Arsenal Ladies keeper still hopeful of progress against Birmingham in Champions League

Borehamwood Times: Arsenal Ladies keeper Emma Byrne remains hopeful of progress Arsenal Ladies keeper Emma Byrne remains hopeful of progress

Arsenal Ladies goalkeeper Emma Byrne is hopeful of progressing to the semi-finals of the Champions League despite a narrow first leg loss to Birmingham.

The Ladies lost 1-0 to the Blues at St Andrews on Monday night but Byrne feels this was partly down to new players not yet having time to gel.

“It was a tough one because it was pretty much our first game together as a team and I think that really showed,” Byrne said.

“The goal just fell to individual mistakes by us and that gives us hope because we know we can play better. I think we're quietly confident going into the next round.”

Arsenal have seen a number of players come and go during the off-season but Byrne believes that the current team can only get better.

“We've been training hard, we're training every day now and we're getting better and better. We certainly didn't play to our own ability [against Birmingham] and it's comforting in a weird way because we know we can do a lot better.”

The Ladies know that an away goal for Birmingham changes the whole complexion of the tie and Byrne stressed the need for defensive solidity as well as scoring goals.

She said: “If Birmingham were to score first we know we'd have to score three or four goals to go through so that would be mountain for us. I think the main thing is keeping a clean sheet first and foremost and then playing to the standard that we know we can play.”

An error over player eligibility in the WSL last season cost Arsenal second place and automatic Champions League qualification. They have to win the competition this season to qualify again next year but Byrne says the team are focusing on one game at a time.

“We’re just taking every game as it comes. I know we have been looking at the other results that are taking place throughout Europe but certainly now we're just focused on Sunday's game. Hopefully we'll be in the Champions League next year but it's at the back of our minds at the minute.”

Birmingham goalkeeper Rebecca Spencer joined the Blues from Arsenal last season and Byrne reserved special praise for her former teammate.

“Rebecca had been here at the club since she was 12 or 13 and I think she's a fantastic keeper and sometimes I don't think Becky gets enough recognition because she'd been pushing me and I've been at the top of my game as well for years.”

Byrne, who equalled Ciara Grant’s record of 105 caps for Ireland this month, faces competition in the form of Siobhan Chamberlain this season, but she has already enjoyed working with the England international.

“We've been in training now for a couple of months and it's been really good. Siobhan's an ultimate professional and it's definitely pushing me and keeping me on my toes and I think we're going to help each other become better goalkeepers.”

Domestically, a number of teams have turned professional since last season. The race for the WSL title is expected to be the closest yet and Byrne is relishing the challenge.

“I think it's gonna be super-competitive,” she said. “This season is going to be even better than last season and I'm really looking forward to it. We're training really hard and we're looking to regain the title this year and the more games go on the better we're going to get so it's looking good.

“We've got confidence and unbelievable talent in the squad; Japanese World Cup players, Dutch players, England internationals. Everyone is improving but so are we. We know what it takes to win the league and we know what we have to do.”

Arsenal Ladies v Birmingham kicks off at The Hive at 2pm on Sunday. Tickets are priced at £5 adults and £2.50 concessions and are available from Arsenal.com or on the day on the gate.

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