Five things we learned from Arsenal’s thumping Champions League win over holders Lyon

Ruby Malone looks at the biggest talking points from last night after the Gunners stunned the eight-time champions in their Group C clash at the Groupama Stadium in France.

Embed from Getty Images

Arsenal showed they mean business in Europe this year

Arsenal kicked off their Champions League group stage fixtures with a bang last night, inflicting their first ever defeat on the holders Lyon. The French giants had only lost one home game in 81 matches (which came against PSG in April 2021), but the Gunners strolled into the Groupama Stadium and made it look easy, thrashing them 5-1 on home turf.

It was a true team performance that swept the eight-time UWCL winners aside. Every player was key – Kim Little and Lia Walti were simultaneously solid and creative in the midfield, Beth Mead terrorised Lyon’s star left-back Selma Bacha and the backline were superb in reading the Lyon attack, intercepting passes and timing challenges impeccably. Many doubted the North London side’s chances in this group (which also includes their ex-manager Joe Montemurro’s Juventus) but they certainly laid down a marker last night and sent out a warning signal to future opponents.

Embed from Getty Images

Boss Eidevall isn’t afraid to take risks

No one can honestly say they weren’t shocked (and a little worried!) before kick-off to see that Vivianne Miedema had been dropped to the bench. The Dutch forward made her 150th appearance as a sub last night and is understandably considered Arsenal’s star player, having netted 120 goals for the team (none of those penalties) and holding the record for the top goalscorer in WSL history. Although she has recently dropped deeper to an attacking midfield role, her creativity and vision is key to the team’s attacking prowess.

However, manager Jonas Eidevall made the controversial decision to start Norway’s Frida Maanum instead. She certainly repaid him in spades, registering an assist and a goal, crucially linking up play and pulling off some key interceptions.

Embed from Getty Images

Gunners have grown since Barcelona battering

For many WSL fans, it was quite surprising to see how Barcelona turned Arsenal over in both home and away UWCL group games last season. No one expected the Gunners to beat the Spanish giants, but their domestic dominance at the time meant few expected them to look quite as overwhelmed and unconfident as they did.

But the Gunners were on the front foot from the off last night, driving at the Lyon defence and exploiting the space behind their full-backs. The team refused to fall back into the defensive mode that they did almost automatically in both games against Barcelona and approached this clash with the reigning UWCL champions without fear. In fact, they looked positively calm, moving smoothly as a team, comprehensively picking the Lyon team apart and applying constant pressure to a defence boasting the legendary Wendie Renard and star youth Bacha. The Gunners were even surprisingly restrained in their celebrations when the final whistle blew, giving the air that this is exactly what is expected of them. Talk about a complete 360!

Mead stars… who would’ve guest it?

Earlier this week, Arsenal’s Mead came second in the Ballon d’Or Feminin 2022, losing out to Barcelona’s Alexia Putellas by just one point. The star forward has had an incredible year – she broke the WSL’s all-time assist record in April, led the Lionesses to their first ever major tournament win in July and deservedly snatched up both the Golden Boot and the Player of Tournament award at the Euros.

And yet, despite her now legendary status, somehow she was still mistaken for a “guest” at the Ballon d’Or ceremony. She was photographed on the red carpet alongside Miedema, and in a serious ‘Doh!’ moment, the pic was captioned “Vivianne Miedema and a guest”. Both players responded to the error humorously on Twitter but Mead chose to do the serious talking on the pitch, securing a brace (which included a sizzling free-kick) and an assist against the French heavyweights. In addition to her scintillating attacking display, she continuously regained possession and put her body on the line to defend (even in extra time at 5-1 up!). As the commentary so aptly put it: “Everything she touches seems to turn to gold right now.”

Embed from Getty Images

The talent on the pitch was stacked, regardless of injuries

There may have been multiple injuries to top players on both sides, but this fixture still boasted a plethora of stars. Lyon were missing a host of their mainstays, including star striker Ada Hegerberg, and Arsenal’s first-choice centre-back pairing, Rafaelle Souza and Leah Williamson, were out of action.

Despite this list of absentees, there were four Ballon d’Or 2022 nominees on the pitch at kick-off – runner-up Mead, Renard, Bacha and Christiane Endler. Lyon’s team also boasted French striker Amandine Henry, who scored a wondrous goal in their 3-1 win over Barcelona in last year’s UWCL final and was awarded the Player of the Match for her performance. Oh, and then Arsenal chose to bring a fifth Ballon d’Or 2022 nominee, Miedema, off the bench when they were already 5-1 up… because, why not flex the muscles you’ve got?

Follow Ruby on Twitter @RubyGMalone

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: