side from their 1987 founding until 2009. Of the 33 clubs involved in that inaugural 2001/02 UEFA Women's Cup season, only Arsenal have taken part in either of the two Women's Champions League group stages.
With more than 50 trophies to their name, including record numbers of English league and cup victories, Arsenal have been a defining presence in the rise of the women's club game. We celebrate six past and present players who have left their mark in UEFA women's club competition and beyond.
Arsenal's first 100 UEFA competition games
W59 D14 L27 F282 A119
Completed campaigns: 14
Quarter-finals: 14 (record)
The Republic of Ireland goalkeeper joined Arsenal at the start of 2000 and spent 17 years with the club as they dominated the English game and were, of course, crowned European champions in 2006/07.
She was Arsenal's first choice from their debut UEFA campaign in 2001/02 until 2013/14, and Byrne was for many years the competition's appearance record holder, reaching 77 games. Indeed, she was only overtaken as the goalkeeper with the most matches by Sarah Bouhaddi last month.
Key game: She'd already helped Arsenal perform heroics to beat Umeå 1-0 in the first leg of the 2007 final, but in the return – as the Swedish team's all-star attack bombarded the home goal – Byrne was magnificent in ensuring the 0-0 draw that clinched the title.
At a time when English women's football was a developing rather than an established force, Smith was an undoubted world-class talent. Her club career was split between Arsenal and various American sides, and she proved a flair-blessed fan favourite wherever she played, despite bad luck with injuries.
Smith missed the 2007 final through suspension, but her two goals in the semi-final opener against Brøndby helped them get there – one of many decisive contributions before her retirement at the start of 2017.
Key game: Arsenal's perfect record of reaching the quarter-finals at every attempt looked in peril during their 11th campaign, when they drew two-time champions Turbine Potsdam in the 2012/13 round of 16. The Gunners could only post a narrow 2-1 home win in the first leg and had never got past German opposition, but that all changed as Smith scored a hat-trick and set up Ellen White to clinch a 4-3 away victory.
Scott has carved out a second career as British all-round TV star and astute pundit, but until her 2018 playing retirement she had a long stint as a top-class right-back. Capped 140 times by England, she spent the majority of her club career with Arsenal, whom she first joined at the age of eight.
Scott was a stalwart during Arsenal's era of English dominance, and although she was best known for her defending and wing play, she scored perhaps the most famous goal in her club's history – the 2007 final winner against Umeå.
Key game: Arsenal had been put under intense pressure by Umeå, and Marta in particular, during the blustery first leg of the final, but they were somehow still level as the game entered added time. Cue Scott, who let fly from distance with a swerving effort that sealed a surprise win and, ultimately, the title.
Little made her European debut for Hibernian aged 16 in 2006 and joined Arsenal two years later. Initially a forward, she grabbed a hat-trick on her first Gunners UEFA Women's Cup appearance against Zürich, and by the time the Scottish international joined Seattle Reign in late 2013, she was among the competition's top ten all-time scorers.
By that stage, she'd settled into midfield, and Little has generally played there since returning to Arsenal, even taking up an anchoring role. Now the club captain, she has made more than 250 appearances for the club and is back in the top ten scorers' list thanks to her penalty prowess: her last eight European goals have all come from the spot.
Key game: Little joined too late to face Umeå in 2007, but in her debut Arsenal season she got to face the Swedish side during the quarter-finals – and was a constant menace in the first leg before sealing a 3-2 win with 11 minutes left. Umeå surged through in the return game, but that home victory remains one of the most memorable European nights at Arsenal's regular Meadow Park base.
Miedema's signing for Arsenal from Bayern in May 2017 was a key signal that the Gunners were ambitious to return to the European summit, her prolific reputation only augmented later that summer when she spearheaded the Netherlands' UEFA Women's EURO success. She had to wait until 2019/20 for her first Women's Champions League campaign in Arsenal colours but hit the ground running with two goals at Fiorentina, another in the second leg, and then an incredible seven in total in the round of 16 against Slavia Praha.
The Matchday 1 Lyon victory was Miedema's 20th outing for Arsenal in Europe, and those games have yielded 18 goals, following on from her eight in eight for Bayern. Her ambition for success in this competition is no secret.
Key game: Miedema's hat-trick at Slavia last term took her to 11 goals in four games against the Czech club, booked Arsenal's spot in the group stage, and brought up her 100th strike for the club. Some achievement, but the tie was not in the balance – unlike their round two meeting with Ajax this season. The Gunners travelled to the Netherlands having been held 2-2 at home and with their group ambitions in peril, until Miedema powered through early in the second half to down her compatriots, a particularly sweet moment for the lifelong Feyenoord fan.
Mead's UEFA Women's EURO 2022 heroics for England truly announced her as a world-beating talent, but her performances for Arsenal had already hinted at what was to come. Moved out wide on the right following Miedema's arrival, the forward began the tournament having left her imprint on the domestic season with both goals and assists.
Snapped up from Sunderland in January 2017, Mead's first big impact in the Women's Champions League came in the one-off 2020 quarter-final with Paris Saint-Germain in San Sebastián, when Mead's fine curling effort levelled the scores, though Arsenal were to lose 2-1. And she shone again when the Gunners next faced French opposition – that sensational 5-1 triumph in Lyon.
Key game: Arsenal's victory in Lyon was not just one of the great displays of their 99 European games but of the 1,750-odd matches in the history of UEFA women's club competition. And Mead, who only two days earlier had been pipped to the Ballon d'Or by Alexia Putellas, was in her very best form against the holders, contributing two goals, including a fine free-kick, plus an assist.