By Chris Harris
Laura Harvey is under no illusions: Arsenal Ladies face a step up in class in the Champions League today.
Less than 24 hours after Arsène Wenger's senior side continued their quest for European football's premier prize in Ukraine, Arsenal's women are in Madrid for the first leg of their last-16 clash with Rayo Vallecano.
The Spanish champions beat Valur Reykjavik 4-1 on aggregate to reach this stage, thanks largely to two goals from in-form striker Adriana. Harvey has done her homework and is expecting a much more serious test of Arsenal's credentials after they cruised past ZFK Masinac 12-1 in the last round.
"It’s a big step up [from the last round]," Harvey told Arsenal.com.
"I went out to watch them play and they are technically good and are very much like you would expect a Spanish team to be. They like to play football and get the ball down and pass it. They don’t particularly like to be pressurised so that’s something we’ve looked at. If we let them play they can play and we’ve got to restrict that as much as we possibly can.
"They’ve got a lot of Spanish internationals in their side and are similar to us in that they’ve got a lot of 30-plus players that have been around for a long time and then they’ve got some younger players coming through.
"The difference between them and us is that their younger players aren’t particularly at the standard of our younger players but their experienced players are very experienced both domestically and internationally. It will be a tough test but we are hoping we can prove, like we did at Boreham Wood in the last round, that we are a team to be watched."
The game Harvey refers to ended in a 9-0 thrashing of the Serbian champions, a result which suggests the 2007 winners are serious contenders this season. That said, Arsenal were slightly edgy in the first leg against Masinac and needed two late goals to take a grip of the tie.
The Ladies' sluggish start didn't go unnoticed and Harvey has done her best to stave off a repeat by organising two friendlies in the past week against Watford and Blackburn. Both ended in victory but, more importantly, both allowed the squad to shake off any remaining rust.
"I think that was one of the lessons learnt from the first game," said Harvey. "We didn’t have any real good friendlies prior to the first leg in Serbia whereas in the second leg we had a good friendly on the Sunday and then we played on the Thursday.
"It did us the world of good so we’ve tried to map that into our preparation this time so we can get some good game time before we play the away leg."
Faye White was the notable absentee when Arsenal flew to Madrid on Tuesday but Katie Chapman is in the squad after returning to the Club following a brief spell with Chicago Red Stars in the United States.
"She’s eligible and she’s coming to Spain," confirmed Harvey. "Kate's CV speaks for itself, she will be a massive part of what we want to achieve this season and getting her back has been a real bonus to the squad.
"Her enthusiasm, her athleticism and her experience is something you don’t tend to find often at the minute so getting her back from America was a big plus for us."
Cheer on Arsenal Ladies when they face Rayo Vallecano in the second leg on Thursday, November 11. Click here for ticket newsCopyright 2015 The Arsenal Football Club plc. Permission to use quotations from this article is granted subject to appropriate credit being given to www.arsenal.com as the source