Kim Little on adapting at Arsenal Women and beyond, plus the Women’s FA Cup final

Sunday marks a huge moment for women’s football. Two of England’s best sides – Arsenal Women and Chelsea Women – go head to head for the 2020/21 FA Cup. For Arsenal captain Kim Little, she will lead out her side at the iconic Wembley Stadium.

“It’s an honour to captain the club and the girls. We’ve got such a great team here so I’m looking forward to that, and the game being at Wembley,” she exclusively told Sky Sports’ Charlotte Marsh.

“It’s such a great pitch and environment and atmosphere. It’ll be one to savour, they don’t come around too often during the seasons, so I’m definitely going to be as present as possible and enjoy the moment.”

Ahead of this weekend’s cup final against their London rivals, Arsenal and adidas teamed up to create Paint It Red Ltd. Lead by Little, the service will be delivering ‘Arsenal Red’ paint to fans to celebrate Arsenal Women’s historic success and provide Arsenal fans with the tools to paint London red in the build up to the final.

Sunday’s game comes with its own quirks too. The two sides will compete for last season’s trophy after later rounds were postponed due to Covid-19 restrictions, spilling over into the current campaign. But ever the calm and composed captain, Little is not fazed by the unusual timings.

“I’m so excited for it. It’s a little unusual having an FA Cup final in December, [it is] in May normally, but it’s nice to have a game of that magnitude at this time of the year,” she said.

“Being at Wembley and I think there’s about 40,000 tickets that have been sold, which is incredible. It shows where the game is at now, the interest in it and the entertainment we’re producing on the pitch as teams and a league. It’s really exciting to be part of that generally so I’m really looking forward to that on Sunday.

“We know Chelsea are a great team and they’ve been so consistent for several years now at the top of their game as well. It’s going to be an exciting game, we’ve played once already this season at the start of the WSL and we came out on top.

“It was a great game too, I think a lot of people watched the game and thought it was a great spectacle to watch and really entertaining. I’m sure that will be the same on Sunday and it’ll be two great teams playing at the top of their game.”

It’s not over exaggeration to say that either. Arsenal and Chelsea occupy the top two spots of the Women’s Super League, with the domestically unbeaten Gunners just ahead by a point.

But there have been surprise packages. Arsenal were held to a 1-1 draw by north London rivals Tottenham a few weeks ago, with the WSL becoming increasingly competitive, as well as entertaining.

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Highlights of the Women’s Super League match between Tottenham and Arsenal

Little reflected: “It does feel like teams are competing more consistently and it’s harder, even for the top teams like us, Chelsea and others. It really feels like you have to be on your game at the highest level every week and you have to minimise your opponents’ strengths.

“That’s credit to clubs like Brighton and Tottenham, who have really worked on improving their club set-up and infrastructure, then bringing in good players.

“You can really see how they’ve done that progressively and got better and better and are able to compete more than they have done before. That makes for a really competitive league.

“Even as an individual, I need to go into every game and I need to make sure I’m doing as best I can and playing at the top level to make sure we get the outcome that we want.”

Adaptation at Arsenal

Little is currently in her second stint at Arsenal – first playing for the club between 2008 and 2013, winning three FA Cups in the process – and is shining on the pitch this season as part of a talented midfield three

Her attacking stats are impressive too. Little has scored six WSL goals this season, doing so from 10 shots with an impressive conversion rate of 60 per cent and a shot accuracy of 90 per cent.

However, it has not always been plain sailing. A string of injuries on her return in 2017 saw the midfielder facing extensive rehabilitation periods for the first time in her career, a fact that took some getting used to.

“When I first came back to the club from America, I picked up quite serious injuries,” she explained. “I was out for 10 months with an ACL, got back to form then broke my leg and then had a stress fracture in my foot.

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Highlights of the Women’s Super League clash between Manchester United and Arsenal

“I hadn’t really been injured for any length of time before that so it was quite a change in that sense, just being away from playing the game. It definitely makes you more open minded and see things from a different perspective.

“Now coming back, the best thing is being fit and being able to play all the time, and you’re definitely much more appreciative of that when you’ve missed it for so long. Football is all about momentum, individually and as a team, and when you accumulate a lot of games over a period of time, that’s what builds performance and how you’re able to do it week in week out.”

There was adaptation in the summer too. Jonas Eidevall replaced Joe Montemurro as manager, and although following an established figure does not always go smoothly, the Swede had little time to worry with key Champions League qualifiers early on.

Kim Little x adidas
Kim Little will lead Arsenal Women out at Wembley on Sunday, having adapted to new circumstances over the last few years

Little reflected: “Straight after the summer and the Olympics, we had a lot of players away but slightly different to most other teams, we came straight back into it because of the Champions League qualifiers.

“So we were able to find momentum and performance quite early on in the season. We started really well, especially in the WSL, and then going into the Champions League and FA Cup games. Then naturally with that, because there are so many games, we’ve not performed as well as we would have liked, comparing that to the August, September, October time. But we’re still playing at a really high level, being consistent and robust and not dropping points at all.

“Sometimes you can put too much thought into things and overthink things, whereas we had very little time to prepare as a team collectively with everyone there. You had to take in everything as quickly as possible and try to implement it in the best way, adapting to new people and a new environment.

“As humans, we’re just generally really adaptable people. You can see that through the pandemic, with the way people dealt with that and adapted to those circumstances.

“Having such a big change, a quick turnaround from the Olympics into the season and players being in different places, it’s credit to the players and the staff to be able to come together with little time and still be at a level where we can compete for the highest accolades.

“Naturally, when you have a big change within a club, especially a manager, there’s pretty big influences and changes just in processes and then also in how we train and play. Jonas has had a big impact and brought a slightly different style to what we had the year before with Joe.

“It’s been great working with a new manager because it’s a new challenge. You have to work with someone different and get used to how they process and how they want things done. From what we’ve been used to at the club under Joe, there were slightly different expectations and tactical information.

“But I think myself and the team have adapted to that really well, taking it on board and really implemented that into our games. I think you can see that with the results we’ve had.”

Retiring from Scotland duty

kim little
Kim Little retired from international duty with Scotland in September

Another change for Little recently has seen her retire from international duty with Scotland. Incredibly, she made her debut aged 16, going to win 140 caps over 14 years.

“It was hard, but it was decided over a long period of time so it felt quite smooth when it happened in September,” Little reflected.

“It was something I’d thought about quite deeply and it just felt like the right time to step away to shift my routine and how I was doing things. It gives me a bit more time to do other things during the international breaks, train and manage myself, so I think it was the right decision.

“With Scotland, we qualified for the 2019 World Cup, which was a highlight. Although it ended disappointingly, it was great to show the progress of the game and to achieve that. There were so many great moments, playing with great players over the years and I have some great friendships from that which I’m incredibly grateful for.

“Also representing Team GB at both Olympics was such an incredible honour and a great experience to be a part of.”

For more information on how to get involved on the Paint it Red service, go to @adidaslondon on Instagram or @adidasUK on Twitter.

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