By Chris Harris
Arsenal Ladies have a lot to live up to when they take on FCR 2001 Duisburg in the Women's Champions League tonight.
Arsène Wenger's players booked their place in the last eight of the men's competition on Tuesday with an emphatic win over Porto but the Ladies expect a much tougher test against the women's European champions.
Arsenal play the first leg in Germany before hosting Duisberg in the second leg on Sunday at Bishop's Stortford FC. And the 2007 winners will need to be at their best to prevail.
We spoke to experienced Arsenal midfielder Jayne Ludlow ahead of the Quarter-Final tie and you can read part two of our exclusive Q&A now as she assesses the challenge that lies ahead.
Jayne, you're up against Duisburg – what do you know about them?
They are a good side. They’re second in the German League, behind Potsdam, so they are not going to give much away. But we’re all looking forward to it. These games are like the Cup Finals and when they come along you want to perform at your best and hopefully the majority of our players are going to do that.
What are their strengths?
They are pretty similar to us in the respect that they have a mix of older internationals and younger ones – they have German internationals from 19 to seniors. So it is going to be an interesting one. They set up pretty similarly to us, they have a good goalscorer – Inka Grings, the German international – so it will be interesting. When I look at women’s football, the Germans are the pinnacle, they are the ones with the technical ability and they have the workrate to overcome opponents. You could see that in the European [Championship] Final a few months back.
In men’s football English teams traditionally have more physical power while continental sides are perhaps better technically. Is that true in the women’s game?
I would tend to agree with that in the women’s game. With regard to the England internationals, I think they have focused a lot in the last five to six years on their fitness and they now can compete with the best in the world. But from the outside looking in I would say our technical ability still needs to get better if England want to compete with the Germans and Arsenal as a club want to compete with more professional sides. Having said that, of all the clubs in England we are the nearest to competing with Germans.
Are there lessons from last year [when Arsenal lost 6-0 at Umea in the Quarter-Finals] because these ties can be lost in the blink of an eye can’t they?
Yes. It has been a strange season with regard to the change of management and everything but we have been working hard on our structure, our shape and everything. We have changed players fairly often in different positions so it has taken us a while to click as a team, going forward or defending. But the last few games I think it’s happening and I think we are peaking at the right time. It’s going to be a hard game next week but I think things are coming into place at the right time and we’ve got to hope that the majority of our players have a good game.
You've had a taste of European glory in 2007. Is there still a special feeling for these games?
Yes, there is a buzz about the place. We’re going out to play the Germans on their own soil and women’s football is big out there, I imagine they are going to have a big crowd. The majority of our players will go out there and relish that. The younger ones might be a little bit nervous but hopefully we can help them through that. Nerves aren’t a bad thing, they make you perform to the highest level usually. We are raring to go to be honest. It has been an upsetting week because there have been different internationals going on. Obviously the Germans have this problem too because they have been at the Algarve Cup so their preparation isn’t going to be great either. But all the girls are back now and we had a game on Sunday, we got that under our belts and worked on things before we go into our two biggest games of the season so far.
And for the first time this season there is a one-off Final - in Madrid. How big an incentive is that?
It’s going to be great because I never understood the two-legged thing. I think it was more to do with the fans travelling and the fact that there was less money in the women’s game. Our fans are actually prepared to travel that far to watch it, so that evens things out… but a one-off Final is going to be great.
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