On an incredibly rainy night in Amsterdam, we faced off against Ajax Vrouwen and secured Champions League football for our second successive year.
Despite the miserable conditions and goals that were 10 centimetres too short before kick-off, we showed heart and character to end up on top in the second leg, with Vivianne Miedema’s slotted goal six minutes after half-time proving to be the difference maker.
As with the first leg, we made a hesitant start to the game, inviting Ajax's dangerous long balls across our defensive line. The Dutch side employed a high, aggressive press once more and often forced us into 2v1 situations in our own half.
However, we remained patient and grew into the game as the first half progressed, dominating possession but continuing to lack a killer instinct in the final third.
We were forced into a change just before half-time as Rafaelle Souza was replaced due to a foot injury. Lotte Wubben-Moy came on in her place, with a contingent of her Dutch relatives in the crowd cheering her on. She made an immediate impact on our energy levels with some decisive, positive actions from her centre-back position.
We started the second half with significantly more intent, pressing every ball and forcing Ajax into making mistakes in dangerous areas as they began to tire. Our resilience paid off through some individual brilliance from Miedema. Despite being tightly marked, she shrugged off several Ajax players and drilled a shot into the bottom left-hand corner for her 120th Arsenal goal.
Beth Mead was subbed on for Stina Blackstenius after the hour mark to the sounds of big cheers from home and away fans alike. We remained on top of the game even as Ajax upped the tempo in search of an equaliser. Some very neat interplay at the edge of our box did force a great save from Zinsberger, and Wubben-Moy was on hand at the back post to clear the danger.
Caitlin Foord, whose dogged determination was vital throughout, came very close to scoring in the dying minutes as she tried to round the keeper, before being smothered by defenders in the box.
A big clash of heads between Beth Mead and Lisa Doorn meant the Ajax defender received the only booking of the game. Mead was then taken off owing to concussion protocols, and we played out the final few minutes of the game valiantly with 10 players on the pitch.
What it means
With Champions League football now secured for the season, many of our players are off for a short international break in October. We're back in action in the Women's Super League on October 16 against Reading.
The Champions League draw for the group stage will take place on Monday, October 3.
Ajax: Kop, van der Most (Bakker 80), Kardinaal, Doorn Verhoeve, Noordam, Spitse, Pelova, Grant (Tromp 87), Leuchter, Weerden (Hoekstra 64). Subs not used: Munsterman, Kruize, Keijzer, Ivan Gool, Sabajo, de Sanders, Bussman
Arsenal: Zinsberger; Wienroither, Williamson, Carvalho Souza (Wubben-Moy 39) Catley, Foord, Little, Walti, McCabe; Miedema (Maanum 84), Blackstenius (Mead 67). Subs not used: Marckese, Beattie, Maritz, Nobbs, Iwabuchi, Williams, Hurtig.
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