By Chris Harris
This is a vital week in the Champions League for more than one Arsenal side.
While Arsène Wenger's team take on Porto in the second leg of their last-16 tie at Emirates Stadium, Arsenal Ladies will be in Germany preparing for the first leg of their Quarter-Final with FCR 2001 Duisburg.
Duisburg won the Uefa Women's Cup last season and are one of the favourites to win the inaugural Women's Champions League - a revamp of the old competition. But Arsenal Ladies know what it takes to lift the biggest prize in the women's game and would love to emulate their 2007 triumph in May's one-off Final in Madrid.
Jayne Ludlow was a key figure in that record-breaking Arsenal side and, with 10 years under her belt with the Gunners, is one of the team's most experienced players.
We spoke to Jayne ahead of Wednesday's first leg and you can read part one of our exclusive Q&A now.
Jayne, how has the season gone so far?
Really good. Obviously we are still in with a chance of the League, we’re still in the FA Cup, we’re still in Europe. The only thing we missed out on was the League Cup but obviously we played with 10 men for over an hour against Everton and they scored in the last minute of extra time. That was disappointing but the way the girls came together and worked so hard during the game… I couldn’t have asked for any more really.
How can you compete at the highest level when you have lost players of the calibre of Lianne Sanderson, Anita Asante, Kelly Smith, Alex Scott and Karen Carney – and soon Katie Chapman too?
It’s always going to be difficult I think. Since I came to the club there has been a fairly high turnover of players, great teams and squads that have broken up so we’ve had to rebuild. That’s probably happened two or three times since I’ve been here and we always manage to do it, purely because of the strength in depth. We have good kids coming through and Vic [Akers] and the other coaches have their eye on other players in other teams. But I think the biggest thing is probably the team spirit we have. I think sometimes that wins us more games than our actual ability and that’s something others can’t compete with.
Vic stepped down last summer, Tony Gervaise stepped down last month and now Laura Harvey is manager. Has that affected the players at all?
I wouldn’t say it has that much. Obviously people miss Vic and his ways but he is still a big part of the team so we see him fairly often. There was a different way of doing things with Tony which for the girls who have been here a long time may have taken a few weeks to get used to, but there was no problem in the end. I think the players, whoever is in charge, they want to win football games, train hard and be the best they can be. Whoever is giving out the orders, the players work as hard as they can.
What are Laura’s qualities?
Laura has got a lot of experience in the women’s game. I think she took the British university teams a few years back and I think they got to the Semi-Finals in one of the major competitions – the World University Games I think. She was Birmingham manager for a few years and fairly successful there, and obviously she’s an England coach too for the Under-19s. She knows a lot about the players through that aspect and she is involved in our academy too, coaching the girls there. Now she has stepped up to the first team. To be honest most of the girls know her whether it’s through England or the club, they know her fairly well, so her coming into the first-team fold and giving out the orders is not an issue. I think everyone respects her as a coach and realises she has a lot of ability and can help us a lot.
Have Arsenal had enough credit for maintaining their status in the English game despite all the comings and goings?
It was funny, at the beginning of the season we were getting quite a lot of bad press in regards to women’s football from people who thought this was the year we aren’t going to win things and we’re going to struggle a lot and lose many games. But I thought that was a bit naïve from the players and coaches who were saying that because I’ve been here 10 years, we’ve had a turnaround of players and at the end of the day there is still a group of players who have been here a long time and have that mental strength to compete whoever they are playing against. In that sense it helps with the youngsters coming through because as soon as they get involved with the training, especially first team, they have to be competitive and they have to work hard. Like I said that’s the greatest thing we have as a team, even though we have ability on the ball, I think the fact we work for each other is the best thing about us to be honest.
Do you feel more responsibility for bringing these young players through?
Yes. With Laura now, she’s working a lot on our shape, our organisation, our communication as a team, so the senior players have a big part to play in that. I think when you look at the senior players who have been here a long time – myself, Ciara Grant, Faye White, Emma Byrne - the pure enthusiasm we have for the game and training and being competitive rubs off on the youngsters as well. We aren’t going to take anything less than 100 per cent when they are training with us. I think if that’s the only thing we teach them then that’s great.
Do you still love playing?
I still love it – I just wish I wasn’t getting old! I feel OK most of the time, it just takes a little longer to recover!
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