By Andrew Crawshaw
The final result was frustrating, for Arsenal fans, two-all draw. Ajax scored first, we equalised, then took the lead only to concede a late equaliser. No highlight video is currently available on Arsenal.com.
Our starting 11 was, as I had expected
Manuella Zinsberger (GK)
Nöelle Maritz, Leah Williamson, Rafaelle Souza, Steph Catley
Lia Wälti, Kim Little (C)
Beth Mead, Vivianne Miedema, Lina Hurtig
Kaylan Marckese (GK), Lotte Wubben-Moy, Jen Beattie, Laura Wienroither, Jordan Nobbs, Frida Maanum, Katie McCabe (74 for Blackstenius), Caitlin Foord (58 for Hurtig) and three youngsters 16 year old forward Michelle Agyemang, and 15 year old Madison Earl and Katie Reid
Lize Kop (GK)
Soraya Verhoeve, Lisa Doorn, Isa Kardinaal, Liza Van Der Most
Victoria Pelova, Sherida Spitse (C), Nadine Noordam
Ashleigh Van Weerden, Chastity Grant, Remée Leuchter
Fiena Bussman (GK), Dionne Van Der Wal (GK), Milicia Keijzer, Marthe Munsterman, Rosa Val Gool, Quinty Sabajo, Nikita Tromp, Elisha Kruize, Tiny Hoekstra (62 for Van Weerden), Eshly Bakker (92 for Grant)
The referee was Frida Nielsen who led an all-Danish team of officials. At times she displayed a most Dean-like attitude with the rules of the game. Her performance throughout was, for me, well below the standard required for a match of this standing (or indeed a Sunday kick about come to that).
Whilst Jonas Eidevall said they had prepared for the high-intensity pressing employed by Ajax, it seemed to come as a surprise to the Arsenal players who were never given any time on the ball in the opening exchanges and had their shirts pulled when they tried to go pass their opponents. None of which resulted in cards for the Dutch players, as I would have expected the referee to issue sanctions. Just talking to players never ever results in them changing their on-field behaviour, issuing early yellow cards does.
Ajax took the lead in the 17th minute with Romée Leuchter side-footing in at the near post from a cross by Chastity Grant. I haven’t seen a reply of the build-up but in real time I thought the Dutch player was offside when she began her run and that the Assistant referee was behind the play.
We nearly equalised instantly when Lize Kop failed to hold a Beth Mead free kick. Unfortunately, Stina Blackstenius could only hook the rebound wide of the post. The reprieve didn’t last for long, as Stina made no mistake in the 23rd minute. Rafaelle had a header come back off the bar, Vivianne Miedema (who looked out of sorts all game) had an effort which was well wide (by her usual standards) from inside the penalty box. Zinsberger made a great save from a long-range effort from Remée Leuchter and the half ended one all.
We were underwhelming all half, a number of players were well below their usual standards and passes were just not quite going where they were intended. The main exception was Rafaelle Souza who was immense and, by far our best player.
We started the second half at a much higher tempo, Caitlin Steph Catley hitting the crossbar and Rafaelle the post in the opening exchanges. The rebounds in both cases fell kindly for the Ajax defenders. We should have had a penalty when Blackstenius was shoved off the ball but again nothing given by the referee. During this really good period of play Soraya Verhoeve fouled Beth Mead in the box and the referee pointed to the spot. Kim Little, as ever, took the kick, waited for the keeper to commit one way and passed the ball into the opposite corner (I think I have only ever seen her miss one penalty).
Kop then made a vital save when Foord (on for Hurtig) was one-on-one but the keeper made herself as big as possible and the chance was gone.
Late on the referee made the strangest of decisions, Foord came back from an offside position (no argument there she was offside about 10 yards into the Ajax half) but the referee allowed the free kick to be taken at least 5 yards into our half some 15 yards in front of where the offence occurred. Everyone in the crowd was incensed; clearly you can’t be offside in your own half.
The ball was fired into the penalty area, a goalmouth scramble took place and Remée Leuchter fired home from close range, with the Arsenal players claiming she was offside.
Katie McCabe had the ball in the net late on but was rightly flagged offside.
Ajax wasted time as they played out the six minutes added on and the game finished two all.
We now have it all to do in the second leg next Wednesday in Amsterdam, the game kicks off at 18:00 and, I hope, will again be shown live on Arsenal.com.
Editor’s note: I have found this video with a non-English commentary which may be of interest…
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