Steph Catley believes Arsenal are not desperate to finish off their fixtures for 2022 and reach the winter break following an injury hit period, signalling a change in atmosphere around the squad in comparison to last year.
The Gunners have suffered a spate of injury problems during October and November, with Leah Williamson, Rafaelle, Kim Little, Beth Mead and Lina Hurtig all spending time on the sidelines. However, they have successfully navigated this difficult period, winning nine games from 11 – including a 5-1 victory over Thursday’s opponents, European champions Lyon – and are beginning to welcome key personnel back into the fold.
Arsenal also suffered injury and absentee problems at a similar stage last term, which saw them stutter in the WSL and Champions League.
“When I think back to this point last season, that was the feeling amongst the group; we were really desperate to get across the line and get to Christmas,” said Catley. “But this time around I feel like everyone’s feeling pretty fresh, we’re feeling good.
“We’ve had a little dip in form and are finding our way back, we’re scoring goals again, we’ve got people coming back from injury so that’s brought some life into the squad and I think everyone’s in a really good position.”
Catley has been called upon to adapt during this period following injuries to first choice centre back pairing Leah Williamson and Rafaelle.
The duo spent two months on the sideline, but returned to the match day squad against Everton in early December. Catley – a left back by trade – deputised at centre half during the pair’s absence.
“It’s been an interesting period,” the full-back added. “For me the time at centre back was physically less demanding than playing at full-back but mentally was really tough.
“When you are at centre half, that’s half the battle; organising, constantly thinking and when you play at the top level, there is so much going on that mentally it was pretty tiring for me but physically in my body, by the time I made my way back to left back, I felt physically good, like I was ready to step it up again and get back into that full-back position.
“I think that is a massive strength of our team is that we have had injuries to big, big players at the back, and we have had to reshuffle a lot in terms of personnel. Even now that they’re coming back and slowly building their minutes; Lotte [Wubben-Moy] will play at right centre back, she’ll play at left centre back, Jen [Beattie] will come in, Rafaelle might play here.
“There’s a lot of changes going on and I think it says a lot about our players and our team that whoever comes in can do a job and the whole backline can still stay a really strong unit.”