Arsenal fight to the death but bow out of the Champions League

Arsenal are out of the Champions League
Arsenal are out of the Champions League / Richard Heathcote/GettyImages

FROM EMIRATES STADIUM - As the sun set on a record crowd of 60,000 at the Emirates, the stage was set for a momentous occasion as Arsenal targeted their first Champions League final in 16 years.

The odds were stacked against the Gunners and despite selling out their stadium for the very first time, a last-minute extra time winner saw Wolfsburg clinch their ticket to the final in Eindhoven.

The last thing Arsenal would’ve wanted was Wolfsburg earning a penalty just three minutes in but with luck and VAR in their favour, it was the hosts who stole the opener as Stina Blackstenius, a player who has shown her class in the toughest matches, prodded the ball home.

Arsenal were always going to have to use the power of the sold-out Emirates to propel their chances of reaching a first UEFA Women’s Champions League final since 2007 and the full house in attendance sang their love for the north London side, ecstatic over the early lead.

Arsenal clawed their way back into the first leg after going 2-0 down in Wolfsburg, with this tie being a mammoth of a task to beat the two-time champions who have been on top form throughout their Champions League campaign.

But Arsenal’s Champions League run to date has been nothing but miraculous. With injuries plaguing notable key figures throughout their campaign, their journey to this stage is nothing short of a miracle.

They won Group C, toppling eight time winners Lyon, dominating against Zurich and clinching wins against Juventus. Arsenal fans showed up for their side in their quarter final second leg against Bayern Munich where they came from behind to win on aggregate.

In almost a flip of the reverse fixture, Wolfsburg managed to equalise before half time on Monday, with former Arsenal player Jill Roord finding the back of the net. The fight was on for the Gunners to find a way to seal their ticket to Eindhoven.

With a goal ruled offside minutes into the second half, it was clear the 2006/07 winners had a lot of fight left in them, spurred on by the absence of key players.

Speaking after the reverse fixture, stand in skipper Katie McCabe revealed how the loss of the likes of Kim Little, Leah Williamson, Beth Mead and Vivianne Miedema has brought the team together to fight even harder to reach the final.

“To lose our captain and vice-captain in the space of a couple of days hurt us, but also it brings us together,” she said. “We are out there, we are running for each other, and we are doing it for the girls back home as well.”

Some impressive defending from the Gunners' back line made light work of several Wolfsburg attempts while the front three were playing impressively well on the break.

But it wasn’t long before Alexandra Popp stole the lead for the visitors by beating Manuela Zinsberger at a set piece, where Arsenal have struggled to defend all season. 

While the majority would feel in despair over going behind once again, the atmosphere in the Emirates seldom wavered from chants, clapping and cheering.

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Maybe the atmosphere did the trick or the mentality of the team pulled through, but whatever it was, it worked as Arsenal clawed it back once more with Jen Beattie heading home the equaliser.

With Laura Wienroither stretchered off with a nasty-looking knee injury and Arsenal’s substitute options looking few and far between, the visible grimace on Jonas Eidevall’s face spoke millions as the game went to extra time.

The determination Arsenal showed from minute one was undeniable but in the final few minutes of extra time, with penalties on the horizon, a mere moment proved fruitful for Wolfsburg as substitute Pauline Bremmer stole what would be the match winner.

Fighting to the death but coming up empty, Arsenal bowed out of the Champions League title race as semi-finalists just as their English counterparts Chelsea did days ago.

In what could have been Arsenal’s first Champions League final in 16 years, they were unable to defeat the reigning German champions for the plane ticket to Eindhoven.

Arsenal’s deflated lap of honour thanking the fans would end their last game of the season at the Emirates on a low note, but the fight the Gunners showed down to the very last second of the game cannot be understated.