What we were watching: 🔥
ARSENAL 3 – 2 CHELSEA (FA Women’s Super League, 12.30pm KO, 5th September 2021, Emirates Stadium)
Who was watching: @lawson_sv
Hello, hello, after a long Olympic summer I wrenched myself from my SheKicks armchair to get to some WSL games this weekend, notably the London derby at the Emirates (SK Ed Jen has asked me to say where I watched from so I’ll be very literal and say: Row 1, Seat 15 of the Arsenal press box).
After months in the frozen football wilderness of lockdown and having to watch football on the telly, the return of fans to the stands (and more availability for those in the press box) has lead to the inevitable. That’s right, I’m talking about missing kick-off because you’re still outside the stadium. So, we will have to pretend that absolutely nothing of note happened over the first three minutes.
By the time I actually found my seat, the game was stretchier than silly putty with both London teams sprinting from one end of the pitch to the other in the hunt of the opener, but it was the hosts, spurred on by a healthy enough crowd who set the early pace. Just as it had against Slavia Prague on Tuesday, Arsenal’s early dominance and interplay brought about the first goal. A neat ball from Katie McCabe found Vivianne Miedema (you know her, she always goes missing in the big games), who writhed and wriggled free of her marker to slide the ball in to the near corner.
With Ji doing bits and Pernille Harder popping up in space more and more as the half went on, Arsenal failed to adjust to the increase in pressure from the current champions and were pulled back just before the break. A defected effort made its way to Melanie Leupolz as Arsenal failed to clear a corner, the German international shielding the ball well before picking out an unmarked Erin Cuthbert for the Scot to send the ball home.
Although Arsenal have shown their tendency to flag as the halves go on, the Gunners start strong and that’s just what they did after the break, with route one wide open for Beth Mead as she latched onto a long ball. The attacker racing between the centre-backs and, just like Miedema before here, wiggling enough space to get her shot away, the ball curling beyond Ann-Katrin Berger to sneak inside of her far post. Mead at the double 11 minutes later as she was set on her way by Mana Iwabuchi’s ball into space, the attacker rounding Berger before rolling her marker and nipping the ball into the open net.
However, the Blues refused to give up hope and with both Fran Kirby and Sam Kerr (or Sam Kirby and Fran Kerr if you’ve had too much sun) on the pitch, the team had a renewed confidence. The fifth (FIFTH!) goal of the game came not through Kerrby but Harder when she rose seemingly unmarked in the Arsenal box to nod Erin Cuthbert’s peach of a cross over Manuela Zinsberger. The mood in the stadium not quite as breathlessly, ‘WE WANT ALL THE GOALS!!!’ as it was across social media platforms but the crowd of just under 9,000 was certainly making themselves known adding to the whole Nick Hornby of the occasion.
As the clock ticked down through the 90 minutes and then the added six of stoppage time, the tension mounted with Chelsea pushing and probing for another equaliser as blue shirt camped in and around the Arsenal box. Every save, block and clearance from the hosts met with a raucous applause from the crowd, Chelsea fans entirely drowned out by grateful Gooners. The anxiety levels only subsiding after Rebecca Welch had blown for full time, the cheers from the home fans like a chorus of fireworks going off on bonfire night.
We often worry that the games given top billing will splosh to the ground like the dampest of squibs but the London rivals, who had shared more than a few ding-dongs over the course of the WSL era had put on a show and firmly hoisted the curtain on the 2021-22 WSL season. 👏
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