Much has changed in the Arsenal LFC squad since they booked their quarter-final with Birmingham City LFC; manager Shelley Kerr talks UEFA.com through a busy winter.
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A year ago, Shelley Kerr arrived at Arsenal LFC as manager on the eve of the UEFA Women's Champions League quarter-finals and masterminded a win against ASD Torres CF. This time, it is much of her squad that will be coming in fresh as they make the short trip to Birmingham City LFC on Monday night.
During Kerr's first full English close season in charge, Gemma Davison, Stephanie Houghton, Ellen White, Kim Little, Ciara Grant and Yvonne Tracy have all left, opening up room for England captain Casey Stoney, goalkeeper Siobhan Chamberlain, Japan pair Shinobu Ohno and Yukari Kinga, and Dutch international Anouk Hoogendijk, among ten European squad changes in all – more than any other quarter-finalist. Ahead of their meeting with Birmingham, Kerr spoke to UEFA.com about their winter preparations, the new signings and the challenge of the Blues.
UEFA.com: How are preparations going?
Shelley Kerr: Preparations have been going well. It has been some time since the draw was made – you have so many other things to think about. We've been in since January, then it's just around the corner. It's nice to get the girls back after they have been away with their respective national teams. We are really delighted with the way things have been going.
UEFA.com: You have made a lot of changes in the winter and it is a tough game to start with – are you confident everyone has gelled together?
Kerr: Of course the players have got to gel, but the quality players we have brought into the club are fantastic. Already we have had a lot of friendly games and they are looking really sharp. They are getting a connection with one another on the football pitch, which is the most important thing. It's never ideal, but this has happened year in, year out where probably your first game is in the Champions League. It is what it is and it's a good game to play in.
UEFA.com: Unlike last year when you were appointed, you have had a full close season to prepare ...
Kerr: Last year I came in and it was the first game and I only had a few training sessions with the players. There have been a lot of changes at the club and you have to look forward all the time. But it's been great for me to be in with the players for a longer period of time. I'm really looking forward to the games and the players are too. When you get to this stage and you are at the top level, these are the games you want to be involved in.
UEFA.com: Of all the signings, the most exciting could be the pair from Japan, not least with the media interest they bring.
Kerr: The two of them are [FIFA Women's] World Cup winners, are well-known players all over the world and are quality players. But it's not just about one or two players, it's about a full squad and we have a really talented squad this year. We are learning from them – they are humble people but really talented.
UEFA.com: Also you have got Casey Stoney in with all her experience ...
Kerr: We lost six players from last year's squad and you can't dwell on that. But what we have done as a club is work hard to attract experienced talented players. Casey has lots of experience in the game. I think we have the right balance in the squad.
UEFA.com: Kelly Smith is not a new signing, but she almost is for you as you did not get to play her much last year?
Kerr: She played about 30 minutes the whole season until the two Glasgow games and the League Cup final. But having Kelly on the pitch gives everyone a lift. Before the tie against Glasgow we had her back in full training, and just her taking part in training with her quality and tempo – she is a class act and England probably won't see a player like her for a long, long time. We missed her last year but she is back to full fitness and she makes a difference.
UEFA.com: You beat your opponents Birmingham four times last year but they were all close games – are the sides well matched?
Kerr: Birmingham have got new players in as well – they have been very tough games and they have some fantastic players, experienced and youth players. It has the makings of a fantastic game over the two legs for spectators to come and watch. What you will see is two talented English teams trying to get into the next stage.
It's brilliant that Birmingham have done a lot of hard work to get the game at St Andrew's. As a female player to get the chance to play in the main stadium is fantastic, we are looking forward to that as well.