WSL Report: Arsenal 4 - 1 Chelsea


Arsenal Credit: None

Arsenal are now level with Emma Hayes's Chelsea at the top of the Women's Super League following a dominant 4-1 victory over the Blues.

A record-breaking crowd of 59,042 at the Emirates witnessed the Gunners secure their position as joint leaders at the top of the WSL. A flat and unrecognisable Chelsea are ahead now only on goal difference.

Strikes from Beth Mead and Amanda Illestadt, and a double from former Manchester United striker Alessia Russo, saw the home side to a convincing win in North London.

The match began with Mead winning an aerial challenge in the midfield. She then laid the ball off beautifully for McCabe, who charged down the right wing in acres of space.

A dink of the ball to captain Kim Little followed, the Scot setting Mead up nicely with the outside of her boot just inside the edge of the box. A timely intercept from Niamh Charles, however, left the number nine swinging at air.

Arsenal kept exploiting the spaces in Chelsea's defense, with Lauren James and Charles struggling to keep up as Arsenal dominated the flanks.

In the eighth minute, Mead looked to have overcooked her first clear chance at goal. She refused the shot, duping the defense with a feint and dribbling the ball on a circuitous route across the goal mouth. As it crashed into the top corner, you felt foolish for having doubted her.

Moments later, fans in the North End gasped as Zinsberger was forced to palm a powerful strike by Chelsea's Fleming away from goal.

In spite of the Gunners' 1-0 lead, a fog of unease hung over the home crowd. Chelsea, despite being under pressure, remained a threat.

In the 27th minute, Charles dribbled past both McCabe and Mead, leading to Chelsea's equaliser. Johanna Rytting Kaneryd took advantage of Zinsberger’s limited vision and curled the ball into the bottom right corner.

Foord and Russo remained threats on the left flank for Arsenal, the ball zipping on the wet surface between red and white, and blue, McCabe winning the battle against James on the right-hand side while the two Scots, Erin Cuthbert and Little, went toe-to-toe in midfield.

Despite the even scoreline, the body language of both managers differed, perhaps foretelling the one-sided thrashing to come.

Puffa jacket shining from the steady downpour, Emma Hayes pointed an accusatory finger at the impetuous yet highly talented James, her expression stern, while Gunners boss Jonas Eidevall clapped encouragingly towards a vocal sea of red and white.

To the anticipatory roar of the crowd in the 35th minute, Arsenal's Matilda Steph Catley whipped a ball from the corner flag into the box, forcing Ann-Katrin Berger to overcommit.

Ilestedt, having peeled away from the defense, tapped it across the line with her forehead, sending Hayes into the dugout throwing her eyes up to the dreary and dull London sky.

Less than two minutes after the restart, Russo latched on to Catley’s perfectly-timed long pass. Inside the box, she held off Mjelde and fired with pinpoint precision into the far corner.

The Emirates, now well and truly rocking, saw a nervy Chelsea hold their line against further punishment before gaining some respite at the half-time whistle.

Hayes made strategic substitutions during the break as Fran Kirby, Ashley Lawrence, and Kadeisha Buchanan came on for Sjoeke Nüsken, Eve Périsset and Maren Mjelde.

Chelsea increased the press in the second half, with Kirby sitting into the three behind Kerr while Johanna Rytting Kaneryd held a deeper midfield position.

Despite Hayes's best efforts, and subsequent spells of possession by Chelsea, Arsenal continued to pass the ball freely, the only real threat to McCabe arising when a group of young Chelsea fans sporting blue and silver tinsel hairbands shouted panto-esque insults in her direction.

Kim Little's injury, which resulted in her replacement with Frida Maanum, the FSA women’s Player of the Year, will be a concern to Arsenal fans, who are only just becoming accustomed to having her back on the pitch following a hamstring injury that cut her last season short.

In the 70th minute, Lauren James narrowly avoided a red card for a stamp on Lia Walti's boot. While Arsenal's balls over the top continued to threaten to land at  Mead's feet, it was Russo’s right boot that fired Arsenal into a comfortable 4-1 lead.

Following a pinpoint pass by Palova, who has been Arsenal's playmaker of the season to date, Russo was fouled by the Chelsea keeper Berger, winning a spot kick and converting it with composure beyond her 24 years.

Arsenal's back line kept Chelsea's Sam Kerr uncharacteristically quiet until the final whistle, while Chelsea winger Guro Reiten failed to make an impact on her return.

Five minutes from time, super sub Stina Blackstenius missed an opportunity to rub salt into the wound when presented with an absolute sitter, sending the ball wide of the mark.

At the final whistle, the Emirates erupted but Jonas Eidevall, in his post-match interview, cautioned against overconfidence

He said: “The only thing that matters is the end position in the league. It's great that we won today - the performance I'm really proud of. But let's not get carried away for it. It doesn’t count for anything if we're not ready against Tottenham.”

Something tells me they will be.

Chelsea: Ann-Katrin Berger; Ève Périsset (Ashley Lawrence 45), Maren Mjelde (Kadeisha Buchanan 45), Jess Carter, Niamh Charles; Sjoeke Nüsken (Fran Kirby 45), Erin Cuthbert; Johanna Rytting Kaneryd (Guro Reiten 64), Jessie Fleming, Lauren James (Mia Fishel 74); Sam Kerr.
Subs not used: Zećira Mušović (gk), Hannah Hampton, Sophie Ingle, Aggie Beever-Jones.
Booked: Lauren James 68.
Arsenal: Manuela Zinsberger; Katie McCabe, Amanda Ilestedt, Lottie Wubben-Moy, Steph Catley (Noelle Maritz 74); Victoria Pelova, Lia Wälti; Beth Mead (Cloé Lacasse 74), Kim Little (Frida Maanum 61), Caitlin Foord; Alessia Russo (Stina Blackstenius 74)
Subs not used: Sabrina D’Angelo (gk), Jen Beattie, Vivienne Miedema, Laia Codina, Kyra Cooney-Cross.
Booked: Katie McCabe 53, Caitlin Foord 56.
Referee: Rebecca Welch.