For one member of the Arsenal Ladies squad, Tuesday’s FA Cup quarter-final against Birmingham City Ladies will be extra special.
Goalkeeper Becky Spencer was in goal for the Blues when they beat Chelsea in the final of last season’s competition, crucially saving Drew Spence’s spot kick in the penalty shoot-out that Birmingham won 3-2 after the match had ended 2-2 after extra time.
The 20-year-old, who had previously been at Arsenal from the age of eight, left in search of regular football but was delighted to return to the place she affectionately refers to as ‘home’ in the close season.
Not that Spencer is regretting the time she spent in the Midlands. The keeper is quick to admit that her experience of playing first-team football has enhanced and developed her game.
"I hope we can go ahead and win everything this year because it's all in our reach. We hope we can go one better this year"
“I've got a lot of respect for Birmingham,” Spencer told Arsenal.com. “They are a good team and have a great spirit. They get better every year so I'm sure it will be a tough game for us. It will be a good one to watch.
“I've been No 2 at Arsenal for years and as I've got older, I've wanted to play more. Going to Birmingham was the right decision last year. It was really good. The girls were really welcoming and they've got a great set-up.
“Before, I'd not really played in cup finals and it got frustrating. But then last year I got the chance to play in the final and it was a great feeling to win the FA Cup. I'd played in it and we had earned the right to be there.
“I hope we can go ahead and win everything this year because it's all in our reach. We hope we can go one better this year.”
Playing against a former club is nothing new for Spencer. While at Birmingham, she lined up against Arsenal on numerous occasions and produced a superb display in a Continental Cup final that was eventually decided by Kim Little’s late blockbuster.
“I wanted to win the game,” she remembers. “We had a good season at Birmingham last season. We won the FA Cup and it would have been nice to win the Continental Cup too.
“On the day we weren't good enough and Arsenal outplayed us for the majority of the game. It took Kim's great strike to win the game. They deserved it in the end.
“I've been at Arsenal since I was eight years old, so going back and playing against a team that I've spent a lot of my childhood at was difficult. On the first occasion, I didn't have a great game but I had a good game in the Continental Cup final.”
"Going to Birmingham was the right decision last year... The girls were really welcoming and they've got a great set-up"
Whether Spencer will start against Birmingham is unclear. She made her first appearance since rejoining the Club in the 7-0 victory over Nottingham Forest in the last round, but Shelley Kerr picked Emma Byrne for both legs of the Champions League quarter-final against ASD Torres.
Byrne has been the Ladies’ undisputed No 1 since joining in 2000 and Spencer says her own development has been aided by her experienced team-mate.
“Since I've been in the first team, I've tried to challenge her as best as I can,” she said. “Emma is a great goalkeeper and she's been in the first team at Arsenal for such a long time. It's hard to fight for a place in the team when you've got such an experienced goalkeeper there.
“We've always had a good relationship on and off the pitch. In training she tries to help me out as much as she can. If she sees things that I'm doing wrong, she's not shy to tell me or anything like that.
“She's always giving me good advice and she's helped me to keep confident whenever I've had a difficult time too. She's doing her coaching badges as well so she can always use those skills on me.
“If we get a bit of time to ourselves and are working on our goalkeeping, she does help a lot. She's got bags of experience and that rubs off on me sometimes. It's a good environment for me to learn in.”
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