Arsenal defeated Chelsea in a tense London derby on the opening weekend of the Women’s Super League which saw Beth Mead shine.
Vivianne Miedema had put the Gunners ahead before Erin Cuthbert equalised on the stroke of half-time. However, Mead’s second-half brace ensured the home side started the season with three points, despite Pernille Harder pulling one back for Emma Hayes’s side.
Arsenal fail to capitalise on first half dominance
The Champions entered the game with less match sharpness than their opponents. Arsenal, already in the midst of a protracted UEFA Champions League qualification campaign looked to frustrate Chelsea early on. The opening 10 minutes were tight, with neither side offering much offensively.
Arsenal did break the deadlock shortly after, in the 14th minute. Katie McCabe was able to release Miedema who exploited the space behind Charles. She drove into the box and took on Carter, turning the English defender inside, then quickly shifted back to shoot. Her low effort squeezed into the near post corner. On reflection, both Berger and Carter should have done better.
The game continued in a similarly bitty fashion with Maanum and Ji both having efforts from long-range comfortably saved. Harder’s effort from range was deflected awkwardly and Zinsberger had to smother it wide. A few minutes later, Ji marauded into the box via a neat 1-2 with Cuthbert. However, the South Korean’s effort was deflected wide via a combination of Williamson and Zinsberger.
From the resulting corner, Chelsea found parity. Millie Bright’s speculative effort was blocked, but the rebound was picked up by Leupolz. The German showed good composure to find Cuthbert inside the box. The Scot drilled an effort low and hard with her right to equalise.
Chelsea fall to opening day defeat
Chelsea almost caught Arsenal out straight after the restart. A teasing effort from Guro Reiten looked destined to find the net, however, Zinsberger was able to just able to tip it onto the crossbar. From the resulting corner, Arsenal broke, and instead grabbed their second goal in the 49th minute.
Miedema was again involved. The Dutch star slipped a brilliant ball through for Mead who sped away from Bright and Eriksson. She briefly paused on the edge of the box, before firing past a hapless Berger, into the far corner.
Chelsea called the cavalry with Ingle, Kerr and Kirby replacing England, Leupolz and Charles as they looked to get back into the game. However, Arsenal once again scored in the 60th minute – this time with a huge slice of controversy.
Mana Iwabuchi’s ball through to Beth Mead saw her in behind the Chelsea backline once again. However, this time she appeared to be several yards offside but despite the lineswoman having a clear view to give the decision failed to flag. Mead took advantage by rounding Berger and Bright’s desperate sliding challenge, before tapping into the empty net. In truth, the Gunners could count themselves fortunate.
Not to be deterred, Chelsea roared back 5 minutes later. Although Williamson’s tackle on Kirby was inch-perfect, Chelsea once again recycled the loose ball. Eventually, Cuthbert found herself on the wing and delivered a teasing cross. It left Pernille Harder with a simple close-range header to bring the deficit back to a single goal which saw Chelsea claw one back against a now nervy Arsenal.
Chelsea had the lion’s share of possession for the final twenty-five minutes and brilliant blocks from Arsenal’s Williamson and Beattie denied Ji and Kerr respectively. Mead had a chance to seal her hat-trick after a poor kick from Berger, but she was smothered out by desperate defending too.
In the end, Arsenal clung on for three points. More importantly, the club had finally won at the Emirates this season.
Jonas Eidevall: “In some aspects, I think it was, like the way we defended as a team in the last 20 minutes and the way we played out from their pressure in the first 30 minutes too.
“They were nice things that we could perform together and they helped us to win today. We know we have a good squad. We know we are a good club. It’s about performing every game.
“We will learn and develop during the season. It was a nice performance, a nice win but it’s one game out of many.”
Emma Hayes: “We scored two goals at the Emirates and had 15 shots so created chances but you can’t concede three goals and expect to win games.
“The challenge is there every year so it’s not any different but I think the Champions League competition meant our opponent had a little more in their legs in the clinical moments than we did.
“The way we conceded those three goals – all in the transition – is for me the most disappointing part. It’s a challenge for us but the league isn’t won or lost in one game.
I heard before the game that there was a conversation around it not being a priority because it’s really expensive but I think we’re selling our game short.
“We have all got used to VAR and goalline technology so I feel by not having it in the women’s game, it is like being second-class citizens.”
Arsenal team news
Jonas Eidevall’s opening league match saw him select a strong side in 4-3-3 formation. Zinsberger commanded the back 4 of Maritz, Williamson, Beattie and McCabe. The midfield trio of Walti, Little and Maanum looked to stifle Chelsea, allowing the front 3 of Iwabuchi, Miedema and Mead to do damage.
Chelsea team news
In contrast, Chelsea started with an unfamiliar 3-4-3 formation. Last season’s Golden Glove winner Ann-Katrin Berger started in the net, with Carter, Bright and Eriksson in defence. Erin Cuthbert and Niamh Charles occupied the wingback slots, with Leupolz and Ji in the engine room. Chelsea’s front 3 all arguably had points to prove with Reiten, England and Harder all finding themselves out of the team last year at points.