Heath and Miedema boost Arsenal’s WCL hopes with Hoffenheim rout

  • Arsenal 4-0 Hoffenheim
  • Kim Little penalty starts strong response to Barça loss

Two-times World Cup winner Tobin Heath praised her Arsenal teammates for “bouncing back” from their bruising defeat to Barcelona in their previous Champions League game, after they saw off German side Hoffenheim 4-0 to earn their first three points in Group C.

US forward Heath, who was making her second start for the Gunners since joining in the summer, opened her Champions League account shortly before the break to double Arsenal’s lead after Kim Little’s penalty. The striker Vivianne Miedema added a third and the centre-back Leah Williamson headed in a late fourth as they attempted to atone for the 4-1 loss in Spain which the forward Beth Mead had described as “humbling”.

“It felt really good for us, the whole team, bouncing back,” said Heath. “Getting four goals today was a good response after the Barcelona game. We showed a lot of character, we came out with a singular focus.

“To be able to help with that and get a goal, especially the second goal, it’s an important goal to kind of get a little bit of space.”

Hoffenheim may have been an unfamiliar team to the Arsenal players but the German side have been on the radar of the London club’s new manager, Jonas Eidevall, who had faced them in Champions League qualifiers while manager of the Swedish side Rosengård.

“All in all, it’s our strongest performance so far during the season,” said Eidevall. “The way that we moved the ball and have a passing game both on our own and in their offensive half, it’s the best that we have done so far this season, combined with a really, really aggressive, nice counterpressing. We’re pleased with the performance today.”

The home team were certainly more cautious in the opening exchanges with Hoffenheim, who sit fifth in the Frauen Bundesliga – perhaps a little too cautious, as it was the visiting team that should have taken the lead in the early stages.

After just three minutes the Arsenal backline looked rattled when a cross from the left was nodded down towards Nicole Billa but the Austrian striker turned and fired wide.

The threat did not die though, with the tall and powerful Belgium centre-forward Tine De Caigny and Billa particularly dangerous when played in behind and Hoffenheim looking sharp when in possession.

Arsenal’s Kim Little (left) and Vivianne Miedema (right) celebrate the latter’s goal against Hoffenheim.
Arsenal’s Kim Little (left) and Vivianne Miedema (right) celebrate the latter’s goal against Hoffenheim. Photograph: John Walton/PA

Arsenal grew into the game, urged on by a vocal crowd, and where Hoffenheim had struggled to capitalise on their turnovers, having done well to take advantage of too-frequent wayward passing by Arsenal, the hosts were more clinical.

In the 20th minute they grabbed the lead after the centre-back Michaela Specht clipped the raised foot of Mead, who had wriggled in front of her, and referee Stéphanie Frappart pointed to the spot. Up stepped the captain, Little, who fired in to the right of a diving Martina Tufekovic to score her 40th European goal for Arsenal.

Arsenal ramped up their control of the game and Eidevall’s team were rewarded for their pressure shortly before half-time. Katie McCabe whipped the ball in from the left and Miedema rose highest to nod it to the feet of an onrushing Heath, who smashed it into the net.

The World Cup star was making her first start in the Champions League since October 2013, having played in the competition during a six-month spell with Paris Saint-Germain who exited the competition at the hands of the Swedish side Tyresö over two legs.

“Of course,” she said with a laugh when asked if it was good to be back. “There’s nothing better than this competition in my opinion, it’s really, really fun. Take a team like Hoffenheim, they play such a unique style of football that I wouldn’t be able to see elsewhere, that’s what’s fun about football.”

In the second half the Hoffenheim manager, Gabor Gallai, swapped De Caigny, who scored twice in the previous round, for the 19-year-old Gia Corley, but the game continued to run away from the German side. Not long after the restart Arsenal extended their lead to three when Mead raced clear down the right before cutting back to Jordan Nobbs. The England midfielder forced an acrobatic save from Tufekovic but the goalkeeper could only force it high and Miedema pounced on the rebound.

Unperturbed by the margin Hoffenheim pressed hard to get a goal back, with the Arsenal goalkeeper Manuela Zinsberger forced to save from Jule Brand and McCabe clearing Sarai Linder’s header off the line.

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With the three points all but secure Eidevall swapped his front three out but it was Williamson rather than the fresh legs up front who provided the fourth, racing to the near post to power in McCabe’s corner.

The win helped Arsenal to leapfrog their opponents into second in Group C, level on three points with the German side but three behind leaders Barcelona, who surprisingly laboured to a 2-0 win over the Danish side HB Køge earlier in the evening.

Contributor

Suzanne Wrack at Meadow Park

The GuardianTramp

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