Last weekend marked more woes for Arsenal, as a decisive victory for Chelsea saw the Gunner’s slim WSL title hopes dashed. More misery was to be piled on, as it was announced before the contest that the experienced Rafaelle Souza is to leave Arsenal this summer, creating a frenzy across the club. The Arsenal fans seemed in good spirit ahead of kickoff, with plenty of songs to celebrate their stars – including Blackstenius and of course Rafaelle.
Aston Villa would relish the opportunity to test themselves against the big dogs, as they strive to do one better than their thrilling six-goal draw with Liverpool last time out. Carla Ward’s side would however be under no illusion that Arsenal were favourites heading into the game, especially given the fact that the visitors are left with just three players on the bench as a result of numerous injuries.
ARS: D’Angelo; Rafaelle, Wubben-Moy, Beattie; Catley, Maanum, McCabe, Maritz; Pelova, Taylor; Blackstenius
AVL: Hampton; Pacheco, Turner, Corsie, Mayling; Hanson, Staniforth, Allen; Blindkilde, Daly, Lehmann
The first chance of the first half fell for the Gunners in the eighth minute, when Taylor squared the ball to Blackstenius. The forward tried to poke the ball around the ‘keeper, but it rolled agonisingly wide as it was shielded out of play.
After a relatively cagey start with few clear-cut chances, McCabe decided to take it on herself to have a pop from outside the box – but uncharacteristically, it sailed just wide of the top corner. Blackstenius was nearly through on goal moments later, but she couldn’t get the ball under control and it was easily gathered up by the Villa shotstopper.
Maanum earned Arsenal a corner when she forced a stop from Hampton; the following cross led to the ball being pinged around the box before Pelova powered the rebound over the crossbar.
In a moment of madness, it was Villa who went ahead in added time. A corner created panic in the Gunners’ penalty area, with the ball being scrambled around before Daly managed to squeeze the ball into the back of the net.
The opening 45 minutes certainly felt more like a pre-season affair, with no real urgency by either side to grab a hold of the game – and for all of Arsenal’s possession, it didn’t amount for anything. Jonas Eidevall’s side trailed at the break.
Villa doubled their lead within a few minutes of the restart, with an in-swinger from Hanson finding Lehmann. The Swiss international silkily slotted the ball through the legs of D’Angelo, to put Carla Ward’s side well and truly in control. who silkily slotted the ball through D’Angelo’s legs.
Villa’s defensive astuteness in the first half had paid off, and they looked to push on for a third goal. Hanson was visibly brimming with confidence and tried an audacious chipped effort from long range, although it wasn’t worrying D’Angelo as it found her gloves safely.
Daly would have another chance in the area, beautifully crafting a Maradona roulette and sending a rocket towards goal – but it wouldn’t find the target. Shortly after that chance, they would again fire over to the frustration of Villa substitute Magill.
A clear push in the back on Catley in the penalty area was ignored by the referee, leading to an onslaught of abuse aimed at Amy Fearns who oversaw the game. The Gunners had been the masters of their own downfall though, lacking the required finishing touch as Maanum hit a shot down the midriff of the Villa keeper, who didn’t even need to shift her body.
With time running out, Kathrine Kuhl dragged a curled effort away from goal – and this gave Jonas Eidevall the chance to take Rafaelle off, with the Brazilian receiving a huge standing ovation from the Arsenal faithful.
Ultimately, it’s been a season that’s fallen short of the Gunners’ high standards – but qualification for Europe remains a sign of promise for Jonas Eidevall’s side. They’ll be hoping that their squad remains fit next year, allowing them to push for silverware both domestically and on the continent.