t full-time last night, nearly all of the Arsenal players fell to the floor.
Their Champions League dream was ended cruelly by Pauline Bremer scoring in the penultimate minute of extra-time to win this semi-final 5-4 on aggregate for Wolfsburg.
The goal came after defender Lotte Wubben-Moy, excellent for so much of this match and creator of Jen Beattie’s header which sent this tie to extra-time, was caught in possession trying to play out from the back. Jule Brand robbed her of the ball, before rolling it across for Bremer to tap in.
Wubben-Moy looked close to tears at the end, and injured team-mates Leah Williamson and Viviane Miedema rushed to console her.
Arsenal manager Jonas Eidevall did the same, picking his players up from the turf before calling a huddle in the middle of the Emirates pitch.
Eidevall and Williamson gave passionate speeches to the squad, who must now regroup and ensure they qualify for next season’s Champions League. Only the top three in the Women’s Super League will compete in Europe and Arsenal sit fourth, two points behind Chelsea, having played one game more.
Manchester City are a further four points ahead, but Arsenal have two games in hand on them and a superior goal difference.
Eidevall’s side already resembled the walking wounded before this game, with five first-team starters out injured. They are not just any players too, with the list being: Australia forward Caitlin Foord, club captain Kim Little, England captain Williamson, Ballon d’Or runner-up Beth Mead and the WSL’s record goalscorer Miedema.
The problems are now worse, as defender Laura Wienroither was carried off on a stretcher last night with a knee injury. Striker Stina Blackstenius, who opened the scoring, had to come off after a thigh issue.
“I think it is emotionally draining, physically draining,” said defender Steph Catley. “We have potentially lost another player. Whoever we put out on the field will play the Arsenal way and we will do our absolute best.
“If it’s changing formations, playing a different style, whatever it is, we will do whatever it takes to make sure we secure that [Champions League] spot and keep pushing for the League.”
Given Arsenal’s injury crisis, it is remarkable they pushed Wolfsburg so far. A sell-out crowd of 60,063 — a record for a women’s club game in England — certainly helped.
They drove Arsenal on, especially when Jill Roord and Alexandra Popp’s goals had put Wolfsburg 2-1 up with just over 30 minutes left.
The fact centre-back Beattie was thrown up front to score her equaliser summed up Arsenal’s lack of options, and they did not fill their bench last night.
“We need to finish the season as strong as possible and that is going to be a tough challenge with all the players we don’t have,” said Eidevall.
Tough feels like an understatement, but Arsenal have defied the odds before.