When Jonas Eidevall faced the media at London Colney on Friday morning, perhaps it should have been expected that the Scandinavian boss would largely be expected to talk on the controversial qualification path for the UEFA Women’s Champions League. Additionally, Eidevall spoke of league attendances, karaoke machines and injury updates.
‘You can’t point to that being anyone else’s problem’
Eidevall’s Arsenal side were knocked out of the first qualifying round by Paris FC in September, with the French side then going on to defeat VfL Wolfsburg – who reached the final of last year’s competition. But the story has surfaced once more, largely due to Marc Skinner’s comments after his Manchester United side was toppled by Paris Saint-Germain at the Parc des Princes in midweek.
‘The reality is though that if Wolfsburg had beaten Barcelona in the Champions League Final, the WSL wouldn’t have had any direct qualifying spots for the group stage,’ he explained, ‘because also our champions Chelsea would have also needed to qualify.’Embed from Getty Images
‘We’re the number four ranked league in Europe, and why are we the number fourth ranked league? Because the English teams have done worse than the Spanish, and the German and the French teams have been doing for the last five years.’
‘That’s our starting point, that’s reality. You can’t point to that being anyone else’s problem, that’s our own as a league. The English teams have not been doing well enough in Europe to get enough ranking points.’
Eidevall’s stance cuts a rather juxtaposing view with Skinner’s comments, but the Swedish boss continued to explain his rationale to the media, adding that ‘when we start to think about where the English league is now, we’re number four in Europe from a ranking perspective, and we can’t say that that’s anyone else’s problem but our own. And so we need to improve the quality in the league so that we’re making sure that when the English clubs go out and play in Europe, they’re winning their games.’
‘If you can’t get the Champions League to work on a lucrative economic model, why would it work to have a second competition? The Champions League is the tournament that makes the most revenue, so I think the Women’s Champions League first needs to get the financial model right. I can’t see the financial stability in adding another European competition.’
‘You need to start somewhere’
Much has been made of Arsenal’s start to the Women’s Super League season. The Gunners have struggled to find form, picking up their first win against Aston Villa on Sunday – but the North London side have played both of their home games thus far at the Emirates Stadium as opposed to the smaller Meadow Park.
It comes as the club pledged to play five WSL fixtures at the main stadium this term as part of a viability review, with an aim of increasing that number annually as interest in the women’s game grows. It has been largely successful, with crowds in excess of 35,000 flooding through the turnstiles.
However, it cuts a stark contrast with the attendance figure at Brighton’s AMEX Stadium, with just 6,951 fans making the trip to the seaside stadium for the Seagulls’ clash against Tottenham Hotspur. Eidevall insists that it is not something to worry about though, drawing contrast to Arsenal’s first-ever league match at the Emirates Stadium.Embed from Getty Images
‘How many people did we have two seasons ago in our league opener against Chelsea at the Emirates? 9000. It’s hard to believe right? You need to start somewhere, and what do you do with these 9000? You start to learn a lot as an organisation – what 9000 people turn up to the game, how can we put our advertisement out to reach our target groups better, to connect with the fans?’
‘Five years ago it was a one-off to play at main stadiums, now it’s almost an every week thing. That’s just great, it shows the development. I think we have been the leading club in the league, playing most games at the biggest stadiums and drawing great attendances but as a league, everyone needs to do it. I am so happy that more and more clubs are doing that.’
‘Definitely not ABBA!’
Jonas Eidevall explained that Leah Williamson has been responsible for the introduction of a karaoke machine at London Colney, adding that he has ‘been seeing the karaoke machine carried around the training ground. It’s tried to come into the medical room and they’ve been playing some really strong defence there in the medical team to get that out so it doesn’t disturb the treatment. It’s been good to see some good dynamic in the group.’
‘Sometimes you need a spark in something, and if things stay the same then they might spiral down,’ he continued, ‘and that’s why Leah Williamson is a great leader.’
But when Eidevall was asked about the songs he’d be singing during the trip to Bristol City’s Ashton Gate this weekend, his response was remarkably un-Scandinavian. ‘Definitely not ABBA,’ he joked, ‘that’s not my generation. I’m not a great singer, I’m not great with music either, I need to be very honest with that so I don’t have any good answer for that. More likely Johnny Cash probably.’
‘Viv is really close to returning to play’
With Beth Mead having marked her return from her anterior cruciate ligament injury against Aston Villa with an assist, it is understandable that some England fans would have hoped to see her return to Sarina Wiegman’s squad for the upcoming matches against Belgium – but she has been left out.
‘It’s 100% [Sarina’s] decision over the England squad so I’m never going to have an opinion about that,’ explained Jonas.
‘My hope would have been that a player like Beth could have gone and trained with England even if she wouldn’t have been available for selection.’
On the contrary, Vivianne Miedema has been called up by the Netherlands – despite having failed to play competitive minutes for Arsenal following her ACL tear. ‘I am [happy with the decision],’ added Eidevall, ‘they know that Viv is really close to returning to play, maybe she can make the squad here on Sunday which would be a big thing for us as well.’
Arsenal will face Bristol City at Ashton Gate Stadium on Sunday, 22 October at 18:45 BST.