Arsenal Ladies must step it up a level for cup challenge
- Credit: Gavin Ellis/TGSPHOTO
Manager Shelley Kerr knows Arsenal need to raise their game as they defend their two cup titles over the next few days.
The Gunners begin their Continental Cup campaign at home to Watford on Thursday night before facing their European conquerors Birmingham City in the Women’s FA Cup three days later.
Birmingham knocked Kerr’s side out of the Champions League quarter-finals a month ago, but their hopes of glory were ended by a 3-0 defeat to Swedish side Tyreso in the last four.
And the Arsenal boss accepts that, while her team are expected to beat Women’s Super League Two side Watford at Meadow Park (kick-off 7.45pm), they will go into Sunday’s quarter-final tie at Solihull as underdogs.
“It’s like facing a wounded animal,” said Kerr. “There’s no disgrace in losing to a quality side like Tyreso and no doubt Birmingham will come back from that.
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“I’m sure they’ll take a lot of confidence from the fact they beat us twice and arguably they’ll be favourites to get a result again. All credit to them – they were the better team over both legs.
“For us, it’s not about revenge. The manner in which we lost was very disappointing and it’s about trying to improve on that.
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“Cup competitions have been instrumental in the club’s past success and we want to continue that. We’ve probably been a bit spoiled in the past, when we were dominant and there wasn’t the level of competition there is now.
“We need to work harder because other teams have bridged the gap and what we’ve seen so far in the league bears that out.”
Since their Champions League defeat, the Gunners have been unable to get into any sort of rhythm, playing only two matches in April – a 2-0 FA Cup win over Gillingham and a 1-1 draw at Notts County in the Women’s Super League.
However, that light schedule has also helped them to ease injured players back into the fold, with experienced attacking pair Kelly Smith and Rachel Yankey both likely to shake off niggles.
Dutch international Anouk Hoogendijk continued her return to fitness with a run-out for Arsenal’s development team last weekend, although England midfielder Jordan Nobbs remains sidelined with a stress fracture of the back.
“In the second half at Notts County I felt we were back to normal, with free-flowing attacking football, and it’s a pity we haven’t had a game in the last couple of weeks to continue that momentum,” added Kerr.
“But if you flip the coin the other way, we’ve had injuries and this has given us the chance to get players fit, so maybe the lack of fixtures has helped rather than hindered us.
“The girls are really keen to give our loyal supporters something to smile about and hopefully that starts against Watford.”
Defender Niamh Fahey, who has been out for almost a year with a cruciate ligament injury, has now returned to training.
n Tickets for the Watford game are available at £5 (adults) and £2.50 (concessions).