Monday, 19 August 2013

Arsenal march on to end Blues’ winning streak

Arsenal Ladies closed in on league leaders Liverpool with a 3-1 away win at Blues this weekend. Captain Steph Houghton, Ellen White and Gemma Davison all scored before half time as The Gunners took complete control of the match, and although the hosts dramatically improved in the second half, a deflected Jo Potter strike was merely a consolation in the end as Shelley Kerr’s side moved to within five points of Liverpool with two games in hand. There was one change to the Blues side from the one that beat Doncaster Belles the previous home match, match winner Mel Lawley was away with England’s U-19 squad in Wales, so Karen Carney returned to the starting lineup.

Following Saturday evenings incredible Liverpool win, Arsenal knew only victory would keep the title in their own hands, and they set about earning the three points rapidly, pressing their hosts and winning possession high up the pitch on numerous occasions, and it was a Blues mistake that led to the opening goal. A mix up between Potter and keeper Spencer led to a Gunners corner, and Kim Little’s inviting cross was met by Captain Houghton with a thunderous header at the far post. The tempo had been set by Arsenal, and their star midfield duo of Nobbs and in particular Little were finding copious amounts of space to dictate the game from. Dan Carter fired a shot over from inside the area and Ellen White also shot wide when well placed, but Blues were not learning from their mistakes, and it was two shortly after. Houghton’s bending free kick hit the inside of the post, and Flaherty’s rebound also struck the cross bar, but the home side failed to clear their lines and from the resulting cross back into the box, White rose highest at the back post to head home. Jordan Nobbs placed a shot wide when through one on one with Spencer, but with Arsenal in cruise control, and Blues’ unfamiliar back line looking shaky at best, the visitors increased their stranglehold on the game with a third before half time. The impressive Emma Mitchell, playing at left back for this season’s FA Cup winners, was allowed too much time to make another venture forward, and her deep cross was met by the onrushing Davison at the back post, who calmly side footed a volley into the far corner. Blues’ only threat in the half came from the reliable left footed set piece of Potter, and it took a desperate goalmouth block from Little to prevent Chelsea Weston driving in a response following a cleared corner, but Arsenal went into the break fully deserving their three goal cushion.

David Parker went for broke and threw on 17 year old starlet Coral Haines at half time, replacing Hannah George. This led to a tactical change for Blues, with a more recognisable back line of Weston, Bassett, Westwood and Harrop, and Haines linking up with Linnett up front, and within minutes the gamble nearly paid off. Having had a shot blocked, Haines picked the ball up on the edge of the area, gave herself a yard to shoot and bent a dipping effort that crashed onto Emma Byrne’s crossbar and over. The latest in a long line of young stars to come from the club’s Centre of Excellence, Haines was causing Flaherty and Co more problems than they had faced all through the first half, and she was to be denied once more, along with Linnett, before Blues pulled one back through Potter’s deflected effort from distance. The talismanic midfielder was at the heart of dragging Blues back into the game, and she almost pulled off another magical moment, lobbing Byrne from distance but unfortunately for the home side the ball drifted just wide. Little was not only making her mark in the middle of the pitch, but she was on hand to deny Blues again on the hour mark, Westwood climbing highest to head a Potter corner goal wards, only for the Scottish maestro to block on the line and clear. This block seemed to knock the wind out of the home side, and galvanise the away team, and Arsenal began to gain momentum again. Little fed Davison inside the area, but her shot was sliced harmlessly wide, and even though star striker Rachel Williams was introduced for the ineffective Carney, Arsenal had regained a sense of calm over the match. Williams did trouble Byrne with a long range shot three minutes from time, but the Irish keeper was alert to the strike to tip it round the post. As injury time approached, Carter should have sealed the victory more emphatically, but she could not beat Spencer following unselfish play from Nobbs, but it did not affect the end result, the Londoners running out 3-1 winners, a victory earnt based on their first half performance.

This defeat almost certainly ends Blues’ slim chances of title success, and has dented their Champions League hopes, as Liverpool and Arsenal continue to push away from the rest of the pack, so a win against Liverpool in their next home match is crucial if David Parker’s side are to participate in next season’s European campaign. Based on the contrasting first and second half performances from the Arsenal contest, it may be a better option for Blues to go back to basics. The centre half partnership of Bassett and Westwood feels much more reliable and trustworthy, and Harrop is best suited to being played at left back. Potter and Moore is a central partnership that has controlled many a game in the past for Blues, and the trickery of Linnett and the returning Lawley will be a major plus in the wide areas. It would be nice to see more of young Coral Haines, to come on and perform in the manner she did against unquestionably the best team in the league was testament to her abilities and her mental strength, and she showed she can cut it with the best this league has to offer, and at just 17 there is more to come from this talented attacker.

Blues have two more WSL home matches remaining this season. We face Liverpool on Sunday September 1st, a 2pm kick off, and finally Everton visit the DCS on Wednesday September 4th, which is a 7.45pm kick off.

Blues: Spencer, Weston, Westwood, Harrop, George (Haines 46), Christiansen (Wilkinson 84), Bassett (c), Moore, Carney (Williams 67), Potter, Linnett. Subs not used: Earps, Simpkins, Torkildsen, Myers

Arsenal: Byrne, Scott, Houghton (c), Flaherty, Mitchell (Grant 90), Davison (Yankey 78), Nobbs, Little, Weir, Carter, White. Subs not used: Tracy, Chapman, Ayisi
Player of the Match: Jade Moore

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