Ladies report: Chelsea 3 Arsenal 2
news Sun 7 Jan 2018
Chelsea Ladies started the new year as we mean to go on with a tight win over our rivals in another goalfest at Kingsmeadow.
Determined strikes from Maren Mjelde and Ji So-Yun twice put the Blues in front either side of half-time but twice Arsenal found an equaliser to leave the game evenly poised going into the final 10 minutes. However, debutant Jonna Andersson forced an own goal from keeper Sari Van Veenendaal with a shot from a tight angle which came back off the post and went in off the keeper to ensure the match finished with the hosts claiming our first win against the Gunners in four attempts.
A record crowd at our new ground witnessed another thrilling meeting between Chelsea and our closest neighbours in the WSL 1, as we continued our excellent goalscoring form at home to claim an invaluable three points and move to the top of the table, prior to Manchester City's 4pm kick-off at Reading.
Emma Hayes made three changes to the side which thrashed Liverpool 5-1 in the Continental Tyres Cup quarter-final in our last game, which took place a week before Christmas. Hedvig Lindahl was back in the Chelsea goal for the first time after the November international break, during which she won her seventh female Goalkeeper of the Year award in Sweden.
Centre-back Magdalena Eriksson came in for Crystal Dunn, allowing Mjelde to return to her favoured box-to-box role, with Gemma Davison replacing Drew Spence and slotting into a packed five-woman midfield. Our winter acquisitions Anita Asante and Andersson started on the subs bench.
Neither side showed signs of Christmas indulgence amid a back and forth opening. Fran Kirby nearly found the opening goal when she caught everyone by surprise, following in a free-kick. Vivianne Miedema also had a potential chance on the breakaway but Gilly Flaherty defended well as she backtracked to snuff out the opportunity.
Then it was a chance a minute for Chelsea. Ji pulled a shot from up her sleeve after swivelling around three defenders, forcing a low save from Sari Van Veenendaal. Kirby and Ramona Bachmann were next to challenge the Dutch goalkeeper with clever individual moves, but they could not find the powerful shot to match their formidable runs.
At the other end, Miedema came closest to scoring in the first 20 minutes when her shot hammered the corner of the goal frame off the back after a lighting counter-attack.
Yet it was Chelsea who took the lead through Mjelde, who bundled the ball home following a goalmouth scramble in which the woodwork was struck twice. Ji and Flaherty, whose header onto the post prolonged the chaos, deserved plenty of credit for the build-up before a clinical finish from the Norway skipper.
Kirby continued to electrify as the first half progressed, turning away from her marker to let rip with a fierce drive straight at Van Veenendaal at the half-hour point. The visitors remained content to sit back, however, and try to catch Chelsea on the counter-attack.
After an enthralling opening, the goal looked to have settled the tempo as the Blues got into our passing groove. This translated into measured dominance, with Ji posing the main threat going into half-time from a free-kick and a driven shot on the edge of the box.
The Gunners went straight onto the attack after the break and called on Lindahl to produce some good saves. Danielle Carter tried her luck from distance and Beth Mead stung the palms of our Scandinavian stopper, but their best chance was, without doubt, a perfectly-constructed counter, spearheaded by Danielle van de Donk. The pacey striker tried to cap a pinpoint passing transition only to be denied by an outstanding stop from Lindahl.
Arsenal finally made their pressure count in the 55th minute as they exploited some scruffy defending from the Blues. A wayward cross found its way through the back three and it was Van De Donk’s Netherlands team-mate, Miedema, who stabbed the ball home, trickling home via Lindahl and then the post to provide her second goal in as many games.
The lead did not last long, however, after a low shot from Ji snuck over the line. Chelsea broke well following a lovely turn by Kirby in midfield four minutes after we had conceded. The cross from out wide eventually came through to our South Korean playmaker, who duly funnelled the ball through the legs of Gemma Rose.
FA WSL1 matches between the two sides have been very even in recent years, and this was proving to be another ding-dong battle as the Gunners drew level for a second time in the 62nd minute through Dominique Janssen. The holding midfielder, another of Arsenal’s flying Dutchwomen, first saw her header saved before bundling the ball into the goal.
Mjelde almost kept up the basketball aspect to the encounter as she broke through the midfield with a barnstorming run towards the penalty area, but Van Veenendaal was up to her first-half tricks and did brilliantly to prevent our No18 from doubling her tally.
Confusion reigned at both ends in a frenetic finish to the game. Lindahl found herself facing the wrong way as she came out to deal with another Arsenal through ball. Her clearance ultimately made its way to Andersson who, on one of her first touches as a Chelsea player, hooked the ball across goal for Van Veenendaal to drag the ball into her own net.
The successful result lifts Chelsea Ladies to the top of the WSL 1 table, one point above Manchester City ahead of their fixture with the Royals.
We are now four points clear of third place, occupied by Liverpool. Our next league fixture is at home to their Merseyside rivals, Everton, at 12.30pm (UK time) on Sunday 28 January.
Attention first turns to the Continental Tyres Cup ahead of our semi-final showdown with Man City at Kingsmeadow next Sunday. Kick-off against the WSL champions is at 2pm.
Chelsea (3-5-2): Lindahl; Bright, Flaherty, Eriksson; Blundell, Mjelde, Ji (Spence 87), Chapman (c), Davison (Andersson 60); Kirby, Bachmann (Cuthbert 87)
Unused subs Spencer, Asante, Carney, Aluko
Scorers Mjelde 23, Ji 59, Van Veenendaal (own goal) 83
Arsenal (4-1-2-3): Van Veenendaal; Evans, Rose (James 86), Williamson, Mitchell; Janssen; Nobbs (c), Van de Donk; Carter, Miedema, Mead (McCabe 86)
Unused subs Moorhouse, Scott, Quinn, Hindes, Filbey, O’Reilly
Scorers Miedema 55, Janssen 62