Dave Bishop
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Arsenal Women v Chelsea Women – FA Women’s Super League – Emirates Stadium – Report

Arsenal Women 4-1 Chelsea Women 

Christmas came early for Arsenal as a double from Alessia Russo – including one from the spot – plus goals from Beth Mead and Amanda Ilestedt saw the Gunners through to a crushing 4-1 win over previously unbeaten league leaders Chelsea – in front of a new WSL attendance record 59,042 at the Emirates Stadium.

Chelsea had started the day three points ahead of Arsenal and Manchester City but Jonas Eidevall’s side brushed Blues aside with a truly outstanding display that duly served notice that despite the West Londoners continuing to remain at the top of the league on goal difference, defence of the Women’s Super League title they have won consecutively over the past four years may well this season prove to be a very tightly run race.

Arsenal made two changes to the side that defeated West Ham 3-0 at Meadow Park on November 26 with Kim Little and Lia Walti recalled to the starting eleven with Kyra Cooney-Cross and Frida Maanum dropping to the bench.

Emma Hayes also made two changes with Sjoeke Nuske and Jessie Fleming coming in for Sophie Ingle and Fran Kirby following Chelsea’s 5-2 victory over Leicester City at Kingsmeadow two weeks ago.

Arsenal opened the scoring after just eight minutes when Victoria Pelova picked out the unmarked Mead, who quickly switched direction to make space for herself before firing past Ann-Katrin Berger to make it 1-0.

Chelsea were level just five minutes later when against the run of play, Johanna Rytting-Kaneryd powered her shot through Steph Catley’s legs and past the outstretched glove of Manuela Zinsberger for the equaliser.

With Arsenal dominant and very much in the ascendency, Ilestedt headed home a corner in the thirty-sixth minute before shortly after, Lia Walti’s long ball wound its way through to Russo to run on and slot home past Berger to make it 3-1.

Emma Hayes made three changes at half-time, with Kirby, Kadeisha Buchanan and Ashley Lawrence replacing Maren Mjelde, Sjoeke Nusken and Eve Perisset, however, the substitutions failed to spark any drastic improvement by the visitors as Arsenal continued to control the game with ease – despite Blues having what appeared to be a good shout for a penalty waved away by referee Rebecca Welch when Kirby was brought to ground in the box.

Arsenal themselves were awarded a spot kick when, with twenty minutes left on the clock, Russo was bundled off the ball in the area by Jess Carter, with Berger then sliding in across a rain-soaked surface to send the former Manchester United striker tumbling over.

With regular penalty taker Kim Little off the pitch having been substituted earlier in the match, Russo stepped up to drive the ball perfectly into the bottom left-hand corner of the net to make it 4-1.

Despite Arsenal pressing forward after the goal and creating several further chances near the end, Chelsea’s determined defence clung on for the remainder of the game without conceding again.

Arsenal manager Jonas Eidevall to BBC Sport: “It is a really strong performance, especially the first half when we killed the game. That is the best we have played this season, we have shown our potential which we know we have, but we have not really played at that level, so that was really pleasing to see.

“For us, if I am going to summarise in some ways when we played Chelsea here two and half seasons ago and I was knee sliding after that game as that felt big.

“Now the only thing that matters is the position in the league. It is great that we won today, I am proud of the performance, but let’s not get carried away. It does not count for anything if we are not ready for Saturday against Tottenham.

“There are still two more games till Christmas, even with how great that was. There is another game on Wednesday and then on Saturday, so it is not Christmas yet”.

Emma Hayes spoke after the game to www.skysports.com: “We were bullied in the duels; in the number of duels, we lost in the game. You can’t concede three goals from four shots at any level of football and expect to win a game… I felt as a team, we just struggled. This isn’t about any one player, we struggled as a team. It was a long 98 minutes today.

“The last time we had a defeat like this in the Conti Cup final, we did OK. You have to get beaten, you can’t go a whole season unbeaten, there are lots of top teams.

“But what you cannot do is give away three goals before the half and then just give it you’ve given it up. You could say they could have scored more in the second half. They’re in a winning position, they commit numbers forward, they’re on top they’re playing at home. Points are irrelevant, but we weren’t good enough going forward either.

“We talk like teams don’t lose football matches. We’ve lost the football match, but it is not the end of the world. Are we disappointed? Of course, we are.

“But we’ve not lost the title, we’ve not lost the final, just three points. It’s disappointment, not just with result, but also the performance.”

Arsenal host the first of two North London Derbies against Tottenham in the Women’s League Cup on Wednesday, December 13 (7pm) before facing each other again three days later – this time in the WSL at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium on Saturday, December 16 (12pm)

Chelsea host Group D leaders BK Hacken in the UEFA Champions League on Thursday, December 14 (8pm) before heading to Bristol City in the WSL on Sunday, December 17 (2pm).

Arsenal: Zinsberger, McCabe, Ilestedt, Wubben-Moy, Catley (Maritz 75’) Pelova (Cooney-Cross 90+3’) Walti, Mead (Lacasse 76’) Little (Maanum 61’) Foord, Russo (Blackstenius 75’) Subs not used: Beattie, Miedema, D’Angelo, Codina

Chelsea: Berger, Perisset (Lawrence 45’) Mjelde (Buchannan 45’) Carter, Charles, Nusken (Kirby 45’) Cuthbert, Rytting Kaneryd (Reiten 64’) Fleming, James (Fishel 75’) Kerr Subs not used: Musovic, Ingle, Hampton, Beever-Jones

Referee: Rebecca Welch

Assistants: Natalie Aspinall and Emily Carney

Fourth Official: Emily Heaslip 

Attendance: 59,042