Arsenal start WSL season with thrilling victory over champions Chelsea
- Credit: PA
8,705 fans witnessed Arsenal’s first home win over Chelsea in the WSL for eight years as the Gunners kicked off their season in perfect fashion with a 3-2 victory over the defending champions Chelsea at the Emirates on Sunday afternoon.
Chelsea started the quickest as within seconds of the kick off Erin Cuthbert drove down the wing before crossing for Beth England who was inches away from meeting the ball in the middle but the striker failed to turn it home.
Vivianne Miedema had her first opportunity when she put pressure on Chelsea goalkeeper Ann Katrin-Berger after a poor back-pass from Jess Carter but with the Netherlands striker hunting her down before Berger drilled her clearance out of play.
As Arsenal settled Jonas Eidevall would have been pleased with his sides start and they had another opening following a set-piece with Katie McCabe whipping in a free-kick but Carter stuck out a leg and got the ball away before Jennifer Beattie could pounce at the back-post.
In a frantic start Chelsea had a big opportunity when Pernille Harder tried to get the better of Frida Maanum but the Norwegian midfielder did well to get back and make a crucial block.
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Maanum was on hand to rescue Arsenal once more as Beth England and Ji So-yun linked up but the midfielder was back and on hand to pick up the loose ball and clear the danger.
Beth Mead could have put the Gunners ahead in the 13th minute when Mana Iwabuchi linked up with McCabe before the Republic of Ireland captain played in Mead who rolled her effort wide of the target.
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However Arsenal took the lead a minute later with Miedema opening her account in the league as she was played in behind the Chelsea defence and then she had the sharpness to cut the ball back before drilling her effort in at the near-post beyond the despairing dive of Berger.
The Gunners grew in confidence with that goal with the home side opening up Chelsea again a few minutes later with Kim Little linking up with Mead before her low cross was well held by Berger before Miedema could pounce.
Chelsea reacted well when England skipped beyond Lia Walti before linking up with Ji So-yun who looked liked she was in on goal but Leah Williamson got back to make a superb last ditch tackle stopping her getting a shot away on goal.
Maanum was impressing the supporters at the Emirates and it was the 22 year old who forced another save from Berger as she let fly from long range but the keeper was well behind the ball to make the stop.
Arsenal should have been 2-0 ahead with 34 minutes on the clock when Katie McCabe drove down the wing before crossing to the back-post for Mead who pulled the ball back for Iwabuchi who fired her effort over the crossbar when she should have hit the target.
Chelsea did come close to an equaliser as half time approached when Pernille Harder tried her luck from range the ball taking a huge deflection off Beattie but Zinsberger was alert to get down and make the save low to her left.
Williamson then had to be alert once more as she made another last ditch tackle as Guro Reiten picked out Ji-So Yun but the English international stepped across to make the challenge.
However the teams did go in level at the break as Mille Bright had her shot blocked following a ball into the box, it dropped for Melanie Leupolz who shifted her pass onto Cuthbert and she slammed the ball across goal and into the bottom corner to make it 1-1.
Arsenal did have a big opening just before the half-time whistle blew when Mead who was causing Chelsea all sorts or problems squared a pass for Miedema but the WSL’s record goalscorer drilled her effort over the bar.
Chelsea started the second half on top and could have instantly taken the lead when Reiten raced down the wing before her cross looped over Zinsberger before cracking off the crossbar and bouncing away to safety.
Arsenal however did retake the lead on 49 minutes when Mead was sent in on goal after Walti won the ball back before playing a pass to Miedema and she sliced the Chelsea defence open with a sensational pass into Mead before she drilled her strike into the corner of the net.
This gave the Gunners even more confidence when Mead was released down the wing again via a Miedema pass but Berger was off her line quickly to clear the loose ball away out for a throw in.
Berger had to come to Chelsea’s aid once more several moments later as Miedema slipped Mead in yet again but the German keeper made herself big to save with her legs and keep the score 2-1.
Chelsea were then forced into action as Hayes looked to her bench bringing on Fran Kirby , Sam Kerr and Sophie Ingle as England ,Leupolz and Niamh Charles were replaced.
Kerr was instantly involved in the action when she curled the ball in looking for Magdalena Eriksson but she couldn’t quite reach the ball to turn it into the net.
With an hour on the clock Arsenal had the ball in the net once more when Mead was played in by Iwabuchi and she had the confidence in rounding Berger and placing the ball into the empty net to make it 3-1.
Despite the goal standing replay’s showed that Mead was offside in the build up,a stroke of luck for the Gunners in the opening match of the season.
Eidevall then made his first changes as McCabe and Iwabuchi were replaced by Steph Catley and Nikita Parris a minute after Arsenal extended their lead.
Chelsea just wouldn’t lie down as they had an opening via Bright as she met a cross into the box following a free-kick but the defender sent her volley over the crossbar.
The Blues did pull a goal back as they just wouldn’t give up when Beattie made a superb last ditch tackle on Kirby before the ball came loose for Cuthbert and she crossed for Harder who rose above Walti to head into the net with 64 minutes played.
Zinsberger was called into action once more as Chelsea were putting pressure on the Gunners when Cuthbert was played down the wing and the Scottish international drilled her effort across goal but the keeper parried her effort away to safety before Harder fouled Beattie as she went for the rebound.
Arsenal were still attempting to attack and kill the game off once and for all when Walti clipped a ball over the top aiming for Parris but it was just slightly over-hit and sailed through to Berger.
Chelsea thought they were level with fifteen minutes left to play as Harder floated the ball in aiming for Kerr who got up highest but just couldn’t connect with the ball and it sailed away to the sheer relief of the Arsenal defence.
Arsenal then made another change when Simone Boye Sørensen replaced Beattie who went down with an injury on 77 minutes.
Arsenal were playing more fluid football than in the last few seasons in these sort of fixtures showing more willingness to go forward when Miedema set up Catley for the cross and the Australian picked out Parris who blasted her effort into the hands of Berger.
Williamson was putting in a superb performance at the back for the home side and it was her who made yet another crucial block as Reiten's cross was blocked before it found Sam Kerr who played a pass to Ji So-yun who picked the ball up on the edge of the box before shifting it to her left and the curling it towards goal but Williamson made a key block with her head to keep Arsenal ahead.
Eidevall then went to shuffle the pack once again on 83 minutes as Lotte Wubben-Moy and Anna Patten replaced Walti and two goal hero Mead.
Boye-Sørensen was next in line to come to Arsenal’s rescue as Kirby crossed low from the right aiming for Kerr but the defender shimmied across to make a crucial sliding challenge before Wubben-Moy swept the danger away.
On 88 minutes Kerr had a big chance to equalise as she met a cross but she could only direct her header straight at Zinsberger in the Gunners goal.
Arsenal were defending frantically as the board for 6 minutes went up at the Emirates Stadium and there was time for a last chance for Chelsea, Kirby picked up the ball on the edge of the area before she cut inside but she got her shot all wrong and clipped her effort over the crossbar.
Arsenal hung on to start the season with a big three points and an impressive performance to boost as for the first time since 2015 the defending WSL champions lost their opening game of the season.
Arsenal: Zinsberger, Maritz, Williamson, Beattie (Boye-Sørensen 77), McCabe (Catley 61), Maanum, Little,Walti (Wubben-Moy 84), Iwabuchi (Parris 61), Miedema, Mead (Patten 83).
Unused substitutes: Cull, Williams, Goldie
Chelsea: Berger, Charles (Kirby 56), Bright (Fleming 87), Eriksson, Bright, Carter, Ji, Leupolz (Ingle 56),Cuthbert, England (Kerr 56) ,Reiten (Andersson 83), Harder.
Unused substitutes: Musovic, Fox, Spence Nouwen.
Referee: Rebecca Welch.