Impetus’ Kris Goman caught up with both Arsenal‘s Katie McCabe and Jonas Eidevall prior to the potentially record-breaking North London derby to be played at The Emirates this afternoon (24/9/22).
Above: Katie McCabe – proud of the way Arsenal have built on Euros success to sell over 50,000 tickets for today’s game. Photo: Arsenal Women.
A North London derby between Arsenal and Tottenham Hotspur is always a tasty affair, and both Katie McCabe and Gunners head coach Jonas Eidevall are expecting a physical game from their rivals.
McCabe outlined: “That’s what a derby game is all about but it’s up to us to control our minds and control that mentality. We’ll be ready for any physicality thrown at us tomorrow.”
When quizzed about her role on the team and sharing positions she said, “When you’re playing at a club like Arsenal, there’s always going to be quality in every position. Sometimes even two players in a position that you’re going to have to fight for. I’m quite versatile in that sense.
“I think I play maybe, I think it was four different positions last year. It’s up to me to train 100%, train hard. Push. If it is obviously Steph (Catley) or Caitlin (Foord) on that left side, it gives Jonas a difficult decision when he selects his team. I want us to win every week whether I’m playing my part on the pitch or playing my part on the bench, I want to be there 100% for the girls. It’s one of those things when you’re playing for a big club, there’s always going to be competition and you have to fight for your place.”
Looking back at the Euros, McCabe revealed how much she enjoyed going to the games in person and seeing it all from a fan’s perspective, and then emphasised the foundations that are being built upon since July. “Arsenal have done a terrific job of tapping into that momentum from the Euros and really pushing this game, the North London derby at the Emirates with 51,000 tickets sold, I think. It’s unbelievable.”
McCabe highlighted how the Euros got people in to support the Republic of Ireland national team too and their match against Finland had a record crowd for a home game. “You feel that momentum now. The support from the fans, the atmosphere.”
Reflecting on the change in the team over her time at the club, “It’s amazing. The progression, the investment the club have put in over the last seven years of being here, it’s unbelievable and it’s very easy to stand still and think, oh, we’re Arsenal and we’ve won all these trophies but the real progression and drive from the club from the top down and all around the training ground as well, there’s a real sense of one team, of one club.
“You can feel that even when we went to the first team game. We were invited and brought down onto the pitch. It’s such a special place to be part of. Having everyone feeling part of it is massive. We were over there having lunch and we’ve got David Seaman wishing us luck for tomorrow. It just shows how far we’ve come as a club.”
Focusing specifically on this afternoon’s big game, the Ireland international said: “It’s important to get three points tomorrow. We know obviously what a derby means as an Arsenal player and as a fan and we want to beat them and it’s on our home turf as well. We’ve got 50 odd thousand fans cheering us on as well so it’s important to obviously stay within our game plan and stay in control and make sure we get the three points.”
Today’s game could see one the biggest women’s club match attendances in over a century and McCabe was asked if that made her feel proud or a little bit frustrated because women’s football has been held back for so long and could be in a totally different place.
“There’s an obvious frustration there that we have been held back for so long but we can’t dwell too much on the past and we need to obviously just charge forward with that. We’re playing at the Emirates tomorrow and Liverpool and Everton are playing at Anfield as well on Sunday. I think the drive from all the clubs in the WSL is to take the momentum from the Euros and keep building and not let this just be a once off and we need to keep going with it and keep driving.”
I then asked Katie if she prefers to play at home at Meadow Park with a sold-out crowd of bolted-on fans or at Emirates Stadium with over 50,000 attendance, many of whom may have just jumped on the bandwagon of the Euros that may not be so familiar with the game and certainly with the players.
“For me, since I’ve come here, Meadow Park has always been our home and we’ve got a really good connection with Boreham Wood. Those kind of one-off games at Emirates are becoming a lot more frequent now which is fantastic and Emirates is starting to feel like our home as well having played there so much last season and hopefully, we’ll be looking to build on that again this season.
“It’s neither here nor there with me. I love both playing fields. I think maybe you’ve got that extra touch at Meadow Park where the fans are a little bit more close and you can interact a little bit more. But you can’t say no to 50,000 fans at the Emirates either.”
Jonas Eidevall was visibly excited to be playing three games in a week after four months of no action. “It feels so alive. Your brain switches on in a totally different way. It’s very nice to be back and playing.”
He was at pains to point out that the tickets for the derby were 50,000 sold tickets. “They weren’t giveaways or at a discounted price, it’s sold tickets. And that’s really, really special because doing this, the way the club has done it, it’s a statement. It shows the press here; it is for real.
“The investment that we as a team, the club has done, but also, all the past generations, the past teams before us, have done and have built us up to this stage here. That’s phenomenal. We feel that and we want to make the most of it so it can happen again and more frequently. Let’s be honest, football clubs need revenues, and ticket sales are important to revenues.”
Eidevall highlighted how well preparations had been going. The only player who wasn’t available for the Champions League game against Ajax in midweek was Mana who was ill but she should be able to return to the squad for today’s game so Arsenal should have full availability.
The Gunners head coach emphasised the importance of Beth Mead, for him, one of the best players in the world. “For her to play her best game, that will involve a lot of actions. That means you can’t be having positive actions all the time. The thing is, as a forward, you will always fail more than you are successful. But for Beth, it’s about having that self-confidence. That can be pressing, that can be challenging, it can be one-v-one for example but that’s where she needs to go to every game and when she does, then I think that she’s one of the best players in the world.”
In recent years, a regular criticism on the Gunners was their reliance on the goals of Vivianne Miedema. That’s not the case anymore. “Any team needs a number of ways that you can score goals,” Eidevall explained, “And hopefully, you have a number of players that can score goals for you. Any team that can only do it with only one player or only one way, will always become predictable for an opponent.
Looking back to Arsenal’s midweek Champions League Qualifying Round 1st Leg defeat to Ajax, it was suggested to Eidevall that facing Brighton and Hove Albion in his team’s only competitive encounter this term wasn’t a great preparation as the Seagulls went down to ten players so early. A battle with Tottenham should set the North Londoners up perfectly for the second leg in Amsterdam due to the physicality likely to be present this afternoon.
“Ajax are a very physical team and we know Tottenham is as well. That’s the team that fouls the most in the WSL. They have been doing it so consistently under Rehanne Skinner that it’s very much a strategy that they have – to foul a lot. They try to be very physical, so of course, we are prepared for that. And we could see that Ajax was doing the same.” He spoke at length about how opposition teams changed their tactics just for Arsenal and played differently from their last five games when they play his team. This just meant Arsenal had to be adaptable and able to change to suit the new formation or tactics.
When it comes to selection, Eidevall placed emphasis on what specific threats the opposition are likely to pose. He gave the example of left-back. “We have two very good left backs in Steph Catley and Katie McCabe. They are not exactly the same type of players but they also have different qualities. Sometimes that quality as a player will fit really well against an opponent. It’s also a competition but I believe a competition also brings out the best of people, long term. Very few people without that competition can derive that standard every day. We’ll see who gets to play tomorrow.”
I asked about the role of Steph Catley who was pressing forward taking direct shots on goal against Ajax – something which is not a regular part of her game. Eidevall recalled she scored in the final game of the season against West Ham United and suggested she might have felt a little bit encouraged from that one.
“But to be honest, with our full-backs in more attacking positions, I think that comes as a natural thing that she gets a bit more into those positions and I really like when I have Steph Catley as an attacking full-back because her timing of doing runs is exceptional. So when you do that right, she will get into more positions for both the finishing and the final pass.”
Eidevall emphasised once more that Tottenham are the team that fouls the most in the league and that it’s a strategy. He wanted the officials to be aware and take a more proactive approach and caution earlier to protect the players and make the game flow a little better. “But that’s the referee’s calls, not mine. We just need to be prepared for it and not let it get into our head and focus on the way we play.”