Arsenal’s manager Joe Montemurro had said that “a moment, a mistake, a situation or a flash of brilliance” would decide this quarter-final and in the end all of those things did. With fifteen minutes to go, a moment’s hesitation under pressure from Kadidiatou Diani, saw Arsenal lose the ball, Paris Saint Germain rob possession high and the superb Marie-Antoinette Katoto provide the perfect pass. And there, in the blink of an eye, was Signe Bruun to score the goal that takes the French side through to the semi-final.
Bruun, who had missed a year with injury, had only been on the pitch for three minutes and now she had won it from inside the six-yard box.
A single goal has been enough and yet as Arsenal gathered in a circle at full-time, their Champions League campaign at an end and their players exhausted, there could be no complaints, just pride.
They may also reflect on the impact of all that time inactive, on the difference in fitness. Defeated 2-1, they had come back from an early goal and competed to the end but, six months since their last game, ultimately PSG were just that bit too good. “PSG’s match-time probably gives them a bit of an edge, but we’ve had a few pre-season friendlies,” Beth Mead said.
It had already been Bruun’s second chance, after all. And when it came, it was no real surprise. When they first scored an hour earlier it hadn’t been a surprise either, Katoto alert and moving too fast for Leah Williamson. Reaching a corner first, facing slightly backwards, she reached the corner and wrapped her foot around the ball to send a controlled side-footed volley beyond Manuela Zinsberger for her fifth in three Champions League games. Although it was only the fifteenth minute, it had been building.
Montemurro had warned about PSG’s fluid front three and his side were struggling to get a grip of them – even if it would take a substitute to finally break through. There were neat touches too from Nadia Nadim but this was driven most by Diani and Katoto dashing in from either side, with Ramona Bachmann drifting between them. A perfect illustration came when they combined for Diani to drag a shot just wide of the far post.
It had looked like PSG were comfortable at that point but by then Arsenal had worked their way into the game, reacting well to trailing and soon drawing level. Kim Little’s clever angled pass found Mead who dropped a shoulder, shifted inside and bent a left-footed shot into the far corner for a deserved equaliser.
Arsenal almost led too, a determined run from deep carrying Little to the edge of the area where she found the competition’s top scorer Vivianne Miedema. Her shot, for once not cleanly struck, faded away.
If Arsenal had taken a step forward then, in the second half it was PSG who did so, and this time it was definitive. Nadim controlled neatly on the chest only to slice over, a moment later Sara Däbritz swiped at a shot and then Diani couldn’t bend the ball enough with a good sight of goal.
The pressure was building, the game unfolding deep in the Arsenal half, opportunities to escape and breathe increasingly rare. Diani, constantly running at Katie McCabe, should have put PSG into the lead only to shoot straight at Zinsberger after gorgeous work from Katoto, whose footwork and subtle pass deserved a better finish.
On came Bruun, who immediately snatched at a great chance. Given a second go moments later, she didn’t waste it. Diani’s pressure on McCabe and Katoto’s clarity made it an open invitation for the Norwegian.
A third didn’t follow – Katoto had a shot pushed away and Däbritz’s effort flashed wide – but Arsenal seemed to be hanging on. Tired now, they lifted themselves for a last push but there was no way through. It is Paris who progress.