Arsenal Ladies are bringing the curtain down on another domestic season. Following their final home game of the season, a 2-0 win over Doncaster Belles, Tim Stillman caught up with manager Pedro Martinez Losa, for his thoughts on the season, his large squad, that day at Wembley in May and the signing of Kim Little.
With one game still to play in the WSL, Arsenal Ladies are guaranteed to finish in 3rd place in the WSL, just outside of the Champions League qualifying places. With marquee signings such as Asisat Oshoala, Fara Williams and Jodie Taylor procured in the off season, Arsenal were favourites with many pundits to regain the league title- which they last won in 2012. In reality, the team weren’t able to seriously challenge a Manchester City side that ended up running away with the title.
However, manager Pedro Martinez Losa refuses to regard the season as a disappointment, “We are in a position where we are winning a trophy every year, last year we won the Continental Cup and this year the F.A. Cup, most other clubs in the WSL would be very happy with this. We don’t want to be 3rd in the league, we want to be 1st or at least 2nd, but we always want to win a trophy and we did that this year.”
Losa has blooded young talent this season, such as Dominique Janssen, Danielle van de Donk, Asisat Oshoala and Katie McCabe. The Spanish coach suggests Arsenal might have sacrificed short term pain for long term gain as a result, “This is a time of change and we have to let our young players flourish and some days they will respond to pressure and sometimes they will make mistakes, but we will keep going with them and keep trusting their talent. The season hasn’t been about underachievement, but in key moments we have to improve our mentality and be more consistent. We have to analyse our performance in the league, especially at home, it is a 16 game league so one or two unexpected results can lose you the title.”
One of Arsenal’s more senior big name signings, 31-year old Jodie Taylor, was unable to make her full debut until the penultimate game of the season due to injury. That she came off the bench and scored both goals in a 2-0 victory on her full debut leaves a pang of regret, but Losa is excited about what Taylor can bring to the team next season, “The club and Jodie put in a lot of effort to get her fit and it took longer than we expected,” he rues, “But she was the most prolific goal scorer of our signings, so she will be a big player next season and we’ll see her talent.”
Another player that Arsenal can look forward to counting on next season is Kim Little, who rejoins the club from Seattle Reign. The signing has created shockwaves in the women’s game. Little, arguably the finest central midfielder in the world, has enjoyed huge success in the states since leaving Arsenal at the end of 2013. Losa insists that Arsenal have been on the case with the Scottish dynamo for quite some time.
“There was interest from us last year,” Pedro admits, “Living abroad is not easy and she always felt she would come back home. Last year, Seattle Reign played a playoff final and did not win, so she felt she had unfinished business in America. We had a lot of conversations with her and there was a lot of interest from clubs in Europe and England, but we have a relationship with her. She was coming back here to train in the off season and we stayed in touch.”
Losa also believes that Little feels valued by Arsenal, which helped them to fend off competition for her signature, “The club’s values and the way it operates make her feel comfortable. We realised last year that we had a chance because she was always talking highly about us. We wanted to respect her career and respect Laura (Harvey, Seattle Reign manager and ex Arsenal manager) and we wanted to wait for the right moment. Luckily for us, that moment has come now,” Pedro beams.
Room is already being made in the squad for Little’s arrival. Spanish trio Marta Corredera, Natalia Pablos Sanchon and Vicky Losada have left the club, the latter was voted the Arsenal Ladies’ Supporters’ Club player of the season for 2016. Losa paid tribute to the Losada’s contribution and confirmed that she was offered a new contract, “She would have got my vote for player of the season too!” Losa asserts. “For me there is no discussion about her quality and her talent. I brought her to America at New York Flash too because she has a very special talent.
“Signing her was a big priority for me when I came here,” he continues, “She helped me to bring on the ideas that I wanted to bring to Arsenal Ladies when I arrived.” The manager thinks that she has left a visible legacy too, “I think a player like Jordan Nobbs has benefited from training and playing with Vicky, she has helped her to learn another style and in my opinion, Jordan has become a better player playing next to Vicky Losada. We couldn’t find an agreement when we negotiated, but she will be a very important player at whichever club she goes to. We can’t thank her enough.”
There will be further departures as Arsenal seek to trim a large playing squad. There are contract expiries and a few more high profile departures will be announced in the coming weeks. Manchester City won the title with a smaller squad and a more settled starting line-up, whereas Arsenal opted to rotate heavily. However, Losa discounts the notion that he had too many options available to him this season.
“Last season we had injuries and we had no options,” he points out, “After the World Cup we had to bring players from the development team just to complete the bench. This year we had more players and this year the medical department did a great job because we didn’t have many injuries. Having options for a manager is never a problem, but if top players aren’t playing they’re not happy. But that’s part of the job for a manager at a top club.”
Beating Chelsea in the F.A. Cup Final at Wembley in May was the undoubted season highlight. The Blues went into the game as hot favourites, but in front of a crowd of 33,000, the Gunners outplayed their London rivals and lifted the trophy thanks to a fizzing Dan Carter strike. Pedro, who has won cups and league titles in Spain and the US, admits that victory at Wembley proved to be one of his ultimate career highlights.
“As a manager, when you win, the next day you forget about it and get back to work,” Losa says, “But if you told me when I was a kid that I would manage Arsenal to win an FA Cup Final at Wembley, I would not have believed it. It will be a career highlight for me for a long time because of the way we did it,” Losa reflects, “This club has won a lot of trophies, but to beat Chelsea at Wembley in front of all those fans was a big achievement.”
Next season, the WSL will revert to a winter league, running from September until April. There will be an interim ‘round robin’ league in the spring to fill the gap between now and September 2017, with each team playing one another once in the WSL. Losa hinted that he could use the interim spring league to experiment and give some young players their chance, “The interim league will help our idea to develop a young team, it will give us a chance to give opportunities to young players.”
The 38 year old thinks that reverting to the winter league is a positive development for players and supporters, “It will be positive, especially for teams in the Champions League. We played fantastically in our last game a few weeks ago (a 5-0 win away at Donny Belles), but then we didn’t have a game for three and a half weeks and 13 players went away with their national teams last week and didn’t come back ‘till Thursday. Today you could see that the connection was not quite there in the team. The winter league should help the fixture list. But as well, this is the price of being a big club with international players,” he muses.
Images courtesy of Humans of the Arsenal.