Being billed as the 'game of the season', Sunday's highly anticipated showdown between Arsenal and Chelsea at Boreham Wood promised to be a landmark in the Women's Super League. With a sold out crowd and televised coverage, it had all the makings of a rather memorable London derby. Of course which such hype came a healthy amount of speculation. Would Vivianne Miedema's drought finally come to an end? Would Sam Kerr manage hit the back of the net for the first time since arriving at Chelsea? And if so, who would emerge victorious in the clash of these two titans?
With Arsenal and Chelsea being two of the big three contenders for the league title, and with the top of the table so close, a win was imperative for both sides. Having little to separate the two sides on paper, it would ultimately come down to which team was willing to fight for it on the day. Presenting mighty line-ups, what was clear from the beginning was that both teams would be looking to dominate early. And as the whistle blew, it was anyone's game.
The first half was eventful to say the least. A number of early breaks meant Chelsea set an immediate pace that unexpectedly left a startled Arsenal on the back foot. This mounting pressure from Chelsea did not take long to explode, and a masterful strike from Beth England put the Blue's ahead at nine minutes.
Directly after Arsenal's restart, a miscommunication at the back meant that England almost made it two in two minutes. With Arsenal's grasp seemingly slipping, within minutes a beautiful ball into the box, matched perfectly to Kerr's run, finally put the Australian on the score sheet. At thirteen minutes Chelsea were leading Arsenal two goals to nil.
Chelsea rapidly dominated play once again, and within quick succession an almost playful volley from Sophie Ingle put a third past keeper Manuela Zinsberger. Three goals within the first twenty minutes saw Chelsea simply toying with the Gunners, leaving the reigning champions with a mountain to climb to get themselves back into the game.
Arsenal needed to take control, and they needed to take it fast. Fortunately, a tactical change up and a subsequent stamp of authority from captain Kim Little eventually calmed the pace. Strong physicality from Leah Williamson at the back meant that England was unable to hone in on any more scoring opportunities. Yet, at the front Arsenal continued to do little to challenge Chelsea's defence. For Arsenal, the half time whistle could not come soon enough.
The second half would serve as a test of mentality for Arsenal, and they indeed approached it looking slightly brighter than the first. Tighter passing and an improved keep of possession led to threatening movement from Danielle van de Donk, yet, Chelsea's assured and comfortable rhythm made it difficult once again for the Red's to advance.
A double change for Arsenal led to substitutes Beth Mead and Lisa Evans having an immediate impact on the game. Arsenal's play began to look at little more lively. But, undeterred, Chelsea's response to this was to simply kick it back up an notch. Building from the back, Chelsea's fourth goal, headed in by Reiten, was an impeccable team effort from start to finish.
But not to be totally defeated, the home side quickened the tempo and began to play with some urgency. An eventual mistake by Chelsea keeper Ann-Katrin Berger, allowed Mead to open the door and score the Red's their first goal of the match. However, it proved too little too late as Chelsea tightened up at the back denying Arsenal of any more openings. And so the score was set as the final whistle blew.
Arsenal, one - Chelsea, four.
Evident from the offset was the absolute hunger Chelsea possessed in attacking this game. Utterly ruthless in their approach, Chelsea quite literally came gunning for the Gunner's, and prevailed in the most spectacular fashion. Stellar performances from England and Kerr hinted at the beginnings of a dangerous partnership at the front. And tight communication across the back presents a growing solidarity in an ever evolving back four. A wonderful day for the Blue's.
Yet, where Chelsea showed dominance, Arsenal demonstrated resilience, and there are plenty of positives for the Gunner's to take forward. Command in the middle from Little paired with innovative movement from Jordan Nobbs shows a strength that is essential in leadership. The change in pace seen upon the arrival of Mead demonstrates the boldness of a player unafraid to shake things up. And the dedication Williamson exhibited throughout the entire game does nothing to oppose the building of her reputation as a player not to be messed with.
However, whether a Red or a Blue, there is no denying the enormity this match carried. Looking at the bigger picture, the value of this fixture is unprecedented. Games like these will do wonders for the development of the women's game, which ultimately is the biggest goal of all.
by Charlotte Stacey