Arsenal take big step to Champions League groups with Slavia Prague win

Arsenal lifted the pressure on a trip to the Czech Republic in nine days’ time with a 3-0 defeat of Slavia Prague as they bid for a spot in the Champions League group stage.

A second-minute goal from newly recruited Nikita Parris and a Kim Little penalty in the first half was added to by Vivianne Miedema’s 96th Arsenal goal to put the hosts in the driving seat before their Women’s Super League opener on Sunday.

Arsenal’s third-place finish in the league last season, and entry into the early rounds of this competition as a result, could be viewed as a negative. However the advantage of three competitive fixtures alongside pre-season friendlies could prove to be an advantage come Sunday.

Assistant manager Aaron D’Antino, taking charge in the dugout with new manager Jonas Eidevall in Sweden sorting his family’s visas, said these games had helped “a lot”.

“It gave us a focus immediately in pre-season knowing that these games were coming and it was going to be competitive earlier,” he said. “With the way it played out with the Olympic girls not being around, it gave everyone an opportunity to really show Jonas what they are about early on. There are some really good lessons learned in today’s match which I think are going to put us in a good place for Sunday.”

Under the floodlights in front of fans for the first time since 1,000 supporters were allowed entry in December for a win over Birmingham, Arsenal took control. Such was the fluidity and speed with which the new midfield of Mana Iwabuchi, Frida Maanum and Little played you could be forgiven for thinking you were getting a secret look into a meeting of the Magic Circle.

“They were relentless, it’s a real joy,” said D’Antino. “The scary thing is we still have a long way to improve. They’ve barely been together so it’s only going to get better.”

There is a new steeliness to Arsenal alongside their staggeringly creative squad and, critically, enough depth for star forward Miedema to spend the first hour wrapped up on the bench ready and waiting to stretch her legs more fully at the Emirates on Sunday.

Arsenal wasted no time in their first competitive home game of the season with Australia full-back Steph Catley providing the cross for former Manchester City and Lyon forward Parris to head powerfully home 94 seconds in.

It took until the half-hour mark for Arsenal to double their tally. Maanum sent a swooping ball over the top towards forward Caitlin Foord but the Australian was felled by Prague captain Diana Bartovicova and Little stepped up to convert the resulting spot-kick.

The celebrations were cathartic for Arsenal fans who have waited a long time to be back and have gleaned little enjoyment from watching the men’s team flounder in the Premier League.

It did not take long for Miedema to elicit “ooohs” from the crowd after her entry into the fray with 30 minutes remaining. With only 10 minutes in her legs the Dutch forward out-ran the Prague defence to latch on to a lofted ball from fellow substitute Beth Mead before rounding Olivie Lukasova and dinking the ball into the net.