Leah Williamson: How Arsenal's homegrown defender became a club icon

Leah Williamson

As Leah Williamson celebrates her 24th birthday, we take a look at how her Arsenal career has taken her from a plucky academy player, to one of the club's biggest icons.

Despite being from a family of fierce Tottenham Hotspur supporters, Williamson has devoted both her life and professional career to the Gunners. Pictured on Twitter in her Thierry Henry jersey as a tiny tot, she has definitely proven she is indeed 'one of their own'.

The defender rose through the ranks of Arsenal's youth system after joining the Centre of Excellence at just nine years of age. It wasn't long before a young Williamson cemented herself on the radar of the first team management, biding her time before she received the inevitable call up to the senior squad.

In 2014, Williamson made her senior debut – replacing Rachel Yankey in a Champions League cameo appearance. The teenager had little impact on what was an eventual loss to Birmingham City in the quarter-finals, but this was just the start of what would become a glittering career in red.

It took a matter of months before Williamson scooped her first accolade for Arsenal. She beat high profile players like Toni Duggan and Ji So-yun to the League Cup Player of the Year award in 2014, setting her personal bar high moving forward within the club.

This was just the start of many personal achievements for a fresh-faced Williamson, who went on the PFA Young Women's Player of the Year for the 2014/15 season and signed her first professional contract with her beloved Arsenal. Since then, she has been untouchable in the team's set up, establishing herself as a reliable, no-nonsense guardian across the Gunners' backline.

Unshackling herself from the infamous penalty

For years, Williamson was tied to the infamous penalty situation for England U19s. The defender netted a crucial spot-kick for her country five days after the initial incident in order to bag them their place in the U19s tournament's finals. 

Now however, the 24-year-old is far more than the international penalty she scored. Williamson has helped Arsenal lift the Women's Super League trophy, dominate the Continental Cup and build a side that many fear to face. The centre-back is often in the running for Player of the Year thanks to her resilient performances and tireless efforts as Joe Montemurro's versatile attacking defender.

Arsenal are constantly pushing to be the best team not only in England, but in Europe too. Williamson has become an ever-present, critical part of the club's success and will continue to be paramount for as long as she remains in North London.

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