The Blues deservedly beat Barclays Women’s Super League champions Arsenal as Bethany England netted her third of the season and Maria Thorisdottir struck magnificently in front of a huge crowd at Kingsmeadow.
Chelsea began the better team and ended as the better team, too. It was certainly a contrast to our last home league game against Arsenal having been thumped 5-0 in the 2018/19 campaign.
Arsenal found the net early on, despite our dominance, when Danielle van de Donk blasted past Ann Katrin-Berger.
It was not until the second half that our hard work paid off and it was England who came up trumps when she turned her player to steer her shot into the net after good work from Fran Kirby.
Thorisdottir and Ramona Bachmann, who both came on in the later stages of the match, proved to be super substitutes when Bachmann teed up her Norwegian team-mate who slammed a rocket of a shot into the top corner.
For this London derby Emma Hayes kept the same starting XI from our dominant 4-0 victory against Bristol City two weeks ago. Ann-Katrin Berger started between the posts, playing behind a back four of Maren Mjelde, Millie Bright, captain Magdalena Eriksson and Jonna Andersson. In midfield, Sophie Ingle and Ji So-Yun played centrally with Erin Cuthbert and Guro Reiten on the flanks. Kirby and England were up front.
This was the Blues’ second game of the season at Kingsmeadow, having beat West Ham 2-0 in the Continental Tyres League Cup at the end of September. We started our league campaign at Stamford Bridge so this was our first WSL game of 2019/20 at our KT1 home, and what an encounter to begin with!
Chelsea were on the front foot early and were presented with the first opportunity of the game when Kirby rolled Arsenal defender Lisa Evans but could not beat Manuela Zinsberger on the angle, as the goalkeeper firmly guarded her front post.
However, with that said, it was the visitors who got the breakthrough on nine minutes when Chelsea played to Arsenal’s strength and gave them far too much time in possession, which ultimately meant punishment.
Last season’s WSL Golden Boot winner, Vivianne Miedema, charged at our defence and cleverly picked out Van de Donk, who fired into the bottom corner out of reach of Berger.
Chelsea looked like the team to score next at Kingsmeadow, pressing high and hitting the Gunners on the counter attack, with Ji being at the heart of it all. We could have levelled the scoring as Ji picked up the ball in midfield with options either side of her and she opted for Reiten, who whipped the ball into England for the No.9 to head fractionally off target.
Our South Korean then tried her luck from 25 yards when she unleashed a curling left-footed shot that narrowly flew the wrong side of the post.
Bright, typically known for her strength and presence at the back, delivered a pin-point ball to Ji, who had drifted to the left, and the No.10 chested the ball down to the on rushing Reiten, but the Norwegian was marginally offside on the half-hour. And minutes later, Reiten almost added to her goal tally when the 25-year-old rifled a shot which rattled the crossbar.
Emotions were running high in this derby and Miedema was cautioned by the referee for a late challenge on Berger.
We continued to push for the equaliser before the interval and on the stroke of half-time, England met Ingle’s deep cross with a firm head, but her effort directed into the palms of Zinsberger.
The Blues should not have been trailing a goal at the break having had numerous attempts and looking the stronger team, which continued into the start of the second half.
Bright, who was looking totally focused with the task in hand, was taking no prisoners and did not give Miedema an inch of space to breathe. Bright dispossessed the Arsenal forward with a superbly timed tackle and the loose ball rolled kindly into the pathway of Ji who passed up pitch to England. She beat Arsenal’s Jen Beattie for pace and once she latched onto the ball, shot on target for it to be blocked by Zinsberger.
Maren Mjelde had joy down the right flank on the 54th minute when she weaved past Katie McCabe and her fierce cross troubled the Gunners goalkeeper as she spilled it on her first attempt at catching the ball, but grabbed it swiftly on the second.
The goal we had been waiting for finally came after 57 minutes when England netted her third goal of the season to draw us equal. Cuthbert stole the ball off Beattie, who was unusually high up the pitch for a centre back, for Kirby to pick up and drive towards goal and pass to her strike partner, England. And the No.9 turned her marker and buried past the Gunners' shotstopper.
Hayes shuffled her pack and made a double substitution with 15 minutes left on the clock. Thorisdottir, a naturally defensive-minded player, came on for Reiten in midfield and Bachmann swapped in for Kirby.
There was a pause in play when Ji picked up a knock and that forced the Chelsea boss to make her third and final change of the day, which saw Drew Spence feature for the final 10 minutes.
Bachmann, who is as skillful as her counterpart Kirby, had a great impact on the game and assisted the goal which earned Hayes’ side three crucial points against the reigning WSL champions.
The Swiss player cleverly tricked Beattie into thinking she was going to have a shot, instead squaring the ball to Thorisdottir who was in acres of space. She struck a 25-yard rocket which nestled in the top corner of the Gunners goal!
In stoppage time, an Arsenal corner found its way to Beth Mead who was in a prime position to cause damage. However, Bright and Eriksson were there to block the shot and the Blues managed to hold on for a priceless victory. Given the sheer dominance of our display, the final score should not have been so tight, but the three points are absolutely key for our quest to regain the WSL title.
Next up at Kingsmeadow the Blues take on league debutants Manchester United on Sunday 17 November, and tickets go on sale here from 10am tomorrow.
Chelsea (4-4-2): Berger; Mjelde, Bright, Eriksson (c), Andersson; Cuthbert, Ingle, Ji (Spence 85), Reiten (Thorisdottir 74); Kirby (Bachmann 74), England.
Unused subs Telford, Asante, Carter, Cooper
Scorers England 57, Thorisdottir 85
Booked Ji 38
Arsenal: Zinsberger, Beattie, Williamson, Van de Donk, Little (c), Miedema, Walti (Nobbs 64), Roord, McCabe, Evans, Mead.
Unused subs Peyraud-Magnin, Mitchell, Quinn, Grant, Filis
Scorer Van de Donk 9
Booked Miedema 39, Mead 45+2
Referee Rebecca Welch