A depleted Arsenal team overcame a two-goal deficit to keep their UEFA Women's Champions League semi-final level ahead of the 1 May return in London.
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Arsenal recovered from 2-0 down to leave their UEFA Women's Champions League semi-final with Wolfsburg in the balance ahead of the 1 May second leg in London.
Ewa Pajor and Sveindís Jónsdóttir seemed to have Wolfsburg in control against their depleted opponents and on course for a sixth final. However, Rafaelle headed Arsenal back into the game just before half-time and Stina Blackstenius then allowed the Gunners to dream of a first showpiece since their 2007 triumph.
19' Pajor strikes for Wolfsburg
24' Jónsdóttir doubles lead
45' Rafaelle pulls one back
69' Blackstenius levels
Match in brief: Arsenal show grit
Both teams were missing key players, with Wolfsburg not risking Alex Popp after her recent injury and Arsenal's list of absentees having grown even longer in recent days. Leah Williamson became the latest injury victim in midweek, joining Kim Little, Vivianne Miedema and Beth Mead, not to mention Caitlin Foord and Lina Hurtig.
That meant an unfamiliar-looking Gunners side, and although they appeared comfortable early on, Wolfsburg perhaps took advantage of their makeshift defence when Jónsdóttir chested down a long ball and slipped through for competition top scorer Pajor to make it 1-0.
Five minutes later, Jónsdóttir got the second, pouncing on a misplaced defensive pass and shooting through the legs of Manuela Zinsberger. Arsenal now needed to did deep but were able to reduce the deficit just before the break when Steph Catley – not long back from injury – sent a corner to the far post which Rafaelle met with a bullet header.
Wolfsburg were keen to restore their two-goal cushion in the second half and that may have allowed Arsenal to find the space to equalise, Victoria Pelova racing on to a Lotte Wubben-Moy ball down the right channel and centering for Blackstenius to tap in.
The home side pushed hard in the final half-hour to restore their advantage, Jill Roord going close several times in an attempt to score against her former side as she did here in last season's quarter-finals.
Visa Player of the Match: Jen Beattie (Arsenal)
"She commanded the defensive line and showed good leadership. She avoided errors and was assured in all she did. She was also well positioned to defend aerial balls."
UEFA Technical Observer panel
Anna Sophia Vollmerhausen, Wolfsburg reporter
Wolfsburg will look for answers as to how they gave up a 2-0 lead against an Arsenal team missing several key players. The home side made the most of their opportunities in the first half, helped along by some miscommunications at the back from their opponents, but they will now face a stiff test in London.
Paul Saffer, Arsenal reporter
Before kick-off, a depleted and much-reshuffled Arsenal would doubtless have been content with a draw. At 2-0 down midway through the first half, they would have been delighted. After all the setbacks, they kept their composure and, in front of an expected 50,000-plus crowd in London on Monday week, they will feel that a first final in 16 years is within their grasp.
Tommy Stroot, Wolfsburg coach: "It's half-time for us. The second half will be in London. We knew that it would be a close game, and our 2-0 lead flattered us a bit. We were very clinical at the start. The goals we conceded came from a set piece and a counterattack, which we should be able to deal with."
Jonas Eidevall, Arsenal coach: "It's amazing to see the resilience, the attitude, the work rate that the players have. But it's only half-time. We're happy with today, with the performance and the result, but it's all up to be decided in London."
Svenja Huth, Wolfsburg captain: "Mixed feelings because we were 2-0 up and wanted to win here in Wolfsburg. It was a back-and-forth game, where we were the better side at times. We weren't able to see it through in those key moments so we're a little disappointed after the game. We will analyse it in order to hopefully win the second leg."
Sveindís Jónsdóttir, Wolfsburg forward: "We shouldn't concede two goals after being 2-0 up. We needed to be calmer on the ball, keep the ball and defend a bit better. We have another game so it doesn't really matter. We're going to go to London and win there."
Ewa Pajor, Wolfsburg forward: "I think we were the better team across the full 90 minutes. We conceded twice in the second half, which hurts. But we know now what we need to improve on and will do better in London."
Jen Beattie, Visa Player of the Match and Arsenal defender: "I think the team showed unbelievable character to come back from a two-goal deficit. We're pleased with the result, but it's very much half-time for us. We're looking forward to going back to [Arsenal Stadium] next week with a blank slate.
"We've shown this whole season the character, the mentality we all have, and the genuine belief we all have between players. We're really happy that we came back from 2-0 down: that's a huge feat, especially against a side as good as Wolfsburg. We had the ultimate respect for them and we still do going into the second leg."
Stina Blackstenius, Arsenal forward: "It was a nice feeling to score the equaliser. I felt like it was important for us to stay in this game and for the game next week.
"It’s been a tough week for us, with another injury. But that has made us even stronger and I feel like the mentality within the team has been really good. We know that we have come back before after conceding, and that's what we did today. That's mentality and I'm just so proud of how the team has been doing so far."
Frida Maanum, Arsenal midfielder: "It was a tough game. It's always tough to play Wolfsburg: they are a physical, tough team, as you could see out there today. But I think we came back with a good character in the second half and showed ourselves.
"We were probably more aggressive in the second half, especially in the press, winning the ball even higher, and in the transitions we used the moments and scored the goals."
- Pajor is now up to eight goals in this season's Champions League proper, three clear of anyone else. She is also now outright top scorer for the season including qualifying, one ahead of Benfica's Cloé Lacasse.
- Rafaelle scored her first Champions League goal.
- Wolfsburg have equalled Frankfurt's German record of eight semi-finals in this competition (only Lyon have more). Arsenal themselves extended their English record to seven, a decade after their sixth, which was also against then debutants Wolfsburg.
- Wolfsburg set a new record home crowd of 22,617.
Wolfsburg: Frohms; Wilms, Hendrich, Janssen, Rauch; Oberdorf, Roord; Brand (Wassmuth 64), Huth, Jónsdóttir; Pajor
Arsenal: Zinsberger; Maritz, Wubben-Moy, Beattie, Rafaelle; Maanum, Wälti, Catley (Wienroither 70); Pelova (Kühl 90), Blackstenius, McCabe
The second leg kicks off at 18:45 CET on Monday 1 May at Arsenal Stadium. The final against either Chelsea or Barcelona will be held on Saturday 3 June at PSV Stadion, Eindhoven.