“I was just fascinated,” says Tobin Heath Sky Sports with a smile. The 33-year-old forward, a two-time World Cup winner with the United States, is reflecting on how she fell in love with Arsenal as a football-obsessed girl growing up in New Jersey.
“There were two teams that broke into the football landscape in the United States early on and they were United and Arsenal,” says Heath. He has now played for both of them after his spell at Manchester United last season. But it has always been Arsenal. “I loved the way they played,” he adds. “I loved everything the club stood for.”
The bedroom walls of his childhood home were adorned with posters of Arsene Wenger’s title-winning teams. While celebrating their successes, Heath watched Arsenal Women, in his own words, “lead the way for women’s football in the UK”.
“Arsenal not only have a rich history from the men, but also a huge history from the women,” he says. “It was just a childhood dream come true to sign for the club – and I know that’s not always the case as a player.”
His transfer to Arsenal, confirmed in early September, has caused ripples throughout the sport. In addition to his World Cups, Heath has won two Olympic gold medals. There were 181 international appearances and 36 goals. His club career spans three decades.
He describes his first months at Arsenal as a “whirlwind”.
“I was joking with the girls today that I haven’t even had a full training session,” she says, smiling again. “It’s just been day minus one; game; day minus one; game.
“It was really nice to jump right in and now we have a little more regularity in terms of understanding things. It’s always interesting when you first come to a club because they are all the same but they are all very different in the way they are. which they work.
This team that I have joined is really strong in terms of player quality and I truly believe it is a team capable of competing for the highest honors
“It’s just about understanding all the differences, getting out there and having those new relationships. So it was a whirlwind but it was fun.”
Arsenal’s romantic attraction was strong – “in the back of my mind, I always thought that towards the end of my career I would actually try to make a last ditch effort to get here,” he says – but the decision to join them did not. they were only about making a childhood dream come true.
“I would never go to a place that didn’t share my same ambitions,” he says. “I don’t have a lot of time in my career, so I’m not really looking to go to a place that is in the early stages.
“This team that I have joined is really strong in terms of the quality of the players and I really believe it is a team capable of competing for the highest honors.”
The way they started the season bodes well.
Arsenal Women, who finished third in the Women’s Super League last season, are now leading the table by three points, having won five out of five games, scoring 19 goals and conceding just two.
Heath’s debut came with a 5-0 win over Manchester City, who finished second last year. His first game as a starter came with a 5-1 win over Tottenham in the FA Cup quarter-finals. Arsenal also beat champions Chelsea, who they face again in the FA Cup final next month.
They have won 12 out of 13 games in all competitions and the sparkling start was devised by new manager Jonas Eidevall, who outlined his plans for the club in an introductory phone call with Heath prior to his arrival.
“Immediately, he stood out as someone who was absolutely passionate about the game, passionate about winning and passionate about taking this football team to another level,” says Heath.
“I think we had shared interests in these things, so I was really looking forward to getting in and starting working with him. I think every day I will get to understand him a little more.
“I have been in football for a long time, but there are some aspects of him as a manager that impressed me a lot. I also saw how he transformed this team in a short time and how eagerly the players have to take the next step with him, so these these are good signs for the club. “
He stood out as someone who was absolutely passionate about the game, passionate about winning and passionate about taking this soccer team to another level
Heath was even more impressed with the quality of his new teammates.
This summer, in addition to Heath, Arsenal added Nikita Parris, Mana Iwabuchi and Frida Maanum to a squad that already included outstanding players such as Beth Mead, Kim Little, Katie McCabe and, of course, Dutch forward Vivianne Miedema, with which Heath is already building a strong understanding.
“It’s absolutely exciting,” says Heath. “She and a group of other players here are a big reason why I wanted to come to the club, to play with that kind of quality and be around those kinds of what I call generational talent.
“She is obviously a special person, with what she has already achieved at such a young age, and I know she will continue like that. It has been wonderful.
“I love to teach, I love to give advice and little tips. I am passionate about the growth of the women’s game and I am passionate about the development of young players. It is part of football, that growth mentality, and if I can give it to the next generation, it will only improve. the game”.
Heath is already improving Arsenal and describes their attacking depth as “incredible”.
She too, a world-class operator and one of the most successful players in women’s football, has had to be patient for starting chances this season but welcomes the competition for places.
“For a team to be great, there has to be competition for every single place, otherwise you settle for it,” he says. “That’s how I grew up and that’s how it’s always been for me.
“I’ve been lucky to play in some of the best teams in the world and all those teams have had that competition. I always say, if you’re not growing, you’re dying, and this is a place you need to grow day by day in training to be chosen for the XI “.
Rotation, he adds, is also a necessary part of the game when fighting on multiple fronts.
“We are playing in a lot of competitions and we want to go very far this season,” says Heath. “Therefore, we understand that we need a team that is not only extremely flexible, but that has the qualities to be able to deliver quality performance in every single match, regardless of the players on the pitch.”
Arsenal have managed to do this in every game except one. Of all the victories they started the season with, there was a humiliating 4-1 defeat in the opening match of the Champions League round against European champions Barcelona.
Heath describes the reality check provided by that result as a “blessing” and hopes it will serve the team well.
“It has been a great learning experience for the team and a huge motivation for us to understand that we still have to reach another level to really solidify our place in that competition and get the things we want,” he says.
“In the WSL, we have had some good results, but sometimes this can confuse you as to where you are and it’s nice to have those moments in football where you know you need to improve.
“That was a game that really helped the team, which is fun because you would think a defeat like that would hurt. For this team, we need moments like that.”
Arsenal garnered an impressive response in their next Champions League match, winning 4-0 against Hoffenheim, with Heath scoring his first goal for the club, but Sunday’s WSL clash with West Ham in sixth place is a reminder of the strength of competition nationwide.
“I was aware of the growth of the championship,” he says. “I think it was the perfect time for me to come here. You’ve seen a lot of great transfers, players returning to the WSL, and it’s always a good sign where the best international players play.”
Heath hopes her time in the WSL with Arsenal will help her maintain her position on the US national team – “There is no greater honor for me than representing my country,” he says – especially with the World Cup. World 2023 looming on the horizon.
The tournament, which will take place in Australia and New Zealand, is an opportunity for Heath to win the third consecutive record-breaking World Cup. “It will be a very competitive roster to make, but I hope there is still a lot to give to the national team and I will always give my best,” he says.
Plus, a little competition for seats has never stopped Tobin Heath in the past.