‘It is a dream’: homegrown Gunners fired up to face Barcelona at the Emirates

“To be able to play at the Emirates as a fan is so cool because you have this different perspective, a different appreciation of the moment and the place,” says the Arsenal centre-back Lotte Wubben-Moy as she looks forward to Thursday evening’s Champions League showdown with the holders, Barcelona, under the lights of the Emirates Stadium.

“Pinch me – yes, it is a dream,” she says. “These are the games you want to play in. To get to play them at such an amazing stadium? Yeah, so cool. A dream would probably be an understatement.

“I genuinely think being a fan of the team you play for gives you 10% more when you’re playing. If that’s what wins your game, if it’s those little percentages that are what makes a difference? Then be a fan of any club that you can and play at that club, because it’s an amazing experience.”

Wubben-Moy is not the only fan to have risen through the ranks into the first team at Arsenal. She started at centre-back in Sunday’s bruising 3-0 FA Cup final defeat by Chelsea, played after this interview, in place of a fellow Gooner, Leah Williamson, and her teammate Anna Patten has trodden a similar path.

“I think growing up, I wouldn’t have honestly imagined that this would be possible,” says Patten, also a defender. “It is just such an amazing game, and such a great way to show what we’re about on the big stage.”

Arsenal swapped their usual Hertfordshire home of Boreham Wood FC for the club’s main ground for the season’s opening WSL game, giving Wubben-Moy and Patten a taste of what it will be like on Thursday. Patten was an unused substitute and Wubben-Moy got on in the second half of the 3-2 win over Chelsea. Being together in these moments adds meaning.

“It was pretty crazy,” says Patten. “Lotte’s someone with very a similar journey – us being Arsenal fans, having gone through the age groups – and she’s someone I can turn to in these situations. When we were running out for the warm-up it was just like: ‘Wow, this is this is pretty insane, isn’t it?’”

Keeping emotions in check isn’t easy “because it’s so surreal,” says Patten. “This is what you’ve worked for, to be here; it’s just such a great feat. And then to do it in an Arsenal shirt is what you dream of.”

Wubben-Moy says she has to tune it out. “The minute you step on the pitch, it must be some kind of like switch that goes off in me. It just seems to happen naturally now – I can’t explain it. You’ll going to see me against Barça now and I’ll be crying as I walk on,” she adds with a laugh.

The pair are perched on sofas at the Emirates Stadium in full kit. Wubben-Moy’s trainers, white and pale blue, the colours of the University of North Carolina, are a subtle nod to the route both players took, travelling to the US to play college football before rejoining Arsenal.

Patten played for Florida State and the University of South Carolina and says Wubben-Moy “might not want to talk about it” when asked whether they faced one another.

During their time in the US they would travel back to train with Arsenal over Christmas. “I don’t ever think I ever felt apart from the team,” says Patten. “I always followed how they were doing, their progress. Whether I would get to come back was in the back of my mind a little but most of the time I was like: ‘I’m coming home.’”

Wubben-Moy describes Arsenal’s Champions League group opener against Barcelona, which they lost 4-1 in Spain, with both 22-year-olds on the bench, as “a humbling day” but also an invaluable one.

Patten says: “It was one of those games where I was just sitting in awe a little bit, like: ‘Wow, this is a top-quality team.’ Because there’d been a lot of talk and because we’d had such great start to the season I think Barcelona came into that game with a bit of a chip on their shoulder, and they really produced top-quality football.

“As a club, we’re really investing more and it is our goal to win the Champions League. It was possibly a turning point, or a reality check, of: we need to look at what our next steps can be so that we can be competing with arguably the world’s best.”

On matters away from the pitch, Wubben-Moy smiles when asked about being name-checked recently by her clubmates Vivianne Miedema and Lisa Evans, Miedema’s partner who is on loan at West Ham, for having inspired them to join Common Goal, where athletes pledge 1% of their salaries to football charities.

Speaking up is “so important,” she says. “The platforms that we have, as not just footballers but female footballers, is something that we can never take for granted. I question people who don’t use it, but even more so I applaud the people that do because it takes time and it takes energy. But if you give it the time and energy, the amount of people it can touch, the amount of people it can elevate and empower and do good for is invaluable.

“I feel so lucky that I’ve got this platform, because … Actually, you know what, I don’t feel lucky, I feel like everyone has a platform, everyone has a seat at a table somewhere and anyone can have an impact on anyone. If you’re passionate about it and if you genuinely believe in it then that is good enough.”

She pauses and points to a woman working for the club standing nearby and asks her name.

“Romina – she works in Borehamwood,” says Wubben-Moy. “She was just chatting to me about her daughter. She’s going to be chatting to her kids and bringing them to the Barcelona game. That’s an impact right there. It’s like a chain reaction, pushing on more and more. And everyone should feel empowered to have a voice – to have an impact.”

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