Arsenal winger Lisa Evans has admitted that winning the Champions League is the next big ambition for a Gunners side that has won every domestic competition on offer in England in recent years.
Arsenal have conquered Europe in the past, lifting the Women’s UEFA Cup as part of an historic quadruple in 2006/07, but no English club has won the Champions League since the competition was re-branded and modernised in line with the men’s equivalent in 2009.
The Gunners, who reached the quarter-finals last season, first must get back into the Champions League, having finished third in the abandoned 2019/20 WSL campaign. But they are already going about that the right way after a blistering start to the 2020/21 season.
“It’s been so good, both on and off the pitch,” Evans said of her time with Arsenal so far, in an adidas & 90min podcast to celebrate the release of the new X Ghosted boot.“We’ve got such a close team and kept the same group of players for a long period of time now.
“The first season I was there was a bit disappointing, we had a new manager and it was difficult. But obviously in the second season we went on to win the WSL, then played in a few FA Cup and Continental Cup finals that have gone different ways.
“Like any player, winning trophies is why you play football. That is why you train every day. The next big thing for any English team is obviously the Champions League,” she continued.
“To be in the Champions League, you need to finish first or second [in the WSL]. First and foremost, obviously, that is our aim for this season. We’re missing out [in 2020/21] because Chelsea and Manchester City have got those places.”
The key challenge for any club aiming to be crowned European champions is toppling Lyon, who have won the trophy five times in a row, and seven times in the last 10 years overall.
“Chelsea played them a couple of seasons ago and were so close [to beating them]. It was fine, fine margins that were the difference. I think if we had played them this year in the Champions League, you’ve got to go into that game fancying your chances,” an optimistic Evans explained.
Evans herself already has plenty of experience of the Champions League, having played in the competition for former clubs Bayern Munich, Turbine Potsdam and Glasgow City, as well as Arsenal.
The 28-year-old, who can play up front, on the wing or at full-back – making her an invaluable asset for both club and country, took a huge risk early in her career, backing herself to make it as a professional in Germany when Potsdam offered a trial and later a full-time contract.
Evans had been scouted playing for Glasgow against the German side in the Champions League, with Potsdam staff spotting her potential despite being on the end of a 17-0 aggregate drubbing.
It was a huge decision to make, not only gambling by moving away from home, leaving family and friends behind to play in a foreign country with a different culture, but also as a trailblazer for the next generation of Scottish talent who looked up to her.“I didn’t feel that pressure because obviously nobody had done it before. It was bit of an unknown and I didn’t really now how it was going to turn out,” Evans recalled.
“I knew I was the first [Scottish] girl at that time to go abroad and play in a different country, play in Germany. I didn’t put that pressure on myself to be a trailblazer, I just wanted to go and do my thing.
“Being young and Scottish, and just being a bit of an underdog, I didn’t feel any pressure. I just wanted to do the best I could and the coach had a lot of trust in me. I wanted to repay him for giving me the opportunity to play professionally.”
A full Scotland international since 2011 and now with more than 80 caps to her name, Evans is part of what has developed into a golden generation of Scottish talent.Scotland narrowly missed out on a place at Euro 2013 as a result of shock collapse against Spain in the final qualifying playoff, but they reached Euro 2017, a first ever major international tournament, and then also got to the 2019 Women’s World Cup – only another collapse and highly controversial officiating saw them crash out of the group stage at the latter.
“We’ve got a really good group of players and I think we underachieved at the World Cup,” Evans lamented. “I think we expected ourselves to at least get out of the group stage. I know it was a really hard group with Japan and England, who are two of the best women’s football teams in the world.
“But with the quality of players we have – so many in the WSL, or that play abroad in Sweden or America, and top players in Scotland – we should have got out of that group.”
Yet the World Cup, despite the disappointment of early elimination, was not a total failure for Scotland, especially off the pitch, where interest in the team’s fortunes was higher than ever.
“One of the main positives we got from that World Cup was the attention back home. We have never had that attention before,” Evans explained.
“The last game before the World Cup, we played at Hampden Park, the second time that we’ve played there, and got 18,000 people. For 18,000 people to watch women’s football in Scotland was unheard of. It was absolutely remarkable.”
Evans herself played a crucial role in the qualifying campaign just to get to the tournament in France, with a dramatic late winning goal against Poland the highlight of her career.
“We were 2-0 down. We knew had to win that game and were relying on Switzerland to drop points. We were thinking, ‘We’re not going to do this’.
“I think Shelley [Kerr] made a few substitutions and we got the first goal back and then a second goal back. I found myself on the left wing, I don’t know why I was over there, but I probably just wandered over. I got the ball and remember taking a touch past the full-back, going on the outside of her, doing her for pace and then just cutting in and finishing with my right foot.”With all three goals scored after the 78th minute, Scotland won the game 3-2 to keep their qualifying hopes alive, following it up with crucial wins over Switzerland and Albania, while Switzerland, who had been leading the group, also dropped points in the final game.
“I knew it was big, big goal, definitely. And going home, then I thought, this is actually probably going to get us to the World Cup,” Evans said.
“We had more games to play against Albania and Switzerland, who also dropped points, and we found ourselves going to the World Cup.”
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Source : 90min