65 minutes: Foord wins a free kick from 20 yards after a fight for the ball. Beth Mead takes it, but kicks her effort over the bar.
63 minutes: Miedema plays the ball back to Williamson, moving up from the central defender. With no one closing her in, the England captain moves forward and fires a 30-yarder just wide!
61 minutes: Arsenal will be keen to take more than a one-goal pillow into the second leg, especially with Ajax not playing in their league this week. A first substitution for the visitors here, Isabelle Hoekstra replaces Weerden on the wing.
Two quick goals at Ibrox, where Ana Vitoria scored her second goal to put Benfica ahead – only for McCoy moments later to equalize with her second of the game. To be Rangers 2-2 Benfica.
60 minutes: Ajax comes forward, but with Leuchter down and unsuccessfully appealing for a foul, Grant has little choice but to make an ambitious effort that goes wide.
58 minutes: It is Caitlin Foord’s turn to replace Hurtig. Mead needed minor treatment for a possible head injury after that violation, but for now she is continuing.
The captain waits for Kop to move and then strikes the ball into the other corner. Cool as you like!
Punishment for Arsenal! The pressure shows that Soraya Verhoeve was punished for an inappropriate push on Beth Mead. She’s booked and Kim Little will take the spot kick…
54 minutes: It feels like almost every Arsenal player in this second half has already come close. Blackstenius certainly seems to score as she shoots out of defense, but Kop pushes the ball away as the striker tries to go around her.
53 minutes: Hurtig is well guided by Chasity Grant, back on her own byline. Rafaelle’s shot hits the post from the corner!
51 minutes: Maritz shoots from the corner of the area, Kop claws it away. Arsenal hit target here…
50 minutes: Arsenal have started the second half with more intensity, looking for a youthful Ajax back line that has held up very well so far. This time Hurtig’s deficit is cleared, and Rafaelle heads wide from the corner.
49 minutes: Miedema cuts in from the left, dances around a defender and curls her shot just wide of the far corner. Moments later Blackstenius tests Kop with a little effort from distance.
47 minutes: No changes for either team at half time but Arsenal are off to a fast start. Steph Catley strains into the area and her shot comes off the outside of the post!
“Arsenal needs a bit of spice in midfield – Maanum for Walti?” Charles Antaki ponders. “This would never have happened when Jill played Roord… the old days already.”
The second half is in full swing.
Benfica is right at Ibrox – it is 1-1 there at half time. Two past playoffs results to bring to you: Juventus had to settle for a 1-1 draw against To cook in Denmark, while Lea Schuller got the only goal as Bayern Munich won 1-0 at Real society.
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A very even and entertaining half, with Arsenal below their best and the visitors in for a lot of trouble.
44 minutes: More defensive uncertainty for Arsenal at the end of the half, with Leuchter coming in front of Rafaelle and Zinsberger forcing a fine save on her nearest post! Catley acrobatically clears the rebound and when the ball enters the area again, Leuchter is offside.
42 minutes: Blackstenius seemed a bit isolated at times in the first half, but Mead, Miedema and Hurtig – all capable strikers – are starting to offer more support. Miedema gets a target here, but misses her shot.
40 minutes: Beth Mead almost jumps a through ball that catches Ajax’s back line, but Kop is quick from her line to clear.
37 minutes: Kim Little races the ball to the right, but her cut is intercepted. Ajax clears the corner and breaks, but a cross from Weerden from the right is easily claimed by Zinsberger.
35 minutes: Arsenal are trying to maintain possession higher up the pitch and slow the pace a bit after that end-to-end first half hour.
A big target update from elsewhere: rangers lead Benfica 1-0 through Kayla McCoy at Ibrox. That match also started at 7.30pm BST.
30 minutes: It was a lively first half, with Ajax posing a lot of threat, but Arsenal showing they have an extra gear or two when needed.
27 minutes: Leah Williamson has strong words with her defensive colleagues, but moments later they run into trouble again. Leuchter clings to a through ball, but fires her shot straight at the keeper. Arsenal with some defensive problems to solve, here.
26 minutes: Ajax threatens again, with Van der Most’s dangerous pass fizzing past two attackers in the penalty area…
25 minutes: Vivianne Miedema, who has been used in a deeper role by Eidevall in recent months, closes Kop’s passage and the deflection loops just wide.
She won’t miss this time! The striker reacts fastest after Rafaelle’s header came back from a corner on the crossbar.
20 minutes: A chance for the hosts to hit back as Hurtig is knocked down on the edge of the area. Beth Mead goes for goal, Kop spills the ball – but Blackstenius can’t catch the rebound inside the post.
Arsenal give the ball away cheaply from a throw-in and Ajax advance. As defenders pull back from Nadine Noordam, she pinpoints the ball to Chasity Grant, whose low cross is knocked home by Romée Leuchter!
The visitors have had the better openings so far and now lead after a great team goal!
15 minutes: Sherida Spitse has a long shot that is hit well, but is held comfortably by Zinsberger.
14 minutes: Maritz finds space again to the right and her byline cross almost finds Hurtig, lurking at the far post.
“Van Gool on the Ajax bench is a wonderful example of nominative determinism in football”, notes Peter Oh. I also feel that keeper Kop is destined to go to Liverpool one day.
10 minutes: Arsenal have not yet put any real pressure on the visitors, who were lively and well organised. Maritz hooks in a cross from deep right, but Lize Kop is too far to claim it.
Apologies for the somewhat slow start there – seems like the only way to watch this match live (in the UK anyway) is via the Arsenal website, on a stream that took a minute or two to get into gear click.
4 minutes: An early chance for the visitors here, however, as Weerden wins the ball on the edge of the Arsenal area and finds Pelova, whose shot is parried by Zinsberger.
3 minutes: Arsenal, in their traditional red and white, moves the ball around in midfield, while Ajax, decked out in all-navy, presses on purpose.
We’re on our way to Meadow Park.
Something to bookmark later: Weekly women’s football returns, with a full rundown of the opening round of WSL matches and more.
Just three changes from Arsenal’s WSL win over Brighton, replacing both fullbacks – Noëlle Maritz replacing Laura Wienrother, Steph Catley for Katie McCabe. Lina Hurtig, who signed with Juventus this summer, will make her first start in the place of Caitlin Foord.
Unlike Arsenal’s multinational setup, Ajax’s selection consists only of Dutch players. Emerging stars Victoria Pelova and Romée Leuchter could cause trouble for the hosts, while the captain, Sherida Spitse, is also the skipper of her national team.
Arsenal (4-2-3-1): Zinsberger; Maritz, Williamson, Rafaelle, Catley; Walti, Little (c); Mede, Miedema, Hurtig; blackstenius.
Subs: Marckese, Wubben-Moy, Beattie, Nobbs, Maanum, McCabe, Foord, Wienroither, Agyemany, Earl, Reid.
Ajax (4-3-3): cup; Van der Most, Cardinal, Doorn, Verhoeve; Noordam, Spitse (c), Pelova; Grant, Leuchter, Weerden.
Subs: Bussman, Van der Wal, Munsterman, Tromp, Kruize, Keijzer, Hoekstra, Bakker, Van Gool, Sabajo.
After their routine WSL win over Brighton looked much less routine due to subsequent missteps by Manchester City and Chelsea, Arsenal have a chance to maintain their strong start to the season by claiming a place in the Champions League group stage.
By finishing second behind Chelsea in the league last season, Jonas Eidevall’s side have avoided the tricky round of mini-knockouts that lived up to Manchester City’s hopes. Instead, they start in the final qualifying round, a two-legged play-off with Dutch runners-up, Ajax, beating Eintracht Frankfurt to get here.
An emerging rather than established European force in the women’s game, Ajax’s biggest streak in this tournament came in 2018-19, when they lost 13-0 to Lyon in the last 16. Arsenal will be very hot favorites to continue but cannot afford to underestimate a side with plenty of young attacking talent.
With the North London derby at the Emirates on Saturday, a return leg in Amsterdam next week and new signings to sleep in, Eidevall has some tough roster talks to keep his team fresh and avoid a dreaded early European exit. Kick-off is at 7:30 PM.