Interview

How we're increasing support for our women's team

It's an exciting time to be a fan of our women's team.

After Mana Iwabuchi's arrival and Leah Williamson's new contract, Jonas Eidevall was confirmed as our head coach, tasked with leading us into the Women's Champions League this season.

And ahead of the 2021/22 campaign, we sat down with Chief Executive Vinai Venkatesham to discuss all the work that's been going on behind the scenes to increase support for our women's team, from structural improvements to hosting games at the Emirates.

It's an exciting time for Jonas to join, with the increased support of our women's team...
Absolutely. There's been really quite a lot of work that has been done behind the scenes to increase the support of our women's team. This process really started late summer last year, when I stepped into my new role. One of the first things that I did when I stepped into my new role was spend some time to sit down with some of our women's players and some of our Arsenal Women's staff, and listened. We had a really open and frank conversation, and we've had a number of really open and frank conversations since, about the things that we're doing excellently and the things that we're doing well, but we can improve on or do better on. We decided to kick-off a review process of everything that we do at Arsenal Women to think about how we can improve and how we can get better. That was headed up by our operations director, Hywel Sloman, and we utilised both internal and external experts to really look at everything.

There's lots of changes that have come out of that review. For example, we've significantly increased and enhanced the backroom staff that support our women's team, so we're bringing on board a new head of sports medicine and sports science, we've increased the staff in our medical team, we've brought on board a nutritionist, we've created a new individual development coach role, we've brought on more operations staff. We've really changed the set-up behind the scenes quite significantly to make sure our players have everything they need to be successful on the pitch. There's also more than that. When Jonas joins us at the start of pre-season this year, we're going to be sitting down with him and some of the players, and also sitting down with the staff for a really exciting new project, which is going to be to build a new women's football building here at London Colney. It will be giving the women's team the right kind of set-up here to deliver the ambitions that we have going forward.

We're also changing the reporting line of Arsenal Women. Arsenal Women will now report into Rich Garlick, our director of football operations, who reports into Edu Gaspar. The purpose of that is to bring our academy, our men's football operation and our women's football operation even closer together than they have been before, so we're really going to be able to unlock some of the synergies between those teams. We'll use some of the technology, some of the analytic platforms, that we use for our men's team in women's football to help drive women's football forward. I guess overall we've always been a big investor in women's football. We invest millions of pounds a year, every year, into women's football. Next year we're going to be investing much more than ever before, all with that ambition in mind, to give us the best chance of being successful on the pitch.

So the infrastructure's there to help Jonas as soon as he arrives and of course the talented playing staff that he's got as well, with the likes of Leah Williamson committing her future here at the club just confirming our ambitions for next season...
Absolutely. We've got a great group of players and of course we're busy this transfer window trying to strengthen the team even more. But of course just as important as bringing in new players is retaining key players. I'm absolutely delighted that Leah has extended her contract with us. Leah is of course a fantastic player but also a fantastic person. We all know Leah as an Arsenal fan who has grown up with this club, so I was especially delighted to see Leah extend her contract with us.

Jonas of course, as you mentioned, had plenty of Champions League experience with Rosengard. He's going to be taking us into European competition this season, so an exciting time for all of us - and even more so as we're hoping to play some of our games at Emirates Stadium this season, too...
Absolutely. It's been a busy time in the close season and one of the things we've been spending a lot of time on the Arsenal Women's side is thinking about how we can bring a number of women's games to Emirates Stadium next season. The purpose there is clear. The purpose is to allow more Arsenal fans to have the opportunity to watch Arsenal Women play live at Emirates Stadium.

And of course in addition to the games at Emirates Stadium, we'll be continuing to play the rest of our home games at Meadow Park, which will be a great chance for our fans to see the players up close on a regular basis...
Absolutely. There will be new opportunities to watch Arsenal Women next season. Emirates Stadium, when we bring matches to there, and of course there's a fantastic new broadcast deal with Sky and with BBC that's going to give more people opportunities to watch women's football. But the home of women's football at Arsenal Football Club is Meadow Park, Boreham Wood. It's a fantastic stadium with great transport links, a fantastic pitch and that is where we are playing the vast majority of our home games. So if you've not been down there or had the chance to come down to Meadow Park, please come along next season, COVID restrictions permitting, because it's always a fantastic occasion.

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