Arsenal took the pressure off a trip to the Czech Republic in nine days with a 3-0 loss to Slavia Prague as they tried to advance to the Champions League group stage.
A second-minute goal from new signing Nikita Parris and a first-half penalty from Kim Little were added to Vivianne Miedema’s 96th goal at Arsenal to put the hosts in the driver’s seat ahead of their Super League opener female Sunday.
Arsenal’s third place in the league last season, and its entry into the opening rounds of this competition as a result, could be seen as negative. However, the advantage of three competitive matches alongside preseason friendlies could prove to be an advantage on Sunday.
Deputy manager Aaron D’Antino, taking charge of the canoe with new manager Jonas Eidevall in Sweden sorting through his family’s visas, said those matches have helped a lot.
“It gave us immediate focus in the preseason knowing these games were coming and it was going to be competitive sooner,” he said. “With the way the Olympic girls weren’t there, it gave everyone the opportunity to really show Jonas who they are from the start. There are some very good lessons learned in today’s game which I think will put us in a good position for Sunday.
In the spotlight in front of fans for the first time since 1,000 supporters were allowed in in December for a win over Birmingham, Arsenal have taken control. Such was the fluidity and speed with which Mana Iwabuchi, Frida Maanum and Little’s new midfielder played that you could be forgiven for thinking you were taking a secret peek at a Magic Circle reunion.
“They’ve been really tough, it’s a real joy,” D’Antino said. “What’s scary is that we still have a long way to go to improve. They’ve barely been together so it’s only going to get better.
There is new sharpness for Arsenal alongside their incredibly creative squad and, most importantly, enough depth for star striker Miedema to spend the first hour on the bench, ready to wait to stretch his legs more fully in the Emirates on Sunday. .
Arsenal wasted no time in their first competitive home game of the season with Australia full-back Steph Catley providing the center for ex-Manchester City and Lyon striker Parris to come home powerfully in 94 seconds.
It took until half an hour for Arsenal to double their total. Maanum sent a diving ball towards striker Caitlin Foord, but the Australian was shot down by Prague captain Diana Bartovicova and Little stepped in to convert the resulting shot to the goal.
The celebrations were cathartic for Arsenal fans who have waited a long time to be back and gleaned little pleasure from watching the men’s squad flounder in the Premier League.
It didn’t take long for Miedema to elicit “ooohs” from the crowd after entering the fray with 30 minutes remaining. With just 10 minutes left, the Dutch striker edged past the Prague defense to grab a lifted ball from substitute colleague Beth Mead before bypassing Olivie Lukasova and plunging the ball into the net.