The old chant "1-0 to the Arsenal" has somewhat fallen into disuse in the swashbuckling reign of Arsène Wenger - at least until the UEFA Women's Cup final.
The old chant "1-0 to the Arsenal" has somewhat fallen into disuse in the swashbuckling reign of Arsène Wenger, though traditionalists may be pleased with Arsenal LFC's single-goal victory at Umeå IK in the first leg of the UEFA Women's Cup final.
Arsenal FC fans began to sing the old ditty in their European runs of the 1990s when, true to the alleged pragmatic style of the club, they would invariably defend heroically for much of a game and grab a dramatic winner. And so in northern Sweden yesterday, Arsenal's female selection withstood a first-half barrage - both from the home side and the strong wind - and kept their opponents at bay after the break before scoring an injury-time goal through Alex Scott to ensure a priceless advantage ahead of next Sunday's return in Borehamwood.
What made that performance even more impressive is that Arsenal's defence has been without key players Leanne Champ, Yvonne Tracy and captain Faye White for the entire campaign, meaning the likes of midfielder Anita Asante have been forced to switch positions. "All season we have spoken about losing three big players defensively," Arsenal manager Vic Akers said. "But the defence has come through with flying colours."
Conditions not blamed
Umeå had most of the play, especially with the wind in their favour in the first half. It was to prove their undoing in the second period, however, as Scott took full advantage of the gust when her shot sailed in just under the crossbar. Not that Umeå coach Andrée Jeglertz blamed the conditions. "It's difficult when you are defending against it and difficult when you are attacking with it at the ball travels that much faster," he said. "It does effect both teams."
Still, it was obvious that Jeglertz's gamble of starting with stalwart striker Hanna Ljungberg, who has made only a couple of substitute appearances since recovering from a winter thigh injury, was in part scuppered by the weather. "From the start we needed a player who could run behind the back four," he explained. "But we couldn't use that because the wind was so tough."
The home side also had to come to terms with an Arsenal side that never ceased to labour and now stand on the brink of their first European title. Akers said: "We worked hard. We're happy we've come out on top this time but we won't take anything for granted. We have great respect for the team we're playing and we know it will be tough next week."