Beth Mead has absolutely loved a big stadium this season.
The Arsenal forward bagged a brace to down WSL champions Chelsea at the Emirates on the opening day of the campaign, before stepping off the bench at Wembley and netting a 14-minute hat-trick as England beat Northern Ireland 4-0 in October.
“I love the occasion, the atmosphere; as a footballer they’re the games you want to play in, in front of big crowds,” Mead told 90min. “I think this season I’ve taken those moments pretty well considering.
“This is what we want in the women’s game and if we can put on those performances it’s only going to attract more people and that’s what we want.”
Although the Emirates is a far cry from Arsenal’s intimate Borehamwood ground, where the chants of super fan Maria carry to the pitch – “If someone says they can’t hear her, they’re lying!” – Mead says it already feels like home.
The Gunners are back at the Emirates for a double-header in March, welcoming Wolfsburg in the Champions League quarter-finals, before facing rivals Tottenham three days later.
It’s fond memories again for Mead when it comes to north London derbies on the biggest stage. The 26-year-old played 85 minutes at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium in 2019 as Arsenal ran out 2-0 winners over Spurs in front of a record WSL crowd of 38,262.
“I think that’s the first time the derby really felt like it had the environment, the atmosphere, the feel of a derby. I remember taking corners and the fans were booing me which just really gives that football feel. Hopefully we can get that when they come to the Emirates and they’re being booed on corners.”
Does she enjoy the booing?
“I actually do like it, I feel that’s part of football and what I’ve grown up seeing. We’ll probably get energy from our fans and they will from theirs so I quite like that.”
The clash with Tottenham is a crucial one for both sides, with Spurs in the hunt for Champions League football and Arsenal grappling with Chelsea for the WSL title.
Key to Arsenal’s title charge has been their performances against the WSL’s elite. During the 2020/21 campaign, the Gunners took one point from a possible 12 against Chelsea and Manchester City. Under new boss Jonas Eidevall, Arsenal have gone unbeaten in the league against their traditional title rivals, taking eight points from four fixtures.
“I think we’ve believed in ourselves as a team, we’ve believed in the system and the tactics we’re playing and I think everyone’s stepped up a level this season,” Mead said. “We’ve been enjoying playing the games against the big teams and felt more comfortable in those games, whereas last season we maybe fell short or let the occasion get to us.
“I’ve really enjoyed playing under Jonas, I think his style of play suits me as a forward. The girls have reacted really well to how he wants us to play and we believe he’s building something very special here.”
It’s been a strong season for Mead on a personal level too. The winger was voted the PFA Vertu Motors Fans’ Player of the Month for November, drew level with Karen Carney as the WSL’s all-time top assist-maker and netted her 50th Arsenal goal during the Gunners’ victory over Birmingham in March.
The England international is also closing in on half a century of goals in the WSL – another brace at the Emirates would see her hit that milestone.
“Oh yeah that’d be perfect – I’d take that,” she said.
90min is the home of the PFA Vertu Motors Fans’ Player of the Month. Check out the nominees and winners in England’s top four leagues and the WSL here.
The North London Derby at Emirates Stadium, between Arsenal and Tottenham Hotspur takes place on Saturday 26th March, at 2.15pm. To purchase tickets, click here.