Leah Williamson equals Kelly Smith’s Arsenal appearance record

Leah Williamson looks onward.
Leah Williamson during the FA Women's Super League match between Arsenal and Chelsea at Kingsmeadow, London on February 10, 2021. (Photo by John Walton)

Leah Williamson made her 156th Arsenal appearance at Chelsea on Wednesday night. In doing so, she equalled Arsenal legend Kelly Smith’s all-time record as a Gunners player.

Williamson, who grew up in Milton Keynes, is a life long Arsenal supporter. Her hero growing up in the women’s game was Smith, England’s all time top goalscorer.

The 23-year-old defender has had an incredible career to date. She even wore the captain’s armband as Joe Montemurro’s side lost in Manchester to Manchester City on Sunday.

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Williamson made her Arsenal debut when she came on for Rachel Yankey in Arsenal’s 2-0 defeat to Birmingham City in the Champions League quarter-final in 2014 and hasn’t looked back since.

Growing up, she went to the men’s matches at the Emirates Stadium and was even fortunate enough to visit Highbury. While at the women’s matches, she helped her mother Amanda on the gate.

The story of Williamson and Smith

As just a little girl, she watched Smith score an incredible amount of goals for her beloved Arsenal before she herself graduated through the academy. Through her incredible work rate, Williamson ending up playing with her hero.

Williamson and Smith were in the same FA Cup-winning team in 2016 as the Gunners won 1-0 with a goal from Danielle Carter against Chelsea at Wembley Stadium.

When Smith announced her retirement, Williamson had nothing but praise for her idol.

“Kelly is truly the definition of my hero,” said Williamson in a 2017 interview for Arsenal.com. “Growing up, I aspired to be like her and that’s never changed. She has offered me words of wisdom at times when I really needed them.

“I’m really grateful to have had the chance to play with her and watch on in awe. Her on-the-pitch ability made her so desirable to many. She’s unlike anything else to come out of this country.

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“In the dressing room, she had the power to silence the room. When she starts speaking, everyone listens. She comes up with what we need at the right time. Being a young player coming through, she knew what to say to make it all better.”

While Smith was suspended for the UEFA Women’s Champions League final in 2007, Williamson was a mascot on the day of the second leg against Umeå IK as the Gunners lifted the trophy.

A skillset unmatched

Although she marked her latest milestone with a 3-0 defeat to Chelsea, Williamson could still have been proud of her performance. Her one-on-one defending against Chelsea striker Sam Kerr was sublime.

Williamson is a key player also in terms of creating chances for Arsenal. Her passing range is one of the best in the Women’s Super League. This season, she has already beaten her assist record from 2019/20.

In 2018/19, she finished the season as Arsenal’s most active player on the ball with 1,501 touches. She also completed the most successful passes in the opposition’s half (591). This pattern of play has progressed even further over the past two campaigns, as she’s one of the most accomplished players on the ball.

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Last season, she played 1,286 minutes and was the most-used player in the league which shows her importance to the team. This season has been no different, as she has started every game for the Gunners.

What is also so good about the 23-year-old defender is that she is versatile. She can play in midfield if there is an injury in that area of the squad.

She can also play at the right of a back three. A perfect example of this was last season against Brighton & Hove Albion where she provided two assists for Jill Roord and Danielle van de Donk.

A role model on and off the pitch

Williamson is also the perfect role model off the pitch. She had always spent time with fans before the coronavirus pandemic struck and football moved behind closed doors. 

She also went to Jakarta with the Arsenal Foundation where she coached and advised young girls about football.

Despite being so young, Williamson has already played in eight domestic cup finals and was a valuable player in the 2018/19 WSL title-winning squad. 

Smith is certainly held in high regard as an Arsenal legend and so will Williamson if she remains an Arsenal player. As head coach Joe Montemurro said last week, he’s confident that she will extend her contract at the club.