Jonas Eidevall: “This club teaches you a lot about behaviours, how you have to carry yourself when you are representing this club in good and in bad times”; Watch Liverpool Women vs Arsenal Women live on Sky Sports Premier League from 4pm on Sunday, kick-off 4.30pm
By Ron Walker, Digital Football Journalist @Ronnabe
Jonas Eidevall is not a man for regrets. He could’ve had a few, though perhaps not too many, during his first 99 games as Arsenal Women manager – not least an opening-day league defeat to Liverpool he will look to avenge as he brings up his century this Sunday, live on Sky Sports.
It’s a consistent approach. Would he go back and give himself any advice the first time he walked through the doors at London Colney in June 2021? No chance, he insists. The 40-year-old prides himself on looking forward, not reaching into the past.
But Eidevall, speaking to Sky Sports from the training ground which now feels so much like home, does have time for a moment of reflection on how Arsenal has changed him – as much as he has changed them – in the two-and-a-half years since he arrived in north London.
Then, he was an up-and-coming young coach from Sweden, well regarded within the game but an unknown quantity out of it. That changed quickly with the feathers his wild celebrations ruffled in his very first league game, when Arsenal beat back-to-back WSL champions Chelsea at the Emirates.
The fans, largely, loved it. But if there were one regret, it may be that. His influence has come mainly on the pitch – improving the playing style was one of the biggest goals set on his appointment – but the club’s impact on him has been very much off it.
“Working here, with players and staff, they teach me a lot,” he says. “To live in this club teaches you a lot as well. It teaches you a lot about behaviours, how you have to carry yourself when you are representing this club in good and in bad times, and that is something I will be forever grateful for.
“I’m very much a person who can’t carry my emotions on the outside, I’m a passionate person, I care a lot about football. At that moment, I followed my instincts – it was a special moment with everything that happens when you’re relocating.
“Would I have done the same thing today? No, I don’t think so. That’s the same thing I mean about the environment, hopefully I give a lot of my passion and knowledge to this environment but it teaches me a lot of things as well.”
There are plenty of historical candidates for laying those foundations to create the most successful women’s team in English football. Current England captain Leah Williamson, who set foot on the pitch for the first time in nine months in the Continental Cup this week, is unquestionably among them.
Having the 26-year-old back on the pitch will help to plug the holes in a defence which is on course to concede over a third more goals than it did last season on current trajectory. Team-mate Amanda Ilestedt has hinted concentration is to blame, and Williamson’s organisational influence has clearly been a costly loss.
Eidevall has ensured she remains as important as ever outside the white lines. He leans on her understanding of the Arsenal philosophy more than many managers would – and has kept her at the heart of the dressing room, regardless of whether her shirt has been in it or not.
“Leah is, for me, such an important part of shaping [our environment],” he says. “This is her club, she has lived with this club and this passion for Arsenal across so many years and will probably do this for the rest of her life, as well.
“She will always have opinions, and she should, on how it is developed, and how we represent Arsenal. She is such a fundamental part of what we’re trying to achieve from a cultural perspective.
“We couldn’t have brought in a direct replacement for Leah Williamson, because there isn’t one. She’s unique in her combination of attributes in the women’s game. Any team who loses her would miss her, because you can’t replace her.”
Eidevall will be especially relieved to have his vice-captain back in the fold given Arsenal have been slow to come out of hibernation after the winter break in recent years.
Before this season, they had picked up only one win from eight games in January and February since he took over, and they had to make sure they doubled that tally against Everton last weekend to stay three points behind leaders Chelsea.
Those lost months are not news to Eidevall, who still firmly believes a shock defeat to bottom side Birmingham in January of his debut season cost him his first league title.
That helped persuade the club hierarchy to invest in a UK training camp last winter, though it did little to help. This year they have gone one further, sanctioning a longer stay in Portugal at the start of January.
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Everton paid the price for that increased intensity, with some tactical tweaks in midfield both evident and broadly effective and the impact of new arrival Emily Fox at right-back just as positive.
They will need to keep it up, to finally marry up the culture Eidevall has inherited with the results a club of this size demands to continue adding to that swelling trophy cabinet.
“We are a far better dynamic and fluid side than if you were to compare us to a season ago,” he says. “It is something we worked on over the winter break, but I’d say it’s also been a big focus for us over the last 12 months, ever since the last winter break.
“The way we have played our midfield three is the thing we’ve changed the most in the time I’ve been here, lately we’ve played a lot with two sixes and a 10, but the way those players have been able to rotate and fill spaces, we’ve improved massively on.
“Now we have Emily too, and she can do all the four parts of the game we want from a full-back in our team. She can be a wide-deep player, a wide-high player, she can work in the inside channel as well both as a low and high player.
“We can have a lot of fluidity down that flank where she plays now, because she can adapt and take the positions that are needed.
“The performance we had at the Emirates against Chelsea last month, winning 4-1, showcased how far we have come in two-and-a-half seasons. Now it’s up to us to say we do have that potential, and I truly believe we can beat any team.
“To transfer that into trophies, we have to do that consistently. That’s the really hard part, to do in football, but we need to do it better than anyone else.”
That opening-day defeat to Liverpool was a shock early set-back to Arsenal’s WSL hopes, one they have had to rebuild from with results like the impressive hammering of Chelsea as well as victory over second-placed Man City.
Regret may not be a word in Eidevall’s vocabulary, but exorcising the demons from last October would surely be sweet – not least to overcome those January blues, and bring that WSL title dream a little bit closer.
Watch Liverpool Women vs Arsenal Women live on Sky Sports Premier League from 4pm on Sunday, kick-off 4.30pm.