Leah Williamson: Arsenal boss didn’t want ‘lesser version’ of injured England captain

14 October 2023 0 By Total Football News

Arsenal manager Jonas EidevallInjury-hit Arsenal are without a league win after their opening two Women’s Super League games

Venue: Emirates Stadium Date: Sunday, 15 October Kick-off: 14:00 BST
Coverage: Watch live on BBC One from 13.50 BST or follow on the BBC Sport website

England captain Leah Williamson has been impossible to replace at Arsenal following her serious knee injury, says Gunners manager Jonas Eidevall.

The defender, 26, ruptured an anterior cruciate ligament in April and missed the climax of last season as well as the start of this campaign.

She joined a lengthy injury list at Arsenal which included England forward Beth Mead and striker Vivianne Miedema.

Eidevall says their absences, all with ACL injuries, have been “really tough”.

There was positive news for the Gunners this week as Mead, who has not played since last November, returned to full training.

Mead, who was key in England’s triumph at Euro 2022 and was subsequently named BBC Sports Personality of the Year, has scored 57 goals in 148 games for Arsenal since 2017 in all competitions.

“It’s difficult because they’re such good football players,” Eidevall told BBC’s Football Focus.

“You don’t build a squad where you have two Leah Williamsons, for example. There is only one Leah Williamson. When you have a player like her you decide to play in a way that makes the most out of it.

“That’s really hard when you’re trying to replace a player like that because there is not a direct replacement on the market. There might be a copy of Leah Williamson that’s not as good and I don’t believe in having a lesser version.”

Arsenal will be looking for their first Women’s Super League win of the season when they host Aston Villa at Emirates Stadium on Sunday.

Eidevall’s team suffered a shock defeat by Liverpool on the opening day before drawing with Manchester United last time out.

Arsenal’s difficult start to the season began with being knocked out of the Champions League in the qualifying stages by Paris FC.

Their first game in Europe had come just 17 days after the World Cup final in Sydney.

“After the Champions League game we had to give the time to give the players some rest because they came in so quickly after the World Cup,” said Eidevall. “For us as a team we usually trial and error some things, we give players different opportunities to do [things].

“We haven’t had those opportunities. We’ve just played competition games that we’ve needed to win with very quick turnarounds, so it feels like we’re still chasing. It feels like we’re chasing in a quite stressful environment.

“We are not a finished product and there’s no way we can be with the time we’ve had.”

Arsenal return to the Emirates

Arsenal will be buoyed by another bumper crowd when they play Villa on Sunday after they set a new WSL record of 54,115 when they played Liverpool on the opening day of the season.

The Gunners are playing an increasing number of women’s games at Emirates Stadium with a view to eventually moving away from their current 4,500-capacity home at Meadow Park.

“The long-term plan is to move all the games to the Emirates,” Eidevall said.

“If that long-term plan is going to be possible and sustainable then you need to play back-to-back games. It can’t be playing one game, waiting two months, having another game.

“We need to have a crowd that wants to return every week for it and come and see them play. That excites me a lot.

“I think that’s really important and I just hope our performance can be much stronger and better than it was against Liverpool.”

A board shows the record attendance of 54,115 at the Emirates StadiumThere was a new WSL record attendance at the game against Liverpool – beating the previous record of 47,367 set by Arsenal for last year’s north London derby

Arsenal’s Swedish boss, who took the reins in 2021, signed a three-year extension with Arsenal last week and feels enthusiastic that off-pitch improvements will help to drive the club’s development.

“When I came, nobody was designated to working on recruitment,” he said. “From this season we’re going to have three people doing it. That’s going to have a major impact on the coming seasons.

“We’ve got a full-time nutritionist for the first time this year as well. We’re strengthening all the departments around the club and I know that will have some really great effects on our performances.

“Being a part of building that and having a belief that even if the present is good the future is going to be greater, of course I want to be a part of that. I want to try and lead that.”