Chelsea 3-1 Arsenal: Gunners dealt critical blow in title race after kickoff delayed due to sock clash

Seeking to move six points clear of Arsenal in the race for the 2023/24 Barclays Women’s Super League title, Emma Hayes’ Chelsea welcomed the Gunners to Stamford Bridge on Friday – where a crowd of 32,970 fans eagerly awaited the first match of the weekend.

Kickoff would be delayed by thirty minutes though, as Arsenal had seemingly forgotten to bring red socks, sparking a kit clash that ultimately resulted in them having to wear Chelsea’s blue away socks – perhaps not ideal psychologically as the players prepared for a potentially title-deciding derby.

CHE: Hampton; Charles, Carter, Buchanan, Périsset; Cuthbert, Leupolz; Nüsken, Kaneryd, Reiten; James

ARS: Zinsberger; McCabe; Wubben-Moy, Williamson, Catley; Little, Pelova, Wälti; Foord, Blackstenius, Mead

With proceedings finally underway at Stamford Bridge, it would take less than fifteen minutes for Chelsea to provisionally move six points clear of the Gunners at the top of the table. In acres of space on the right flank, a long ball from Sjoeke Nüsken left Lauren James able to dance past Steph Catley before fizzing a shot towards goal. Manuela Zinsberger looked to have it covered, but the ball trickled over the line after her initial save.

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It was nothing less than the hosts deserved though. James had been unlucky not to open the scoring twice already, and Erin Cuthbert was denied from a positive position just minutes before the deadlock was broken.

They’d double that lead in controversial circumstances by the 21st minute though. Johanna Rytting Kaneryd’s ball back to Cuthbert was driven forcefully towards goal by the Scottish international, with Nüsken having the deciding touch that poked it past Zinsberger – and with VAR not in operation, there was no way to review a very tight potential offside against the German.

But it would be Chelsea’s third goal, shortly after the half-hour mark, that exposed Arsenal’s weaknesses the most. Intercepting a cross-field ball meant for Lia Wälti, Rytting Kaneryd was able to dart towards goal. Her fierce strike was turned home by Nüsken, with a chance deflection off the midfielder catching Zinsberger off-guard and leaving her static in the middle of her goal.

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Changes were a necessity ahead of the second half for Jonas Eidevall’s Arsenal, and the Scandinavian made three at the break. Alessia Russo, Frida Maanum and Emily Fox all entered the fray, with Stina Blackstenius, Victoria Pelova and Steph Catley withdrawn.

The Gunners did appear rejuvenated and had the wind in their sales for much of the first ten minutes of the second half, though it was Chelsea that forced the best chance of note before the hour mark. Nüsken and Rytting Kaneryd combined once again, with the latter forcing the onrushing Zinsberger into a save to prevent the gulf growing even bigger.

Zinsberger looked to have improved drastically from her admittedly woeful first-half showing, displaying a cool composure after 68 minutes to snatch another Rytting Kaneryd effort from a dangerous area. Eidevall’s half-time changes seemed to have worked wonders, with even a James delivery failing to really threaten the Gunners defensively as the clock ticked into the 75th minute.

And albeit merely a late consolation, the visitors did reduce the deficit with a little under five minutes remaining at Stamford Bridge. A Katie McCabe corner fell to Kim Little on the edge of the box, with the club captain stabbing an effort towards goal that ultimately beat Hannah Hampton after taking a slight deflection en route.

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But as Rebecca Welch’s whistle signalled the end of an enthralling battle at Stamford Bridge, it was Chelsea that found themselves with all three points – and pole position in the Barclays Women’s Super League. Arsenal are left with all the work to do if they’re to overcome the six-point gap that separates them from the top of the table.

Next weekend’s action will see Chelsea travel to West Ham, while Arsenal are on the road against Aston Villa in the final matches ahead of the international break.