Arsenal’s striker on a sporting childhood, Netherlands’ World Cup hopes and why her club deserve to win the WSL
Arsenal, decimated by injuries that have left a stellar seven-a-side team in the stands lately, are struggling to maintain their early-season swagger. League wins have become less convincing and defeats by Chelsea and Manchester City in the FA Cup and Continental Cup respectively have seen their momentum stalled.
With the side now two points behind the leaders, Manchester City, though with a crucial two games in hand, the pressure is on the league’s top scorer, Vivianne Miedema, to shoulder the burden and help force her team over the finish line.
“Once players fall away, like Lia Wälti, Kim Little and Jordan Nobbs, you feel more responsibility,” says the Dutch Euro 2017 winner. “I am one of the players that needs to stand up and so far, luckily, we’ve been doing good enough. Things are in our own hands and hopefully we can win the title.”
It would be easy to think that having conceded their Continental Cup title to Manchester City on penalties, heads would be down going into the final six games of the season. But the manager, Joe Montemurro, insisted it was a gritty, “un-Arsenal” performance that showed fight missing in recent weeks.
“It’s not like we’re weren’t upset but that day showed a lot of effort from us and showed what we can do with a lot of players missing,” says Miedema, who was named the women’s player of the year at the London football awards last week.
“It’s something we can be really proud of. We’re waiting for the other girls to come back and strengthen us but the team that played that day deserves a lot of respect and it gives us high hopes for the rest of the season.”
Miedema was a surprise omission from the starting lineup at Bramall Lane, “I’ve had a cold for a bit,” she says. “Last week I struggled, I wasn’t really fit and I picked up a few little injuries in the Yeovil game. I just wasn’t fit enough to start.
“It’s a shame because I feel I could have done something but in the end it was a good team effort.”
An injury-hit Manchester City capitulated in the final stages of last season. Miedema says Arsenal do not fear a similar end to their campaign but the importance of another trophy under the new set-up is important. “I came to England to win prizes,” she says. “Last year we won the Conti Cup and this year from minute one our focus was on the league. A club like Arsenal needs to win prizes. We’re doing well but we need to finish it off.
“Then we can move on. We want to be playing in the Champions League and we want a bigger squad that can compete for all the competitions. But we need to win the league – and we deserve to win the league.”
Miedema has 25 goals in all competitions this season, breaking the record for WSL goals in a single season. She credits staying relaxed, taking her time in front of goal and the work rate of the players around her.
It is her instinctive nature in front of goal which most catches the eye – perhaps born of a childhood surrounded by sport. Her father and brother were both keen footballers, while her mother played hockey to a high level.
“Basically I walked into football, I didn’t have a choice,” she says with a laugh. “We’re a sport family. We used to have a restaurant when I was younger. I was around one and a half and I used to play football when my dad had a break. I started very early on.”
And if she did not have football? “Oh, god knows, no idea. Probably still studying. It’s hard to say because I love football – I can see myself being a coach later.”
Miedema played alongside boys when she was young and perhaps did so for longer than many. “I think it has really benefited me,” she says. “I used to play at one of the highest levels of boys’ football too. I played against good boys, some of which are playing top-level football in Europe now, and that has really helped me. There’s a big difference between playing with boys and with girls and I would always advise girls to play with boys.”
She is currently playing in the friendly Algarve Cup with the Netherlands, preparing for matters beyond the club season. The Dutch struggled in World Cup qualifying, having won the 2017 European Championship, and ultimately relied on a qualification play-off to make it to the tournament.
“It was quite hard for us after the Euros to come back and to qualify directly,” she says. “The pressure when you are winners is completely different. But not having the pressure of being favourites for the World Cup is a really good thing.”
And if Miedema scores, do not expect wild celebrations: “I am happy when I score goals but I also think you need to show a bit of respect to the opponent. It depends on the goal but I’m not a big shouter or celebrater.”
• Former Arsenal goalkeeper Emma Byrne is to be the first female inducted into the Republic of Ireland’s Hall of Fame. The 39-year-old has 134 caps for her country and was part of the historic quadruple-winning side of 2007.
• Champions Glasgow City beat Stirling 5-1 in their third game of the new SWPL season (one, a 9-0 cup victory over St Johnstone). Hibernian’s 4-0 win over Motherwell kept them ahead of City on goal difference.
• The 28 members of the US women’s national team marked International Women’s Day with the announcement of legal proceedings against US Soccer over “institutionalised gender discrimination”. The USWNT generate greater revenue than their male counterparts, who failed to qualify for the 2018 World Cup.
• Nike and Adidas have launched separate World Cup kits for the women’s national team’s they sponsor for the first time in history. In a week when Gatorade announced a deal with Manchester City women, Lucozade and Budweiser with the Lionesses and Nike a matchball deal with Uefa, evidence that there is a market for women’s football has never been so strong.