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  • Writer's pictureSuzy Lycett

The Arsenal are never done

Updated: Apr 29, 2023

You can't make it up. After a day of jubilation, where Arsenal fought back to pull level with Wolfsburg, the team's plane caught fire. The headlines were deliberately inflammatory (*ahem*), making it seem like it was engulfed in flame - the players were all fine. Yet it caps a season of absurdity, of the highest highs and lowest lows. And there's more to come.

The tale begins before Christmas.

Beth and Viv both ruptured their anterior cruciate ligaments (ACLs) within three short weeks of each other.

Kim, Leah, and Rafaelle all had long periods on the sidelines too - and a February best forgotten as Arsenal slid down the leaderboard. Then, impossibly, in March 2023, a Conti Cup win saw the team lift their first piece of silverware in four years.

After the Conti Cup Final, a period of rebuilding and a sense the team were clicking once again, off the back of a win that reinvigorated them. It was short lived.

Adversity reared its head again.

Steph Catley, injured. Lina Hurtig, not available due to a planned operation. Kim's injury, sustained during the semi-final home leg against Bayern, was confirmed as season ending.

It was swiftly followed by a video from Kim that, until the last couple of seconds, could have easily been a retirement video. Heart palpitations all around. Instead, she renewed her contract - a bit of good news that we all desperately needed.

Katie went off in tears in that game. Was it a broken foot? We feared the worst. But, four days later, she was back in the squad. Not only will she fight your whole team, she'll perform miracles while she's at it.

Caitlin Foord went off in the WSL Manchester City game - hamstring injury. Katie McCabe deliberately bonked Chloe Kelly on the head with the ball in that same game. Highly entertaining? Oh yes. Resulting in suspension for the next game? Indeedy.

That day gave us a game more epic than the 2-1 scoreline showed. A worldie from Katie - that I still can't quite believe - and a positive outcome, bumping us back up the league table. Title contenders once again, when everyone thought we were down and out.

The girls had no right to win with that many injuries. They simply gritted their teeth and persevered.

Then, Leah. Sport can be infinitely cruel.

Down within 12 minutes during the next game versus Manchester United.

Despite the England Captain's trademark composure, Arsenal fans now know when a player recognises their predicament - a ruptured ACL and World Cup dream over in an instant.

It's easy to support a club when they're winning and everything's going well.

You're on a high, you feel you can take on the world, you get a bit more arrogant with each win.

When your team loses, it's harder to accept. We rationalise it in our heads. We blame the ref, the linespeople, the other team for playing dirty. That makes it easier to justify the loss to ourselves.

A non-contact injury - especially one of this extent - is different. There's no rhyme or reason, and no-one to directly blame.

Arsenal simply seem more unlucky than most. Chelsea have had injuries, as have City. Manchester United have not - at least, not for key players - and they've had their break-out season. That's no coincidence.

The word I saw used more than any other after that injury is "deflated".

A sense that it's simply not fair that this team should face yet another injury, another obstacle, another wall thrown up.

But the fans need to put that to one side and cheer the players on, regardless. The players have to hold their heads up and carry on too.

With six injuries and no Katie McCabe, the gunners were already thin in the ground for the Manchester United game, a title-deciding battle. And Leah's injury was one too many.

We lost 1-0, the same result as versus Lyon when Viv went off injured. Yet this was not the same reaction from the players. In that game, Viv went down, and play fell flat.

This time, the team was defiant in the face of yet another injury, yet another hardship.

The fans were loud throughout, there to boost the players, whatever the scoreline. Together, fans and players fought to the end. It wasn't enough, but the team gave more than they should have had in them.

Then came the away leg of the UEFA Women's Champions League versus Wolfsburg. The team left it all on the pitch. They did it for the girls at home, said Lia Walti, post match.

Held together by bandages and ferocity, the players battled and ground down their opponents.

Going 2-0 down in a semi final to then come back to 2-2 - the first time any team has managed that against Wolfsburg since 2015. Of course it was this team that did that. Of course it was.

For this entire season, the players have had to step up. They've had to relearn partnerships, tactics, positioning. They've to relearn things that they previously knew intuitively through countless repetition - where players would be, who would make the run, the space they'd run into - without the time to rebuild those connections to the same extent.

Teams thrive on those established link-ups. Without them, what's left? Resilience.

This team makes its own luck. The players face down the odds and decide they don't care that they should be down and out.

Every obstacle they tackle makes them more stubborn, more determined to succeed. They are also a more close-knit a team than ever before. That familiarity means innate connections where there should be none.

Whatever the score on Monday's second leg in the UWCL semi-final, I am immensely proud of this team.

Tim Stillman articulated perfectly what's different about how we all feel in this moment.

This season has shown just how much pride you can have in a group of players that pick themselves up again and again. They do it for us, they do it for the girls at home, and they do it for the badge.

We're tantalisingly close to a Champions League final - and you can never count this team out. To misquote Leah, the Arsenal are never done.

Roll on the Emirates.

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