Three Matildas play for Arsenal FC. Steph Catley, Caitlin Foord and Lydia Williams. Their 2021-22 season has started with an impressive set of performances.
There has been quite a lot of change at Arsenal Football Club in the offseason. The biggest change has their head coach, with Australian Joe Montemurro leaving the position and Swedish coach Jonas Eidevall replacing him.
A number of game changing players were also brought into the squad, Nikita Parris, Tobin Heath and Mana Iwabuchi being the biggest additions. The team did loose Jill Roord and Daniëlle van de Donk, both essential to the Gunners in the last few years.
Normally this amount of change would require an adjustment period.
Having finished third in the league last year, they had qualified for the UEFA Women's Champions League. However, to get to the group stage Arsenal needed to pass through two round of group stage qualification.
The first round of group stage qualification started on the 18th of August of this year. Due to this early start to Arsenal's competitive schedule, combined with the fact that many of their players were away at the Tokyo Olympics just days prior, many fans were worried about whether the team would be able to adapt in so little time.
Catley, Foord and Williams first game of this season occurred less than two weeks after their bronze medal match game. However they, alongside the Gunners squad, seemed unphased by the near total lack of preseason preparation.
All three Aussies and their teammates showed up ready to play. The semi-final game of the first round of group stage qualification was against Okzhetpes. They won the match 4-0 with Foord and Catley making an immediate impact after being substituted on.
The Gunners' next match was the final of the first round of group stage qualification against PSV. Unlike the first game where she was used as a substitute, Catley returned to the starting line up while Foord was once again utilized as a substitute. Both contributed to the 3-1 win.
Both then started the first leg of the second round of Champions League group stage qualification against Slavia Praha. Each Australian was took part in two of Arsenal's three goals in the ultimate 3-0 win.
In the second minute of play, receiving the ball off a good interchange with Katie McCabe, Catley then crossed it in front of goal where Nikita Parris headed it in. Then, later on in the first half it was Foord's turn.
Receiving the ball from Frida Maanum in the penalty area, she was taken down by a Praha defender. Arsenal captain Kim Little then converted the penalty. Sadly for Foord she did get injured later on in the match, a disturbance to her quad that will keep her from the upcoming Republic of Ireland friendly.
Arsenal then opened their 2021-22 FA WSL season with a home game against rivals Chelsea at the Emirates Stadium. As always it was an important match to win, not just to start the regular season well but for ultimate WSL Champions contention.
The WSL is a notoriously difficult league to win. Due to the 22 season games, a handful of defeats can put any team out of the Championship range. The derby is always an exciting affair, one that Arsenal wanted to change the result of this year as they had not beaten Chelsea since 2018.
This opening match was going to be the day with the Gunners beating Sam Kerr's Blues by a scoreline of 3-2. Catley came on for the final third of the match as a substitute.
Catley would return to the starting lineup for last week's second leg of the second round of the Champions League group qualification stage with Williams getting her first start in goals. A hat trick from Vivianne Miedema and another converted penalty by Little resulted in a 4-0 win and qualification to the group stage.
This last weekend saw Arsenal face Reading FC away. Catley again started but Williams was replaced in goal by Zinsberger. Playing again as a full-back, Catley was highly influential during the match, helping build forward in a game that ultimately ended 4-0.
Arsenal are currently ranked second in the WSL, behind Brighton & Hove Albion on goal difference. They have also been drawn against Barcelona, Hoffenheim and HB Køge for the group stage of the Champions League.
As they head to the international break, the team is arguably in a very good place.
Perhaps the most impressive part of the Gunner's season so far is the ease and fluidity with which they are playing. Often using short one touch passing, they have evolved from the Montemurro's more patient style of buildup and play.
Catley and Foord have proved to be perfect fits for this evolution, contributing both on the field during open play and also Catley's contribution as one of the Gunner's dead ball specialist. Having three Australians part of one of Europe's biggest and currently best performing clubs is not just fantastic for the Matildas, but also for Arsenal FC.