Linkoping FC v Arsenal Women
Wednesday 6 September 2023
Kick off 4:00pm
UEFA Women’s Champions League
Round 1 Qualifiers
Just over one hundred days after Arsenal Women finished the 2022/23 season with defeat to Aston Villa at Meadow Park, the Gunners return to action in the south of Sweden to kick off their UEFA Women’s Champions League campaign against Linkoping FC.
After finishing third in the WSL, Arsenal will have to progress from a four team qualifying tournament, hosted by Linkoping, by beating the Swedish side on Wednesday afternoon and then overcoming either Paris FC or FC Kryvbas in the final on Saturday.
The winner of the mini-tournament will then play a two-legged tie in Round 2 of qualifying in October, where European giants including Wolfsburg and Paris Saint Germain will enter the competition. Victorious in this tie, and only then will the club reach the Group Stage- the prospective road to Bilbao is a long one for last season’s semi-finalists Arsenal.
Linkoping returned to league action on Sunday against league leaders BK Hacken, who were held to a 0-0 draw by their title rivals at the Linkoping arena in their first game back following an eight week break in the Damallsvenskan league to factor in the World Cup.
Arsenal have not played competitive football since the end of the league season, so the Swedish side will be boosted by that earlier return to action against a top side in Hacken.
New signings will be in action for both sides, with summer arrivals Laia Codina, Amanda Ilestedt, Cloe Lacasse and Alessia Russo all included in Arsenal’s Champions League squad. All four were in action in the recently concluded World Cup, and are joined in Arsenal’s squad by the returning Kim Little and Beth Mead.
Mead could play her first football since November after making a positive recovery from an ACL injury, whilst Little suffered a hamstring injury in April and missed the remainder of the season. One of World Cup winner Codina or Sweden centre-back Ilestedt is likely to start in defence, as Leah Williamson remains sidelined and Rafaelle Souza left the club earlier this summer.
?? We’ve taken off and touched down in Linköping ? pic.twitter.com/Yj8KA44hQW— Arsenal Women (@ArsenalWFC) September 5, 2023
Linkoping also had a keen eye on the World Cup, adding Australia-born Philippines international Angela Beard to their defence along with Malin Brenn last week. Beard came up against Arsenal’s Swiss and Norwegian contingent in Group A, whilst Linkoping striker Stina Lennartssonn made one appearance as Sweden claimed bronze in Australia & New Zealand.
This Champions League tie will be something of a homecoming for a number of Arsenal’s stars, with Stina Blackstenius, Frida Maanum and Lina Hurtig all returning to their former side. Maanum is set to come up against her partner Emma Lennartsson- the two played for Linkoping before Maanum’s move to North London two years ago. Sweden striker Blackstenius has over a century of appearances to her name for Linkoping, netting sixty goals in two spells at the club.
Arsenal fans making the trip to Sweden have plenty to look forward to. As well as the usual pre-match festivities, supporters will have as many as four games to take in during their time in Linkoping, who will host both semi-finals, the final and third place play-off in the mini qualifying tournament.
A host of exciting signings could make their Arsenal debuts whilst potential returns for club legends Mead and Little (we will hear from Jonas Eidevall on Tuesday afternoon) will whet the appetite of Arsenal supporters.
Linkoping will relish taking on the Gunners, as Andree Jeglertz’s side try to reach the Champions League for the first time since 2018/19. Home advantage is certainly on their side, but on paper Arsenal should have more than enough to overcome the Swedes. The game will be streamed live on arsenal.com.