Arsenal 1–4 Chelsea
By Ben Gilby
A performance of sheer class from Chelsea in the opening twenty-five minutes set up a hugely deserved thrashing of Arsenal in front of a sell-out crowd at Boreham Wood FC.
The Blues were absolutely unplayable at times as they produced a display that, quite simply, was stunning in its quality, tempo and sheer skill. The standard of the goals that they scored in the period was equally as impressive.
Within three minutes the visitors fashioned their opening opportunity when Ji found Jonna Andersson, but the Swede’s ball in was too high for Beth England in the box. A minute later, the same fate befell Sophie Ingle’s cross towards the same Blues and Lionesses attacker.
Six minutes in and Chelsea fashioned another chance when Erin Cuthbert, mindful of the sun in the eyes of Arsenal keeper Manuela Zinzberger, played in another high ball which was claimed by the Austrian international over the head of Sam Kerr. Cuthbert played in another chance for England, but the home defence cleared.
However, every time Arsenal cleared, the ball came straight back at them, and on nine minutes they could hold out no longer. Louise Quinn gave Beth England way too much room, and the Blues ace cut inside and curled in an unstoppable shot into the far corner past the despairing dive of Zinzberger.
Just four minutes later it was 2-0 as a glorious ball in from Norweigan maestro Guru Reiten was nodded in by Matildas star Sam Kerr for her first FA WSL goal.
It took Arsenal eighteen minutes to fashion their first serious chance when Jordan Nobbs angled a pass to Katie McCabe, with the Republic of Ireland international having her effort blocked by Ann-Katrin Berger’s legs. There was more frustration for the home support shortly afterwards when the they claimed Magda Eriksson handled in the box, but referee Abigail Byrne turned down their penalty claims.
From here, Chelsea rampaged forward once more and earned a free kick on the right, which was headed out towards Sophie Ingle outside the area on the left hand side and the Welsh international arrowed home a half volley into the top right hand corner of the net. 3-0 Chelsea and Arsenal were being made to look more like relegation candidates rather than championship winners with just nineteen minutes on the clock.
On thirty-two minutes, it really should have been 4-0 as Arsenal struggled to clear another Chelsea free-kick on the right, and Sam Kerr was through one on one with Zinzberger, but mis-hit her shot wide.
One of the other highlights of the opening stanza was the ongoing battle between Erin Cuthbert and Katie McCabe, with the Scot largely having the better of the exchanges, which tended to end with a free kick going her way.
As the half entered its last ten minutes, the intensity dropped and Arsenal fashioned a couple of half chances as Kim Little held off Guru Reiten in midfield to earn a corner, but Ji comfortably cleared the danger. Just before the break another Cuthbert/McCabe clash ended with a free-kick going Arsenal’s way just outside the box in a central position but Kim Little’s attempt going straight into Berger’s arms. 3-0 to Emma Hayes’ charges at the break.
If Arsenal were to have any chance of getting back into this match, they needed a fast start to the second half and up the tempo. They achieved neither as Chelsea created the first chance after Eriksson was taken out in the centre circle and the ball found its way to Ji whose effort from the edge of the box went over.
In a bid to shake things up, Arsenal boss Joe Montemurro brought on Lisa Evans and Beth Mead (for Louise Quinn and Jordan Nobbs respectively).
Despite this, it continued to be Chelsea who created the best openings. Millie Bright played through a magnificent ball which took out the whole of the Arsenal defence for Sam Kerr to run onto, but Leah Williamson managed to get back in time to block. Shortly afterwards the Western Australian was found by Ji, but was denied again.
Arsenal blew two chances in quick succession as the half entered its mid-point. First, McCabe found Miedema down the left. Her fellow Dutch international Danielle van der Donk waited in the middle, but Miedema went alone and hit an effort wide. A minute later, Kim Little ran down the right and put in a cross which Berger snaffled easily when, once more van der Donk was available for a pass.
Chelsea ensured that the home side would rue those two missed chances when a fantastic team move from the Blues involving swift passing which Arsenal couldn’t deal with ended with Guro Reiten’s bullet header arrowing home for 4-0.
The home side began to press as Evans and Mead began to show their influence on the game, albeit with the outcome decided. On 74 minutes the home side got a goal back when McCabe’s ball in from the left was met by Beth Mead’s header which squirmed in off of the unfortunate Ann-Katrin Berger.
Arsenal had a fair amount of possession in the closing stages, but Chelsea comfortably dealt with it. Beth Mead had two further chances. First, she cut past attempted tackles from Cuthbert and Reiten before hitting wide and at the death, her effort was comfortably saved by Berger after being played in down the right by Kim Little.
Chelsea’s victory and the scoreline sent out a warning that they are ready to regain the Super League title. The Blues may stay in third place, but are only a single point away from Arsenal and Manchester City now, with a game in hand at Everton also up their sleeve.
ARSENAL: Zinzberger, Schnaderbeck, Williamson, Quinn, Walti, Roord, Little, Nobbs, Van der Donk, McCabe, Miedema. Subs: Peyroud-Magnin (GK), Evans (for Quinn), Maier, Filis, Grant, Mead (for Nobbs).
Scorer: Mead 74
CHELSEA: Berger, Mjelde, Bright, Eriksson, Andersson, Ingle, Cuthbert, Reiten, Ji, England, Kerr. Subs: Telford (GK), Blundell (for Reiten), Cooper, Napier, Bachmann, Spence (for Kerr), Carter.
Goals: England 10, Kerr 13, Ingle 20, Reiten 68.
Referee: Abigail Byrne.