Australian goalkeeper Lydia Williams is confident the Matildas can win a medal at the Tokyo Olympics, but first she has her eyes on securing a Women's Champions League spot for Arsenal.
With only a handful of games left in the Women’s Super League, the Gunners, coached by Aussie Joe Montemurro, sit in fourth place with 35 points, 12 behind league leaders in Sam Kerr’s Chelsea.
Arsenal and Manchester United, in third place with 38 points, are battling it out for the third and final spot in Europe next season.
Williams, who signed for the Gunners in July, has endured a rollercoaster debut campaign in the UK but knows her London club will give it everything over the next few weeks.
“It’s going to be a hard one, but that’s why you play the game,” Williams told The World Game.
“It’s a little bit different as well, in America and Australia you have finals, but here no - it’s the league. So you have to have a really good, consistent season throughout the entire season.
“So with us, we’ve had a few injury plagues throughout but we’ve had a pretty big squad depth so it actually hasn’t affected us that much. It’s going to be neck and neck for that final Champions League spot.”
The goalkeeper joined Arsenal last year from Melbourne City but injured her ankle in pre-season, which required surgery and kept her sidelined until November.
Dealing with injury and the restrictions in England around COVID-19 have made life testing for the 32-year-old.
“I guess you go into it thinking you’re ready for it, but with COVID and being injured and having to get surgery, it was kind of thrown at me all at once that the season wasn’t going to be as normal as you’d hope or thought with previous experiences,” she said.
“So it’s actually been a really good learning experience to go in one day at a time and it’s an adjustment to the world, and also recovery and that kind of thing. But it’s been good so far.
“It’s definitely something that I wasn’t really foreseeing how it was going to turn out, but it’s definitely been a good experience over there, playing with and against some of the best players in the world.
"It’s an up-and-coming league, in terms of the investment and the teams and the quality of players, so it’s definitely where you want to be in that development.
“I’m fully fit now, obviously we’re looked after quite well. I’m feeling fit coming into what is going to be a really exciting time with the Olympics and everything like that.
“The club’s been really supportive, it’s been really cool to be part of the team. Obviously it’s not the same with COVID, there’s a lot of restrictions, but just to see the facilities that Arsenal have – it is a world-class facility.”
Williams has had a long career in both the W-League and in America, along with a season in Sweden.
She has won a championship and two premierships with Canberra United, has twice been named the PFA Women’s Footballer of the Year and three times received the W-League Goalkeeper of the Year award.
The Matildas veteran is enjoying the challenge of English football and rates the standard of the Women’s Super League highly.
“It’s different, there’s a few different elements of what is and was the other best league, which is the NWSL,” she said.
“Here, it really focuses on the technical side of things – formation and tactics – whereas in America, it’s more athleticism and that American kind of will just to win. That’s what really drives that league.
“So it’s really difficult to say if one is better than the other, I think they’re both completely different but they’re both where you want to be playing as a female professional footballer.”
The Tokyo Games kick off in July and anticipation is growing in how Australia might perform in the women’s tournament.
“It is really exciting,” Williams said.
“Qualifying is always a great feeling, it was really disappointing with the state of the world last year that it had to be postponed. But to see that’s coming together this year and that it is safe, or it will be safe hopefully, and to compete again is something that we all want.
“We all want to go to the Olympics, it’s a dream. Most of us grew up watching Cathy Freeman run before we had any international football dream, so the Olympics has a special spot in our hearts. To have it come in finally is exciting.”
With the Matildas boasting stars like Kerr, Steph Catley, Emily van Egmond and Kyah Simon, along with a new head coach, Williams feels this Australian team can do some damage in Japan and bring home a medal.
“Yeah, definitely. I think the advantage that we have over a lot of teams is that we’ve played together for so long now,” she said.
“The core squad has been together for at least six years, which I don’t think a lot of other players and teams have that.
"We’ve grown up together, we know each other’s families and, (with) that kind of relationship throughout a team, you only need a couple of days to get back into the swing of things where you know how people work and how they play.
“So that should be a pretty easy adjustment once we get back into camp. It’s exciting having a new coach (Tony Gustavsson) and going out there and doing the best that we can. But at the end of the day, we’re just excited to see each other again.”
For now, Williams has eyes focused on events in north London. The goalkeeper is off-contract at the end of the 2020-21 campaign but is keen to stay at Arsenal and re-sign with the club.
“I’m in the middle of having discussions,” she said.
“I’m looking to stay in the UK for another year and see what happens after that.
"But obviously I want to finish the season out and I’m really excited to get back with the national team as well, that’s probably the most exciting thing.
“Hoping to stay here, I’ve enjoyed it and all my mates are here.”