Arsenal 2-1 Aston Villa: Gunners gain three points in stoppage time as Beth Mead returns from injury

Jonas Eidevall’s Arsenal would mark their second Barclays Women’s Super League fixture of the season with a return to the Emirates Stadium, where they fell to a slender defeat against Liverpool on the opening day of the campaign. With Beth Mead returning to the matchday squad, the 35,829 strong crowd would hope to see the England superstar earn minutes towards the latter stages against a struggling Aston Villa side.

ARS: Zinsberger; Catley, Wubben-Moy, Ilestedt, Maritz; McCabe, Little, Wälti; Foord, Russo, Maanum

AVL: van Domselaar; Turner, Corsie, Patten, Mayling; Staniforth, Parker; Blindkilde, Magill, Pacheco; Daly

North London paused in reflection of the recent atrocities in Israel and Palestine ahead off kickoff, with those in attendance falling silent after a rousing rendition of North London Forever – which has been adopted as the club’s anthem.

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Arsenal’s troubled start to the season looked set to come to a close as the Gunners benefitted from a number of early openings, but Jonas Eidevall’s side lacked the cutting edge to capitalise – as Katie McCabe saw her tame shot held well by Daphne van Domselaar just before Frida Maanum failed to find Alessia Russo with a through ball.

Villa’s defending was resolute though, and when a cross in from Arsenal’s left flank looked to have beaten van Domselaar, Maz Pacheco was in place to send the ball behind for a corner and provide much-needed relief.

However, it was telling of Arsenal’s performance that the loudest cheer of the first fifteen minutes came when Beth Mead took to the sidelines in a bid to warm up on a chilly autumnal afternoon in North London.

Carla Ward’s side would grow into the game though, netting the opener with their first shot on target after a period of sustained pressure. Sarah Mayling’s cross had been cleared, but Villa came again through Rachel Daly, flicking a ball out to the left flank that was hoofed behind for a corner by Kim Little.

It was from that set-piece that the visitors would take the lead, with Pacheco perfectly positioned to nod past Manuela Zinsberger for the opener – and her first goal since 2016. With Jonas Eidevall’s goalkeeping selection coming to the forefront this season, it’s a goal that the Austrian would have hoped to avoid conceding.

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Understandably, given that the Gunners have failed to win either of their opening WSL matches and have already suffered an early exit from European competition, many are beginning to question Eidevall’s suitability as head coach – but Arsenal have shown faith in the Scandinavian, recently extending his contract in a bid to ease the uncertainty around his future.

And as the interval drew nearer, Arsenal’s desperation and frustration palpably grew. The hosts should have equalised with a little over a minute remaining before the break, but Russo’s headed effort at the far post flew across the box as a threatening free-kick was squandered once more. It really has been the tale of the season for the Gunners, who have created countless opportunities but have been left to rue their lack of ruthlessness in front of goal.

The Gunners enjoyed a bright start to the second half, though the flow of play was disrupted when Russo’s effort on goal struck the head of Rachel Corsie – who was left needing an assessment. But as had been the case throughout the opening period, the hosts still struggled to find a way through, with van Domselaar’s composure on the ball fascinating to watch as she came under pressure on numerous occasions.

Evidently frustrated by his side’s inability to restore parity, Eidevall turned to the bench with an hour played in North London, with Cloé Lacasse and Victoria Pelova replacing Frida Maanum and Amanda Ilestedt in an attacking-minded substitution.

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It was a move that looked set to come to fruition almost immediately as the Gunners produced their best opportunity of the match, with Caitlin Foord’s effort from the left flank clipping the inside of the far post and while the rebound fell acutely for Russo, van Domselaar was positioned well to deny the English international – a feat she hadn’t managed when the pair met in Utrecht last month.

Yet given that Arsenal had still failed to equalise, Stina Blackstenius was introduced for Lia Wälti with fifteen minutes still to play – as Eidevall seemingly abandoned all hopes of defensive solidity in favour of a last-ditch equaliser.

And just like the earlier change, it looked to pay dividends for the home side – although perhaps they had not banked on Aston Villa’s impenetrable defence, which held robustly as a tide of Arsenal pressure looked set to force a mistake.

With three minutes of regulation time remaining, the Emirates Stadium would welcome Beth Mead back to the hallowed turf – the very place she ruptured her anterior cruciate ligament 11 months ago. Her hopes of a comeback goal would be bolstered when the fourth official indicated an additional twelve minutes would be played.

But it was not Mead that found the crucial equaliser – it was Katie McCabe. Played in on goal on the left-hand side of the box, the Irish international thundered a strike into the roof of the net, with Daphne van Domselaar’s clean sheet crumbling away right at the end.

It would prove to be the momentum that the Gunners needed, as with 94 minutes on the clock, Alessia Russo bundled home from the edge of the area – with her deflected effort catching van Domselaar off-guard. While she may be lacking a goal on her comeback, Mead registered the assist with a well-placed cutback for her international teammate.

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It was the most dramatic end to this chilly afternoon’s affair in North London – but on a greater scale, Arsenal can take confidence from a late win given their poor form as of late. For Aston Villa though, the search for their first win of the season continues as they host a high-flying Tottenham Hotspur next weekend.