Arsenal need more against youthful Birmingham

Shelley Kerr demands improvement as Arsenal LFC look to overturn a 1-0 quarter-final deficit to Birmingham City LFC, whose young team came of age in Monday's first leg.

Birmingham's former Arsenal player Karen Carney (left) vies with Emma Mitchell on Monday
Birmingham's former Arsenal player Karen Carney (left) vies with Emma Mitchell on Monday ©Birmingham City FC

Arsenal LFC know they need a big improvement from Monday night if they are to overturn a 1-0 deficit against Birmingham City LFC and reach a fourth straight UEFA Women's Champions League semi-final.

Remi Allen's first-half goal gave Birmingham a deserved victory at St Andrew's, their back four with an average age of 20 not allowing an Arsenal attack including Kelly Smith and Shinobu Ohno a single shot on target. The Gunners have twice overturned first-leg arrears down the years, but manager Shelley Kerr, missing injured midfielder Jordan Nobbs, recognises how difficult it will be to gain the 46th European victory that would take them ahead of the record they share with Umeå IK – whose Swedish rivals Tyresö FF are likely semi-final opponents.

"I don't think you can look and make excuses [for Monday]," Kerr told UEFA.com. "We've got talented players, but we just found it really difficult to create chances, which is something we'll need to make amends for and adjust the way we play on Sunday."

England captain Casey Stoney, back at Arsenal after 12 years away, rallied the Gunners' support. "Arsenal fans are pretty good at getting behind the team," the defender said. "We can't afford to concede as an away goal will absolutely kill us. So we need to be diligent in our defending, keep it tight and hopefully create something where we can go on and win the game."

Whereas Arsenal are in a record 12th quarter-final, Birmingham are at this stage for the first time, yet their team containing four current England youth internationals and six others aged 24 and younger were not overawed. "We know the quality of young players we produce at this football club," manager David Parker said.

"With a 16-year-old [Jess Carter] at left-back, an 18-year-old [Aoife Mannion] at centre-half, and Kerys [Harrop] and Chelsea [Weston] not exactly old either and Becky [Spencer, goalkeeper] 23, to go there and put on that sort of performance – they are leaders."

The display was even more impressive considering Birmingham's recent record against Arsenal, including four losses in 2013. "We said as a coaching staff – we didn't say it to the players – we hadn't kept a clean sheet [against Arsenal] in the previous three seasons, even though we've beaten them and drawn on occasions," Parker added. "[Arsenal have] had that extra bit of firepower in terms of getting over the line and winning trophies. That was something we'll grow into, and that's something we'll learn to deal with, and occasions like [the first leg] will go a long way to dealing with that in the future."

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