Lotte Wubben-Moy strikes late to rescue draw for Arsenal against Wolfsburg

The smile said it all. Lifelong Arsenal fan Lotte Wubben-Moy’s equaliser late on salvaged a 1-1 draw against Wolfsburg in the first leg of their Champions League quarter-final and she beamed widely. Tabea Wassmuth had given the visitors a first-half lead but Wubben-Moy’s strike, in her first start at the Emirates, ensured Arsenal travel to Germany next week with the tie level.

“The final thing I said to her before kick-off when we looked at each other was: ‘We’ve come a long way from Hertfordshire Uni and the fields at the back of that,” said her centre-back partner and fellow Arsenal fan Leah Williamson. “You can see what it means in her celebration. I love when she celebrates. That’s what you want to see as a fan of a team, somebody where it means that much to them. I’m buzzing for her.”

Before Wubben-Moy’s late leveller, the gulf between England’s elite and European royalty had been in evidence again here. Despite seeing far more of the ball than against Barcelona in December at this ground, Arsenal were made to work as hard as they work teams in the Women’s Super League week in, week out.

Wolfsburg, having competed in five of the last nine finals, winning twice in 2013 and 2014, understand what it means to progress in the Champions League. Under the floodlights at the Emirates, it was the home team – the only English side to have won a women’s European Cup but were absent from the competition from 2015 to 2018-19 – that began brightly. In the opening minute, England forward Beth Mead dragged her shot wide after she was slipped through on the left by Stina Blackstenius.

Arsenal were dominant in possession, playing with a fluidity and confidence that had been missing from their two group stage encounters with the seemingly unstoppable Barcelona and against Hoffenheim on the road. Yet Wolfsburg were decidedly untroubled by their lack of the ball. In fact, it suited their counter-attacking game; while Arsenal worked hard to play their own way, Wolfsburg waited for their moment to pounce.

The Arsenal midfielder Lia Wälti had warned before the game that underestimating Wolfsburg would be a big mistake. The possession stats at half-time told one story, with Arsenal controlling 58% of the game, but the shots on target revealed the other side. Beth Mead cutting inside before firing straight at goalkeeper Almuth Schult was Arsenal’s sole effort on target in six attempts.

Wolfsburg, meanwhile, finished the half with three attempts, each on target, and one yielding the goal that gave them the edge. In the 19th minute, right-back Joelle Wedemeyer knocked the ball back into the middle of the six-yard box and Wassmuth squeezed past Mead to head under the falling Manuela Zinsberger.

The second half began in a similar vein, with Arsenal pulling the strings and Wolfsburg apparently happy to let them. There was a brief moment of celebration for the fans in attendance as Wälti pinged a ball through to Blackstenius from deep and the Swede rounded Schult neatly before firing into the empty net, but the flag was quickly whipped up for offside.

Wolfsburg continued to carve open the Arsenal backline. First, the goalscorer Wassmuth, who scored four times against Chelsea in the group stages, crashed her strike off the inside of the post and the ball bounced clear. Within seconds Lena Lattwein found Svenja Huth, but the forward could only turn it against the other post and Arsenal were able to scramble it away.

Jonas Eidevall turned to his bench in search of an equaliser, bringing on US World Cup winner Tobin Heath, midfielder Frida Maanum and England’s Nikita Parris. But it would be 23-year-old centre-back Wubben-Moy that would pull them back into the tie, collecting Heath’s weak free-kick before hammering home from close range.

“I genuinely think being a fan of the team you play for gives you 10% more when you’re playing,” Wubben-Moy told the Guardian in December. “If that’s what wins you a game, it’s those little percentages that make a difference. Then be a fan of any club that you can and play at that club, because it’s an amazing experience.”

Williamson agrees: “I struggled for a while because sometimes you can be so emotionally invested, but once you get that balance and when you need to fight, I think everyone else on your team knows you’re going to fight, because you care. So I’d agree with her.”

Can they get the required result in Germany? “I don’t believe anything else,” Eidevall said. “I know it will be very different to what it was today. I’ve been many times away in Germany with teams in Sweden. I know it will be a different game, in front of a different crowd, with a different kind of intensity. But if you ask me, I believe 100% that we will win; I will always believe that.”

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