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Leah Williamson makes her long-awaited comeback after a 280-day ACL absence.

The Lionesses captain marked her return with an assist in her own half in the final Continental Cup group game that helped Arsenal confirm top spot in Group D as they thrashed Reading 6-0.



The Euro 2022 winning captain sustained her injury in a Women’s Super League match against Manchester United just weeks after defeating Brazil at Wembley to capture the Finalissima. The injury came at a bad time as we were heading into the World Cup held in Australia and New Zealand which saw England lose the final to Spain 1-0.

 

Williamson knew she was on a long road to recovery, but she did have a lot of support during this, especially in the injured camp as Beth Mead, Vivianne Miedema and Laura Wienroither also had the same injury stating, “Special people get you through tough times”. It was shown in a short BBC documentary that to keep her mind off of the negatives of the injury and not being able to do what she loved most, she set herself the challenge of learning the piano in just six weeks and perform the new talent with the BBC Concert Orchestra at the Maida Vale Studios.

 

Coming closer to the end of 2023, everyone knew Leah was close to marking her return to full fitness with Mead and Miedema having returned. Early into January 2024, Arsenal Head Coach Jonas Eidevall provided a positive update that she could return later in the month.

 

The Gunners eagerly awaited the team news posts on social media for their WSL game against Everton on Saturday 20th January at Meadow Park, but unfortunately her name was nowhere on the team sheet, but the disappointment only lasted a few days as they had Reading in the final game of the Conti Cup that Wednesday, that if they won, it would confirm their place as group winners. Before the team news posts were even out, Arsenal began to tease the clubs Vice Captains return with a TikTok video of her shirt being ready in the changing room alongside her teammates and when the team news came out, this all but confirmed the rumour was true as she was named as a substitute.


By half-time in the game the Gunners led 3-0 and looked to have confirmed that top spot and on the hour mark, being 4-0 up by this point Williamson finally completed the return as she came on for Jen Beattie, with Katie McCabe handing her the captains armband.


It only took her 20 minutes to get in amongst the goal contributions as she put on a lovely weighted through ball to Beth Mead from her own half which Mead volleyed into the back of the net. Late on Stina Blackstenius completed her hat-trick and gave Arsenal their sixth and final goal of the game, possibly leaving Eidevall with a good headache to have about his front line.


Arsenal captain Kim Little also returned from injury with a cameo from the bench, making her 300th appearance for the Gunners, so there were a lot of positives that came from the game. Arsenal can only grow stronger from here as they have an away trip to Princes Park as they face London City Lionesses in the quarter finals of the competition.



The Gunners then on Sunday afternoon at Prenton Park played Liverpool in the WSL and walked away with a 2-0 victory as Miedema scored her first goal since December 2022 as well as Caitlin Foord getting on the score sheet. Williamson was again named amongst the substitutes but was unused this time, but the Gooners left Liverpool with all three points anyway, keeping pace with Manchester City and Chelsea in the title race.

 

Although Arsenal are out of the Women’s Champions League, they are still going strong in all three domestic competitions, as they look to retain their Conti Cup titke, although they did receive a tough FA Cup fifth round tie against fellow-WSL title challengers Man City.


They will have the mindset they can defeat them and go all the way to win the competition. Not to forget about the WSL itself, where they are currently sitting in third, level on points with FA Cup opposition Man City and three points behind league leaders Chelsea on level games.

 

With Williamson being injured she is yet to see a packed Emirates Stadium in the WSL, with two attendance records being set in 2023, most recently in December of last year with 59,042 fans attending Arsenal’s WSL game against a strong Chelsea side, but this didn’t stop Arsenal running away with a 4-1 victory with the large support behind them.


They have three WSL games set to be played at the Emirates in their remaining WSL games, against Leicester City, Man United and North London rivals Tottenham Hotspur so she will be hoping to feature in all three and take in the atmosphere, especially that of a North London Derby. They will be hoping to break their attendance record in 2024 before this season is over to push them over the line to win the WSL and with Williamson being back, this will only help the club to try win everything this season.

 

The England captain is effective on and off the pitch as she is very popular amongst the young Gooners. She is seen as a role model as she speaks up about women in football and sports. She has written two books thus far going into detail about being strong and not giving up on your dreams and her long-term recovery is only proof of those books as she has grown to become one of the best defenders in the world through the Arsenal ranks and can only make Arsenal a stronger side than what they already are.



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