Ladies report: Arsenal 1 Chelsea 1

Fran Kirby's first-half opener wasn't enough to give the Blues victory in a closely contested London derby as Beth Mead's equaliser earned Arsenal a point.

Our last three WSL1 matches have now ended all-square, although that is as much down to the quality of sides Chelsea Ladies have come up against as anything else, with Manchester City, Reading and now the Gunners providing stern opposition.

Having scored twice in our historic midweek win over Montpellier, which sent the Blues into the Women's Champions League semi-finals for the first time, Kirby was at it again in domestic action. She put us in front just past the half-hour mark, as Ramona Bachmann took advantage of a poor clearance from Sari Van Veenendaal to clip the ball to our leading scorer, who took her tally for the season to 20 with a composed finish.

Had we managed to take that lead into the half-time break it could have been an altogether different story, but a fine goal by Beth Mead on the stroke of the interval drew the Gunners level. Both sides had chances in the second half, most notably Chelsea substitute Erin Cuthbert, who almost won it with the last kick of the game, but we had to settle for a point at the end of a thrilling match.

Despite a tough midweek assignment at Kingsmeadow, Emma Hayes opted to stick with largely the same starting XI for a trip to one of our major rivals in the WSL1. There was only chance, enforced by injury, as captain Katie Chapman was replaced by Jonna Andersson, who marked her Chelsea debut at Kingsmeadow against the same opponents by forcing the late own goal from Van Veenendaal which handed us a 3-2 victory. This was a milestone appearance for Ji So-Yun, who brought up her century for the club.

There was a frenetic start to proceedings, with both sides threatening an early goal. Drew Spence was the first to try her luck, smashing a powerful effort from outside the box which Van Veenendaal had to tip over the bar. The Blues No24 almost applied a decisive touch from the resulting corner from Magda Eriksson, but she couldn't quite get enough on it.

Bachmann and Kirby were a constant menace down the flanks for the visitors and one incisive run in particular for the former almost led to a goal for our leading scorer, but a last-ditch block by the Gunners defence denied her.

At other end, Arsenal threatened for the first time when Mead showed her pace to get away down the right-hand side, but Lindahl was equal to her low strike, turning it behind with her boot.

There was a brief lull in terms of goal-mouth action as the match settled into a typical derby, played at breakneck pace and with physicality taking over, but the Blues continued to look the likelier side to open the deadlock. After two near-misses for Spence and Ji, that goal finally arrived and it was from our most familiar source this season.

A misplaced clearance by Van Veenendaal went straight to Bachmann, who wasted little time in clipping a cross into the path of Kirby. There was plenty for Chelsea's No14 still to do, as she brought the ball down with one touch and held off the close attention of her marker before slotting the ball past the keeper.

The goal was nothing less than our excellent attacking performance had merited and the home side were struggling to get a foothold in the game, with the Blues' pressing game playing a big part in disrupting their rhythm.

However, Millie Bright and Lindahl both blocked goal-bound efforts in quick succession to keep us in front, but it was only a temporary reprieve as Mead broke away on the stroke of half-time to drill home an equaliser.

The Gunners goalscorer had the best chance of the early exchanges in the second half, when she cut inside from the left-hand side to curl a shot just wide of the target. Chelsea were a constant threat on the counter, though, and one such attack almost saw Spence and Bachmann link-up to perfection, only for the latter's touch to let her down at the vital moment.

An even better chance followed straight after when Kirby sprinted clear and went round Van Veeenendaal, only for the angle to tighten on her. She still had the presence of mind to lay the ball back to Ji, but the South Korean's shot was over the bar.

The two sides traded chances as well as substitutions in the final stages, Cuthbert and Davison coming on for the Blues to give Spence and Bachmann a well deserved rest, and the Scottish forward had our best two opportunities to win the game.

The first came at the end of a good move which saw Blundell square the ball to her, only for a crisp strike to be directed straight at the keeper. Even better was to come in stoppage time when Cuthbert turned her marker on the edge of the box and she hit a shot low and true towards the bottom corner, only for the big boot of Van Veenendaal to divert it away from danger.

That proved to be the last action of a thrilling London derby in which both sides more than played their part. An international break follows this fixture and the Blues return to action on Sunday 15 April with a Women's FA Cup semi-final against Manchester City. Kingsmeadow is the venue and kick-off is at 3.30pm.

Arsenal Van Veenendaal, Mitchell, Williamson, Nobbs, Little (c), Miedema (Carter 83), Quinn, Evans, Janssen (O'Reilly 72), Van De Donk, Mead (McCabe 88)
Unused subs Moorhouse, Cooke
Scorer Mead 45+1

Chelsea (3-4-2-1) Lindahl; Bright, Mjelde (c), Eriksson; Blundell, Ji, Thorisdottir, Andersson; Spence (Cuthbert 70), Kirby; Bachmann (Davison 87)
Unused subs Telford, Flaherty, Rafferty, Aluko
Scorer Kirby 31

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