Lewis Ambrose·23 January 2022
Lewis Ambrose·23 January 2022
Vivianne Miedema has scored 109 goals in 116 appearances for Arsenal. She has netted a (men’s and women’s) Dutch record 85 international goals in 104 games. But ask her and she wouldn’t call herself a real striker.
“I’d put myself in as a No 10,” she says when asked where she would play if she were player-manager for a day.
“I can see why people think of me as a nine and why I’m playing there but I wouldn’t say I’m stuck there, I like to move around, I’m flexible in that way.
“You obviously have number nines who are in the box and stay there but I like picking up the ball and being creative, if I was signing for another team I’d say ‘I’m not a nine, I’m something else.'”
If she signed for another team?
That’s the big question right now, with Miedema’s contract up at the end of the current season. The forward has never shied away from talking about her future and that expiring contract.
“It’s obviously tough. I’m 25, I know I’ve still got years in me but I want to win the Champions League, I want to win league titles,” she says.
“I’ve always had a good relationship with the club and we’ve been open and honest about these things.
“If I don’t think they can then it’s time to move on and I’d hope the club continue what they’re doing right now because they’re going in the right direction. As long as I am an Arsenal player I’ll do anything for the team.”
There is one team that Miedema definitely wants to play for before he career ends: her beloved Feyenoord. They Dutch club launched a women’s side last year and the idea of playing for the club she supported as a child is no longer just a dream.
“It’s funny, I think when you’re younger you didn’t realise you wouldn’t play with the boys later. I thought I would play for Feyenoord, just with the boys.
“Then you start realising later they’re the only big team in Holland without a women’s team and wonder when they’ll start. It’s great to finally see them in the league, I hope they continue to develop and I do hope one day in my career I can put on a Feyenoord shirt for a season.
“We’ve got a couple of girls at Arsenal who are Arsenal through and through like Lotte [Wubben-Moy], Anna Patten, Leah Williamson [but] as much as you grow close to a club and you love being there, that proper love just won’t be there until you get to the club you supported as a child.
“That’s how I felt when Feyenoord started, I thought maybe I can one day play for my dream club.”
For now Miedema remains fully focused on Arsenal, who remain fully focused on keeping her at the club.
The Gunners have have followed up a busy summer with a busy January, signing three players to date, including Sweden striker Stina Blackstenius. Head coach Jonas Eidevall has insisted Blackstenius isn’t a replacement for Miedema and maybe that deal will see the Dutchwoman move into her preferred role as a No 10.
Miedema the player is a bit of a contradiction in that way. A goal a game striker who doesn’t think of herself as a striker. One of the greatest goalscorers in the sport, yet someone who doesn’t look particularly happy when she scores.
Miedema’s non-celebrations have become a running gag amongst fans as well as within the dressing room but is there at least a big internal celebration when the ball hits the net?
“I don’t think so,” the 25-year-old laughs.
“I’m obviously happy when I’ve scored … [but] it’s just about being a bit respectful to other teams and players, just to focus on myself and not make a big fuss about it.
“Sometimes there are obviously games or situations where you are more emotional or it means more.
“When I became all-time top goalscorer for the national team I did a roll, it wasn’t anything special. I’d been speaking about it with my brother and when it happened I thought ‘OK, now I have to do it’ and I woke up the next morning with a sore back.
“It’s just me, my personality, I like being in the background and not getting all that attention, so I try to go about it as quietly as I can.”
One notable exception came against Chelsea on the opening day of the season. Up against WSL champions Chelsea, Miedema gave Arsenal an early lead in the women’s team’s first league game at the Emirates Stadium. It was obvious she enjoyed that one.
The forward now has 16 goals and assists in games against Chelsea and Manchester City since joining Arsenal in 2017, yet a perceived lack of impact in the biggest games is still used as one of the few sticks to beat her with.
“I think, being at Arsenal for such a long time, we’ve struggled against big teams,” she says. “We’ve had some great results as well but those games are tough and when you end up on the losing team, for me as a striker I felt isolated sometimes and it’s hard to then make a difference.
“People can say what they want but when you look at the stats, that proves them wrong anyway. I’ve played in a lot of big games and I’ve scored in almost every final I’ve played, so I don’t think there’s much more I can do to shut them up.”
After a blistering start to the new season, Arsenal have, however, struggled in those big games again.
They lost twice to Barcelona in the Champions League group stage, lost 3-0 to Chelsea in the FA Cup final, and have been knocked out of the Continental Cup by Manchester United.
“At the beginning of the season we did really well,” Miedema explains.
“With Jonas coming in he’s got a very different style of play, which we obviously had to get used to for a bit. It’s very intense, very physical. Even for me as a nine, under Joe [Montemurro] we had a lot of the ball and I could drop in and be creative.
“Jonas prefers to break on the counter, which I love as well, but you can see all of us need time to adjust and get used to it.”
A packed fixture list hasn’t helped. Miedema has played 66 times for club and country since the start of the 2020/21 season, including the Olympics in Japan, and that has taken a toll both physically and mentally.
Before this season, under Montemurro, she completed the 90 minutes in 47 of her 55 WSL starts. This season she has stayed on the pitch for every minute in just three of her nine league starts.
“It’s not anything to do with how we play but coming back from the Olympics, there was no time off before it [and] only three days after it.
“Arsenal have been trying to manage the players who went to the Olympics in the summer, which led to me having a break in October. That’s the main reason, it’s not anything to do with how we play.
“From a mental perspective it’s all been extremely complicated and made more difficult with COVID. Obviously on the away trips, you can’t really be with your team-mates in the hotel, you have to isolate.
“It takes the fun away. On a Champions League trip you want to be together, you want to prepare for the game together and that’s all been taken away by the rules, which is tough.”
Miedema wasn’t the only Arsenal player in Japan over the summer and new team-mates Tobin Heath, Nikita Parris and Mana Iwabuchi have all had limited impacts early in their Arsenal careers having featured during the summer Games.
“It’s a case of getting used to a new league, or for some of the girls coming back to the league. They’ve played in the Olympics as well and we’ve not really had the opportunity to play a first 11 because injuries have hit us and we’ve had COVID cases like any other team.
“It’s a matter of trying to find that balance between time on the pitch to get to know each other but also not doing too much because you’ll end up with injuries. I hope those things will start clicking in the coming weeks.”
Constant interruptions don’t help and another is ongoing now, with Australians Steph Catley and Caitlin Foord, and Japan’s Iwabuchi, all at the Asia Cup. Those absences harm the entire team but Miedema especially after she struck up a superb relationship with Foord last season and already had one with Iwabuchi from their time together at Bayern Munich.
“I really like playing with Caitlin,” she explains.
“She made me better and I think I made her better, I’ve missed having her around and obviously now she’ll be off to the Asia Cup for a bit. It’s about finding new connections. We obviously had a couple of girls who were off to a flying start and hopefully we can get back to that confidence.
“Mana is one of my best football mates so we’ve always had contact, even after she left Munich. She’s been over to London a couple of times before to come and see us. It’s really nice to have her on the pitch but also just to have her around again.”
When Miedema isn’t on the pitch she’s, well, watching football off of it.
“Normally when I’m watching a game I will look at what the nine is doing, or watching it in a tactical way, the systems they’re playing,” she explains.
Last summer saw Miedema share her interest in studying the game with an article discussing the leading strikers at the men’s European Championships. This summer all eyes will be on her as the Netherlands look to defend their crown as reigning European champions under new boss Mark Parsons.
So how does Miedema rate the Netherlands’ chances of retaining their title under Parsons?
“We’re excited now that he’s starting full time. Sarina [Wiegman] was there a long time, we’ve mixed the team up a bit now after the Olympics – that was needed – but it takes time.
“It’s maybe not as easy as it used to be but that’s where we are now and we need to work through that. It’s not realistic to say we’re the favourites to defend the title, that’s not the case.”
So if the Netherlands aren’t favourites, what does Miedema think England can achieve with her former boss Sarina Wiegman now leading the Lionesses?
“I hope absolutely nothing!” she tells us. We’d expect nothing different.
“Obviously, for England, Sarina has that experience and that will help them. Sarina’s a really good coach and they can have a very successful Euros but that brings pressure too. For me the top favourites are Spain, so it’s going to be a really interesting summer.”