A stunning three-goal burst inside the opening 20 minutes, including Sam Kerr’s first for Chelsea, helped the Blues to a victory which leaves the Barclays Women’s Super League title race wide open.
Games between London’s top two clubs tend not to disappoint, but rarely are they this one-sided and it is a win for Emma Hayes’s side that served notice of our intention to claim back the WSL crown which was taken from us by the Gunners last season.
The Blues were the better side from first whistle to last, pressing aggressively and looking threatening every time we attacked. What followed in the opening 20 minutes was beyond the wildest dreams of any Chelsea supporter, though.
Bethany England scored a stunner at Stamford Bridge to open our season against Tottenham and now she can add another spectacular strike against the other north-London club, as she curled us in front after 10 minutes with her 15th of what is proving to be another prolific campaign.
A second followed just three minutes later, as Kerr was picked out by Guro Reiten’s cross to the far post and she sent a header across the goalkeeper and into the far corner of the net. It will hopefully be the first of many for the Australian in Chelsea blue.
As if things couldn’t get much better, Sophie Ingle scored a Goal of the Season contender before the clock had even ticked past the 20-minute mark. The Welsh midfielder can scarcely have hit a better shot than the left-footed half-volley which flew past Manuela Zinsberger.
The Blues continued to dominate and we were out of sight midway through the second half when Reiten capped a brilliant performance, which had seen her claim two assists, by heading home our fourth.
Although Beth Mead pulled one back for Arsenal, there was no doubt which side the afternoon belonged to as we recorded a victory which was celebrated heartily at the full-time whistle.
Arsenal boss Joe Montemurro has now beaten Chelsea only once in eight meetings, which included a 2-1 defeat at Kingsmeadow earlier this term that means we’ve done the double over last season’s WSL title winners and closed the gap at the top of the table.
The Gunners and Man City may share the lead on 33 points, but the Blues are just a further point behind and we have a game in hand. The top two face each other in the next round of league fixtures on the first weekend of February, when we take on West Ham United in KT1.
It’s been a busy start to 2020, with this the fourth game in the past fortnight, so it was no surprise to see Hayes make four changes to the team which had booked a spot in the Continental League Cup semi-finals by beating Aston Villa 3-1 in midweek. Maren Mjelde, Jonna Andersson, Ji So-Yun and Reiten were the players restored to the starting line-up as Hannah Blundell, Jess Carter, Deanna Cooper and Ramona Bachmann dropped to the bench.
That meant a return to the regular back five we’ve seen this season, as Ann-Katrin Berger’s goal was guarded by a defence of Mjelde, Millie Bright, Magdalena Eriksson and Andersson. In midfield, Ingle partnered Ji and the threat from the flanks was provided by Erin Cuthbert and Reiten, while Kerr and England led the attack once again.
The Blues started confidently and with only 10 minutes on the clock we were in front, courtesy of a goal from a familiar source. There was seemingly nothing on when Reiten played in England down the right channel, but with the form our No9 has shown over the past 18 months, there’s always danger. Louise Quinn found that out to her cost as she allowed England to shift back on to her supposedly weaker left foot; the curling finish which left Zinsberger grasping at the thin air as the ball flew into the top corner suggested there was nothing weak about it.
We could have doubled our lead less than a minute later as defence and goalkeeper left the ball for one another as a hopeful cross floated into the box, allowing England to ghost in and head the ball inches over the bar. It mattered not, however, as we were celebrating again soon after.
The Gunners were giving Reiten far too much time and space down the left-hand side and she made them pay in a big way. The Norwegian delivered the most inviting of crosses to the back stick and Zinsberger, seemingly struggling to deal with the sun in her eyes, hesitated momentarily, which was all the encouragement Kerr needed to power home an unstoppable header. She’d gone close on each of her previous three appearances for the Blues but here, on the big stage, she had delivered.
As positively as we had started the contest, the reigning WSL champions had been sloppy, giving away possession cheaply and not getting tight enough in defence. The concession of two quick-fire goals seemed to wake them up, as they fashioned their first chance of the afternoon and it fell to Katie McCabe, whose low strike was well saved by Berger with her feet.
It was the first time we had been put under any pressure in the defensive third and the response from Hayes’s side was as emphatic as it gets. A sloppy free-kick was conceded for a foul on Cuthbert, which allowed Reiten to swing over a free-kick from the right-hand side. Although an Arsenal head got to the set-piece first, the ball sat up invitingly for Ingle to smash an unstoppable half-volley with her left foot that was always curling away from the keeper and into the far corner. Cue bedlam, as the popular Welsh midfielder celebrated with her delirious team-mates. What a strike; what an opening 20 minutes!
The home supporters at Meadow Park were stunned into silence, taunted with chants of ‘Just like the Emirates’ from the vocal travelling contingent who were in dreamland after the blistering start made by their side. Every time Arsenal got close to our penalty area, there was a well-timed intervention from someone in Chelsea blue and they would then find themselves chasing shadows as we knocked the ball around confidently.
The difference in the approach of the two sides could be summed up by an Arsenal free-kick by their own corner flag just after the half-hour mark. Leah Williamson played an aimless high pass which went straight to a Chelsea player and the ball was flicked on by Ji to send Kerr through on goal. The Australian’s left-footed effort was slashed wide of the target when she looked odds on to make it 4-0.
The rest of the half was seen out with the minimum of fuss, as we continued to keep the home side at arm’s length and the half-time whistle was greeted with loud cheers from the Chelsea support. We were good value for a 3-0 lead and, incidentally, it was the first time Arsenal had conceded three goals at home since May 2013 against Liverpool.
If the Gunners thought there would be any let-up by the Blues after the break there was a rude awakening when Bright went steaming into a challenge on McCabe which referee Abigail Byrne deemed to be hard but fair, rather than reckless. The first chance of the second period also fell our way, as Ji thrashed wildly at a half-volley from the edge of the box when she perhaps had more time than expected.
Montemurro had seen enough – on came Mead and Lisa Evans in place of Quinn and Jordan Nobbs. But the game could have been done and dusted just a few seconds after the double change, as a long ball found Kerr inside the box and only a last-ditch challenge prevented her shot threatening the Arsenal goal. The Australian went close again a minute later, this time after being picked out by Ji’s cross, but this time her deft finish cleared the crossbar by a couple of feet.
The Gunners threatened for the first time in the half when Vivianne Miedema found herself one-on-one with Berger, albeit with the angle against her, but the Dutch striker’s cheeky dink found the side-netting rather than the back of the net. It proved to be a costly miss in more way than one, as the Blues were soon out of sight.
After knocking the ball around crisply, our build-up play clicked up a gear when Ingle found Ji and the South Korean laid the ball into the path of Andersson, who clipped a pin-point cross into the middle for the unmarked Reiten to direct her header into the far corner. It was the least the Norwegian ace had deserved for a virtuoso display and, indeed, 4-0 was a fair reflection on the balance of play.
The home side finally had something to cheer a few minutes later when Mead headed home a McCabe cross at the back post, although Berger was furious with herself for not keeping it out. Perhaps wary of a grandstand final 10 minutes, Hayes opted to shut down the threat from out wide by introducing the more defensive-minded Blundell in place of Reiten.
A few minutes later, Drew Spence was also brought on, this time to replace Kerr. The Australian was serenaded by the away support and could depart satisfied with her contribution, having opened her account for the Blues and more than played her part in a stunning victory which leaves the title race tantalisingly poised.
The reaction of the players when the final whistle blew showed just how much this result means. A huge message was sent out by the Blues and plenty of confidence will be taken from a victory that will surely be remembered for years to come.
Our next game is an FA Cup tie at Charlton Athletic next Sunday, but we’re back at Kingsmeadow on Sunday 2 February for the visit of West Ham United. Click here to buy your tickets now!
Arsenal (4-3-2-1) Zinsberger; Schnaderbeck, Williamson, Quinn (Evans 58), McCabe; Little (c), Walti, Roord; Nobbs (Mead 58), Van de Donk; Miedema
Unused subs Peyraud-Magnin, Maier, Flis, Grant
Scorer Mead 74
Booked McCabe 36, Walti 88
Chelsea (4-4-2) Berger; Mjelde, Bright, Eriksson (c), Andersson; Cuthbert, Ingle, Ji, Reiten (Blundell 81); Kerr (Spence 85), England
Unused subs Telford, Carter, Cooper, Napier, Bachmann
Scorers England 10, Kerr 13, Ingle 20, Reiten 68
Booked Mjelde 65
Referee Abigail Byrne