Arsenal Ladies star confident of handling cup final pressure against Notts County
- Credit: Gavin Ellis/TGSPHOTO
If any Arsenal player is best equipped to cope with the pressure that comes with a cup final, it’s probably teenager Leah Williamson.
The 18-year-old, who hopes to help the Gunners to Continental Cup glory in Sunday’s final against Notts County, successfully dealt with one of the most nerve-racking situations imaginable on a football pitch earlier this year.
Williamson scored an injury-time penalty for England Under-19s to seal a 2-2 draw against Norway and a place in the UEFA Championship finals – only to have the goal ruled out for encroachment.
Yet the referee’s failure to order a retake led to appeals from the England camp – and the end of the match was eventually replayed five days later, with Williamson keeping her nerve to score the penalty for a second time.
So nothing that Sunday’s final, which takes place at Rotherham’s New York Stadium, can throw up should faze the versatile Gunner, who was voted PFA Young Player of the Year in her first season.
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“It was the worst thing I’ve ever had to do in sport – but also the best because it went in the net,” said Williamson. “The only thing that comes close is passing your driving test!
“I think you’re always going to be nervous to some extent but, when you play in certain situations, you learn how to deal with it. Playing at a club like Arsenal, you’re always involved in important games.
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“We’ll probably have a lot more supporters there than we’re used to at league games, but whatever pressure there is, I’m ready to take it on.
“I’ve been at Arsenal since I was nine years old and I remember the game when they won the Champions League. It’s always been my dream just to be involved.
“We’ve already shown that we can compete by beating Manchester City in the quarter-finals and then a tough Birmingham side in the semis. Now we need one last push.”
Williamson, who broke into Arsenal’s first team last year, has already experienced both sides of the coin in domestic cups.
She came on as a substitute as the Gunners beat Everton 2-0 in the 2014 Women’s FA Cup final. But the midfielder was also a member of the Arsenal side whose stranglehold on the Continental Cup was finally broken at the end of last season, when they lost the final 1-0 to Manchester City.
And, while the Gunners will start as favourites on Sunday (kick-off 3pm) – having finished 12 points ahead of Notts County in the Women’s Super League – Williamson is anticipating a tough encounter.
“As soon as it goes to knockout in a cup competition you can forget about everything else in the league,” she said. “Every time we’ve played Notts County it’s been a really competitive game – we just have to be ready for them.
“I think we all feel that we’ve had a good season despite circumstances – at one point six players were out injured. If we were in a better position injury-wise we might even have won the league.
“I was really lucky in my first year and, while this season hasn’t been as fast-moving, to add another medal to my trophy cabinet would be a great achievement. As long as you’re moving forward you can’t complain.”
Williamson, who experienced a spell on the sidelines due to injury earlier this season, has been filling in at left-back recently due to the absence – also through injury – of Emma Mitchell.
“I’m not naturally left-footed, but when I was coming back from injury I just wanted to be involved on the pitch, so I grabbed the opportunity with both hands,” she explained.
“I think versatility is one of my strengths and as you grow up you learn about every position on the pitch. If you take it in you can pretty much play everywhere.
“At a club like Arsenal we have a strong philosophy about the way we play, and we’re really looking forward to bringing this one home.”
Arsenal will be running coaches for fans who want to attend Sunday’s game, with pick-up points at Emirates Stadium and London Gateway service station. Visit http://www.arsenal.com/match/report/1516/travel/ladies/ladies-arsenal-v-notts-county-travel for more information.