Pre-Match Report

WCL: Lyon v Arsenal Ladies - Match Preview

Ellen White

By Chris Harris

Laura Harvey has spent much of Arsenal Ladies' Champions League run extolling the virtues of her squad's battling qualities.

You can hardly blame her - the evidence has been overwhelming. Rayo Vallecano were seen off by a second-leg comeback and a last-gasp winner from Katie Chapman before Linkoping fell victim to a decisive away goal from the same player in a Quarter-Final tie that Arsenal never led.

But Harvey knows that guts won't be enough against Lyon.

The French champions would be European champions if last May's penalty shoot-out in Spain had gone their way and they have previous with Arsenal having knocked the 2007 winners out of the competition two seasons ago.

The two-legged Semi-Final that starts this weekend represents a significant step up for Harvey and her team and that's why she has called for a performance to match the courage her players have shown throughout their European adventure.

"Yes, that's exactly what we need because, with all due respect to our previous opponents, Lyon are a stronger side," the manager told

"The girls are great because something that we acknowledge as a group now is that we have created a real fighting team spirit. We never say die and I think over the two legs against the Swedes, we played OK but we didn't play anywhere near the level that we can. But we've come through it.

"It was the same against Rayo Vallecano - we didn't play how we can but we've got this mentality that we're not going to give up. That has got us to the Semi-Final so if we can match that with a good performance we can hurt anybody. That's the approach we'll have ahead of the Semi-Final.

"We are very rarely underdogs as an Arsenal team because of our great achievements and the expectations around us. But we are probably underdogs in this game and I think that might suit us better because it seems that when our backs are against the wall and no one expects us to do it, we get the result we need.

"Lyon got to the Final last year and narrowly missed out on penalties. That experience will hold them in good stead and they will obviously want to get back again this year. That puts them in a higher position than us but if we can match our desire and attitude with a performance - which we have done in the FA Cup this season - then we'll be a match for anyone."

Like Arsenal, Lyon were stretched to the limit in their Quarter-Final against Zveda. Lara Dickenmann finally ended the Russians' resistance with the only goal of the tie 30 minutes from the end of the second leg in France. Since then Lyon have clinched their fifth straight league title but lost key defender Sandrine Dusang to a serious knee injury.

Harvey has found it much easier to scout Arsenal's Semi-Final opponents - she had to scour YouTube for footage of Linkoping - and she thinks Lyon have improved since their last encounter with Arsenal Ladies.

"I was in the backroom staff at that point," she said. "They have improved, they've gone through a similar process to us. They lost some players to America, gained a couple back and their squad has been together a long time. If you look at them this season they've had a good campaign but the Russians tested them in the Quarter-Finals.

"Both teams have had a long journey since we last met and they have had more success on the European stage. But I think it will be a really close game and if both teams perform the way they can do I think it will be really tight and maybe a bit of luck will separate them."

Harvey will be without Jayne Ludlow as the Wales midfielder continues to nurse an Achilles injury. Centre back Gilly Flaherty completes a three-match suspension following her red card in the win over Rayo Vallecano while Niamh Fahey is also banned after collecting two yellows. But Harvey is confident in her squad and confident of reaching the Final.

She has just one request: a comfortable win instead of the heart-stopping drama of the last two rounds. "I said to the players that I'm only 30 but I feel 55 at times because they put me under a lot of stress and physical pain!" she laughed.

The frantic finale can wait. For now, Arsenal just need to stay in what looks a very tough tie.

* The first leg will be streamed live in the UK - click here to watch the game

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