by Jamie Whitehead
They say that time is a great healer, and no two clubs could be as representative of that saying as the two clubs who took to the field at The Emirates Stadium last night.
Arsenal, the only ever winners of the FA Women’s Super League, kicked off the defence of their title against Liverpool who last season finished bottom of the eight team competition. Both clubs have been victim of the wind of change, with Arsenal bringing in new manager Shelly Kerr and Liverpool making no less than twelve additions to the first team squad over the winter break.
Arsenal’s defence of their title has been staggered with their opening WSL games rearranged due to their recent Champions League semi final defeat to VFB Wolfsburg.
Although it’s still early days and far too early for any unnesscary media induced hyperbole, the display put on by both sides last night suggests that the WSL may not be the closed shop it was in either it’s inaugural or sophomore season.
Playing their annual game at the home of the men’s side, Arsenal struggled to take hold of the game from the get-go. Perhaps it was the sense of the occasion, the blow of bowing out of the Champions League at the semi final stage for the third season running, or the unfamiliar surroundings, but the home side looked a shadow of the side who have been at the peak of women’s football in England for the last seven years. The fact that as yet, the women’s game in England isn’t fully professional yet could pose for some interesting questions over the course of the season. Liverpool are now holding training sessions every day, whilst Arsenal are doing the equivalent only twice a week.
An early booking for Arsenal midfielder Danielle Carter set the tone of the evening for the Gunners. It was a frustrating foul to concede, but one that couldn’t really be argued. Arsenal pulled it together with both Ellen White and Kim Little coming close with first half chances. The similarities in play between the home side and their male counterparts is obvious. But this was ultimately there own undoing as they caught on the break and Andrea De Costa slotted home from close range in the thirty-seventh minute . The home some created some decent chances through the fast pace of Scott, Little and Nobbs and were unlucky not to equalise after White’s powerful header was cleared off the line just before the break.
Fortunes got no better for the home side as Liverpool pulled further away from their opposition with two goals in as many minutes courtesy of Da Costa and Natasha Dowie. A clean breakaway caught the Arsenal defence napping and Dowie added her second after jumping onto a deflected save from Emma Bryne.
Arsenal had chances to get neck into the match with a fierce drive from Nobbs from thirty yards and captain Steph Houghton had two decent chances in the second half, both falling wide of the target.
“We weren’t clinical in front of goal and unfortunately, Liverpool where. We’re extremely disappointed but that can happen in football” Arsenal manager Shelly Kerr said after the match. “Most goals can be avoided, and we played right into their hands in the second half”
“We have a very talented group of players here, but tonight just wasn’t our night. I think we could have been her until midnight and not scored” Kerr ended by speaking highly of tonight’s victors “They’re very sharp, they’re very fit. That’s what happens when you play with confidence. It’s great for the women’s game, because there’s more competition”
A great win for Liverpool in the capital as they avenged their recent 2-1 FA Cup semi final defeat. Arsenal are at home to Birmingham City on Saturday, whilst Liverpool will be hoping to dish out further capital punishment on Sunday with a trip to second placed Chelsea.
Arsenal (4-2-3-1): Byrne; Scott, Flaherty, Grant, Beattie; Houghton, Nobbs (Bailey 75); Davison, Little, Carter; White
Liverpool Ladies (4-5-1): Quantrill; Bronze, Engen, Bonner, Schroder; Fors, Williams, Omarsdottir, Da Costa (Holbrook 72), Rolser (Fenlon-Billson 76); Dowie
Attendance; 2017
Jamie Whitehead is the producer of the forthcoming feature length film, A Different League: Where Next in the Evolution of Women’s Football?