In the immediate aftermath of Arsenal’s 1-1 draw with Bristol City Women, Tim Stillman caught up with Gunners left-back Emma Mitchell on her return from injury, missing Euro 2017 and providing an unlikely set-piece threat.
Since joining Arsenal Women in 2013, Emma Mitchell has made the left-back spot her own. Still only 25, she has been Scotland’s first choice left-back since she was a teenager too. After spells with Glasgow City and FC Essen in Germany, Mitchell was one of Shelley Kerr’s first signings when she was appointed as Arsenal’s manager.
Kerr signed Mitchell as well as her compatriots Christie Murray and Caroline Weir, with Scottish midfielder Kim Little already at the club. Murray and Weir left soon after Kerr departed in 2014, but Mitchell remained. Life has been good to the Kircaldy born full-back during her stint in North London.
She was a pivotal part of Arsenal’s FA Cup triumph in 2016 and helped her country qualify for their first ever major tournament later that year. Then, in March this year, she felt her hamstring during her 50th appearance for Scotland. It proved to be a Grade 3 muscle tear, meaning four months on the sidelines. Her Euro 2017 dream was over.
But the 25 year old says that the gruelling process of recovery helped her to process the disappointment, “I was in every single day during the summer and that kind of helped. I was having sessions with Cairbre, our physio, and that was a distraction. I had to put the disappointment of missing the Euros to one side and my goal was to get back for the start of the WSL season.”
Mitchell wasn’t the only key member of the Scottish team to fall foul of the injury curse. Arsenal’s Kim Little tore her cruciate ligament in May. Ex-Gunner and current Manchester City defender Jen Beattie also missed out. It was terrible luck for the Scots, but Mitchell insists the squad are taking the positives out of the situation.
“You cannae control injuries,” she reflects. “We perhaps had a bit of inexperience in the England game [which Scotland lost 6-0], but that gives us something to build on for the future. Personally, it was a huge disappointment, but I was so proud of the girls and the younger players have really got something to build on now.”
Mitchell has started Arsenal’s last two games now and is building back towards full fitness. “At the moment, I’m getting to about 70 minutes then really beginning to feel my legs!” she smiles. “But I’m in constant contact with the medical team who take great care of me, it’s all about building myself back up to the full 90.”
Emma marked her first start in 6 months with a goal in unusual circumstances at City’s Academy Stadium. The 5 foot 5 inch full-back latched onto a Jordan Nobbs corner to score with a fulminating header. But it wasn’t just instinct that took her into such an unfamiliar position. “It’s something we worked on in training,” she admits.
— WomensSoccerUnited (@WSUasa) September 30, 2017
“We know we can improve on attacking set-pieces. We’ve got players in the team that can attack the ball and I’m one of them. I was in the right place at the right time last week.” The goal drew the game level at 1-1, but alas, the Gunners eventually fell to a 5-2 defeat in Manchester.
Mitchell’s international teammate and long-time friend Lisa Evans joined the club from Bayern Munich during the summer. Like Emma, Lisa is 25, started out at Glasgow City and had a spell playing in the Frauen-Bundesliga. The two go back a long way, but Mitchell insists she did not need to sell the prospect of playing for Arsenal to her old pal.
“I didn’t actually have much to do with it,” she explains, “Lisa had already spoken to Pedro and he sold the club to her. He didnae need me to do that. Everybody knows what the ambitions and the expectations are here at Arsenal. But I just told her that I have been here for nearly 5 years now and there’s a reason I am still here.”
On Thursday evening, the girls face London Bees in the opening group phase match of the Continental Cup (the women’s equivalent of the League Cup). It is likely some young players will get a chance to impress, including 18 year old left wing-back Taylor Hinds. Mitchell admits that she is looking over her shoulder at the highly rated England Youth international.
“Taylor’s got a very good left foot and she works incredibly hard in training. It’s good for me to have the competition and she is going to get her opportunity at some point if she keeps working as hard as she has been. I need to be ready for that.” The 25 year old Scot has never been found wanting before when it comes to being ready for a challenge. Just ask any right winger in the WSL.
Arsenal Women play London Bees at Meadow Park on Thursday evening at 730pm. Tickets are £6 for adults and £3 for concessions if you buy them online prior to the game.
You can follow Emma on twitter @emsmitch3