Reading 0-6 Arsenal: Leah Williamson registers assist on return from ACL injury

As Arsenal prepared to face a Reading FC side troubled by off-pitch financial woes, many of the pre-game headlines were defined by Leah Williamson’s return to the Gunners matchday squad after a lengthy injury-enforced absence since rupturing her ACL against Manchester United.

REA: Annets; Woodham, Smith, Hendrix, Mayi Kith; Estcourt, Houssein, Primmer; Wellings, Longhurst, Wade

ARS: D’Angelo; Catley, Codina, Beattie, McCabe; Cooney-Cross, Pelova; Foord, Maanum, Lacasse; Blackstenius

Many had predicted the gulf in quality between these two sides to become apparent after just a couple of minutes at the Select Car Leasing Stadium on Wednesday evening – but Reading’s defensive structure looked to be coping well with the consistent threat posed by the Gunners attack.

Cloé Lacasse forced Eve Annets to produce a fine save at her near post, with Frida Maanum then joining in on the action soon after, putting the goalkeeper to work once again before seeing another strike deflected behind for a corner.

But a sublime pass through between the Royals’ defence would see Maanum pick out Caitlin Foord, allowing the Australian forward to slot home a composed effort at the near post – firing the Gunners into the lead in RG2.

The Gunners wasted no time in seeking to double their advantage at the Select Car Leasing Stadium, with Victoria Pelova the next player to knock on Annets’ door, although the goalkeeper remained steadfast to deny the Dutch international on her second attempt.

Just over ten minutes after opening the scoring, Jonas Eidevall’s side did indeed find their second goal of the evening through Stina Blackstenius. The Swedish forward flicked the ball out wide to Steph Catley, with the wing-back returning the favour with a well-placed cross that allowed Blackstenius to slam home at the near post.

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The floodgates had seemingly opened as the Gunners added a third goal on the stroke of the half-time interval, with Blackstenius completing her brace as she picked out the far corner with a low, placed strike across the box.

The Swedish striker was evidently keen to turn her brace into a hat-trick after just four minutes of the second half in RG2, shooting from six yards out but seeing her strike deflected over the crossbar as Reading’s defence looked to avoid shipping yet another goal. The Royals’ resolve would soon waver though, with Laia Codina picking out the bottom-right corner of Annets’ goal in the 51st minute to hand the Gunners a four-goal lead.

But the biggest cheer of the evening came on the hour mark, as Leah Williamson replaced Jen Beattie. The England international entered the field of play for the first time since rupturing her anterior cruciate ligament against Manchester United almost 300 days ago.

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Williamson looked to have an almost instantaneous impact as she found Lacasse at the back post, though the Canadian forward was only able to plant her header over the bar. But Williamson wouldn’t have to wait long for her first assist since her injury, picking out Beth Mead with a ball over the top of the Reading defence that the forward tucked away with aplomb.

Arsenal’s goalscoring exploits were far from over though, as Blackstenius arrived inside the box once more to capitalise on a mistake from the Royals backline, tucking home past Annets for her third goal of the evening.

A comfortable victory for Jonas Eidevall’s side sees them top their group in the Conti Cup, with attention now turning to their upcoming trip to Liverpool’s Prenton Park on Sunday. Reading will also return to league action on Sunday, heading to Lewes for what will likely be a relegation dogfight.