Arsenal made a spectacular start to their Women’s Champions League campaign by crushing holders Lyon 5-1 in France on Wednesday night.
England star Beth Mead, who was named runner-up for the women’s Ballon d’Or on Monday, scored twice as Arsenal delivered an immediate and emphatic statement of European intent.
Lyon had no answer as Arsenal swept them aside through first-half goals from Caitlin Foord, Frida Maanum and Mead.
Foord and Mead then added further goals during a two-minute spell in the second-half to leave Lyon in disarray as they suffered just a second loss in their last 83 home games. It marks the first time the eight-times European champions have conceded five goals since May 2005.
Arsenal carried the confidence generated by an unbeaten start to their Women’s Super League campaign with them into Europe. And it put them immediately on the front foot in a group that also includes Juventus and Zurich, as Arsenal chase a second Champions League title – 15 years after the first.
The Gunners enjoyed a stunning opening at Stade des Lumieres, rocking their hosts with two goals in the first 22 minutes.
Foord struck the opener following quality approach work by Mead, then Maanum’s shot made it 2-0 as Lyon found themselves well and truly on the back foot.
Although Melvine Malard cut the deficit after 27 minutes, Arsenal secured a 3-1 interval lead when Mead’s free-kick found the net and gave the defending champions a mountain to climb.
And Lyon had no way back, as the contest turned into a rout with Foord and Mead completing an Arsenal procession.
Analysis: A win of epic proportions
Sky Sports’ Charlotte Marsh:
It’s almost hard to communicate the magnitude of this victory for Arsenal. Lyon have been the European powerhouse in women’s football for a number of years – it’s the place to go if you want to win a Champions League.
They have won six of the last seven titles, and are the reigning champions after beating Barcelona 4-1 in the May final. Eyebrows would have been raised – or even mopped – when Arsenal were tasked with trying to make their way past Lyon in the Champions League group stages.
Ahead of the game, Caitlin Foord said: “For us, it will be the biggest challenge we’ve faced yet. So if we can get a win and a good performance, it will be massive for us moving forward.”
That win has materialised in the most stunning of fashions. Despite what they may say publicly, Arsenal would have easily taken a draw because 5-1 defeats for Lyon at home in Europe simply do not happen. Except now, it has.
Both sides had injury absentees too – Lyon missing a whole host of stars, including Ada Hegerberg and Sara Dabritz – while Arsenal were without first-choice centre-back pairing Leah Williamson and Rafaelle Souza.
Jonas Eidevall also made the bold choice to start Frida Maanum over Vivianne Miedema. However, it paid off as Maanum picked up a goal and assist for the evening’s work. Even the best strikers need to rotate.
But there was no huge celebration from Arsenal at full-time. Yes, it is a win of epic proportions against the best team in Europe, but it is only the first game of the Champions League group stages. The Gunners will still have to face Lyon at the Emirates and they are expected to have some of their injury absentees back in action, plus let’s not forget Juventus.
The Italian side are led by former Arsenal coach Joe Montemurro and will also have aspirations to go far in the Champions League this season. There is a long way to go before anyone reaches the knockout rounds – although being knocked out at the group stages would be a catastrophic failure for Lyon.
However, there’s no denying that this absolutely sets Arsenal up as the group favourites and lays down a marker for the rest of the competition. It also proves that their unbeaten start to the WSL season is by no means a fluke and they can perform despite injuries.
The Gunners will be hoping they can keep exceeding expectations all the way until May.