Aston Villa 1-3 Arsenal: The Gunners come from behind to secure victory on the road

Villa Park hosted the final match of Women’s Football Weekend, as Arsenal came from behind against Aston Villa to secure three points. Ebony Salmon’s first half goal forced the Gunners to regroup at half-time – and they upped their impetus in the second half as Victoria Pelova, Lotte Wubben-Moy and Stina Blackstenius made the scoresheet.

The build up to kick off seemed all too familiar for Arsenal fans: the clash was delayed from 18:45 to 19:30, with motorway traffic the agent of chaos this time, rather than a calamitous sock clash.

Arsenal defender Laura Wienroither was named in the matchday squad for the first time since May 2023, when she ruptured her ACL against VfL Wolfsburg. However, as rumoured in the week leading up to the clash, midfielder Lia Wälti was unavailable for the Gunners – and Jonas Eidevall confirmed that a ‘minor knee injury’ sustained in training was the explanation for her absence.

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Aston Villa’s preparations for the clash were rocky, with illness and injuries affecting the squad significantly. In her pre-match press conference, Carla Ward said: ‘There have been a couple of days where we’ve only had 12 [players] training, which is not ideal.’

In their most recent meeting, at the start of the month, the Gunners enjoyed a 4-0 Continental Cup victory. Villa looked a dishevelled outfit in that clash, with minimal depth to call on from the bench.

As it happened

The Arsenal fans were out in their numbers, vocally dominating the edges of the Trinity Road End and the Holte End. The noise mirrored Arsenal’s control of the game, keeping play in Villa’s half.

The visitor’s first shot on target came in the 15th minute, with a scrappy attempt by captain Kim Little. Carrying possession to the edge of the box, Little found the hands of Anna Leat following numerous blocked shots in the box by Villa’s defence. The hosts sat deep, preventing Arsenal from manipulating the defence with high press required to break the stale score.

Carla Ward’s Villa showed pockets of attack as both Rachel Daly and Ebony Salmon made feasible runs towards the goal. There were cries of handball from the Villa side as Lotte Wubben-Moy blocked Salmon’s cross into the box; her hand making clear contact with the ball.

The injustice felt by the players served to change the dynamic of the match, as Villa opted to press further. The side in claret and blue reaped their rewards moments later, as Adriana Leon sent the ball into Salmon – who sat front and centre of the box. Converting into the bottom left corner, the Villans opened the scoring comfortably ahead of half time.

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The visitors were far from clinical – a pattern which has further manifested itself across the course of the season. From sloppy possession and poor set pieces, Arsenal’s first half was riddled with miscommunications and missed opportunities, and half time came with the momentum in Villa’s hands.

Galvanised after a team talk from Jonas Eidevall, Arsenal started positively, exploiting weakness down the left. Victoria Pelova found the much-needed equaliser, as Alessia Russo’s failed shot deflected off Leat’s gloves and fell to the feet of the Dutchwoman, who in turn found the back of the net.

The goal enabled the Gunners to work their way through the gears, adding intensity and physicality going forward. Arsenal’s chances came thick and fast following a plethora of substitutions, with set pieces providing ample opportunity to double their tally. Mead sent in deliveries from the edge of the box: the first finding the head of Wubben-Moy, with the defender sending it wide, and the other safely secured by Leat.

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The stadium soon became a pressure cooker as within the space of mere minutes, Maanum sent the ball inches over the crossbar, with Mead and Little also finding the gloves of Leat through powerful shots along the ground. Cries for a penalty came from Eidevall in the dugout as Leah Williamson went down in the box; the referee dismissing these shouts.

January signing Emily Fox prevented the ball from going out of play, crossing it in to Russo at the back post who fumbled another prime opportunity – but the Gunners‘ efforts would not be in vain as the ex-Manchester United forward, who was Arsenal’s workhorse across the pitch, sent the ball into Wubben-Moy, who ensured the score moved to 2-1.

Two goals quickly turned to three as impact substitution Stina Blackstenius put her name on the scoresheet, falling in front of goal but recovering in time to ensure a further lead. Six minutes of added time was all Villa had to at least find somewhat of a consolation prize, deploying loanee Miri Taylor centrally but ultimately failing to close the gap.

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Arsenal remain third in the Barclays Women’s Super League, while Aston Villa keep hold of ninth place.

The lineups

AVL: Leat; Turner, Patten, Maritz; Pacheco, Dali, Nobbs, Mayling; Salmon, Daly, Leon

ARS: Zinsberger; McCabe, Wubben-Moy, Williamson, Fox; Pelova, Little; Lacasse, Maanum, Mead; Russo