By Chris Harris
Arsenal Ladies started the new season as they finished the last - with silverware in their hands. The Double winners reasserted their domestic superiority with a comfortable Community Shield win over Everton at Gresty Road.
Last term's runners-up showed plenty of guts and no little guile, but they were no match for Vic Akers' impressive side. Kelly Smith opened the scoring with a delicious chip before new signings Karen Carney and Katie Chapman linked up for the latter to bundle home a second.
Rachel Yankey and Jayne Ludlow were both denied by the woodwork - inside the same minute - but there was one final goal to put the icing on Arsenal's cake, Gemma Davison turning the ball home in stoppage time after Danielle Hill had fumbled Lianne Sanderson's cross.
For Akers, there was no shortage of good news before the serious stuff starts later this month. His new signings wasted no time in settling in, Anita Asante filled the defensive void left by Faye White's long-term injury, Ludlow was a commanding stand-in captain and Smith - well, Smith was just as good as ever.
On the evidence of the recent heatwave, you might have expected a warm, balmy night in Crewe. Not a bit of it. The players emerged into a chilly wind and drizzle under slate grey skies.
Fortunately, the football was much brighter. Smith was straight back into her usual high-class groove with a dipping volley which flew just wide and then a curling effort which was touched past the post by Hill.
Ludlow also went close. She soared highest to meet Rachel Yankey's early corner but could not divert the ball goalwards. Then the captain saw a first-time effort dribble wide after Hill scuffed a clearance straight at the Wales midfielder.
Everton also had their moments. Ludlow had to race back to block Jill Scott's cross after the midfielder had found acres of space in the Arsenal box. Then Jodie Handley fired Becky Easton's cross just over the bar.
A goal looked on the cards and it duly arrived in style after 23 minutes. Smith, once again the outstanding player on show, looked up and launched a perfect chip over Hill and into the net from 30 yards. It was a real touch of class.
Everton were fortunate not to go two goals down two minutes later. Yankey lashed a shot against the far post and Ludlow, following up smartly, found the same upright with her shot.
No matter. With this Arsenal side, another goalscoring chance is never far away and so it proved just after the half-hour mark. Carney lifted the ball towards the far post and Chapman bundled the ball in after her first effort was blocked.
The writing was on the wall for Everton but they refused to buckle. Indeed, Kelly McDougall should have reduced the deficit a minute later but she squandered a gilt-edged chance in front of goal from Handley's pinpoint cross. The same player then fired just wide as Arsenal were temporarily forced on the back foot.
A goal then would have kept the game bubbling under but, with Akers' side in command, the second half was a less frenetic affair. Alex Scott had the first decent chance after the restart, racing onto Yankey's lofted pass before prodding the ball wide of the target.
Handley continued to make life difficult for Mary Phillip but Everton struggled to really threaten Emma Byrne in the Arsenal goal. Substitute Fara Williams got plenty of power behind one long-range effort, but not enough direction.
At the other end, Yankey continued to flicker on the flank. One jinking run on 63 minutes left two defenders trailing in her wake but Arsenal's MBE shot straight at Hill.
After a promising debut, off came Chapman and on came Ciara Grant. The personnel had changed but the game's pattern didn't deviate. Yankey went close again, firing onto the roof of the net, and Fern Whelan made a sliding challenge to deny Smith as she prepared to shoot.
There was one final flourish as Davison, on as a substitute, capitalised on Hills' handling error to score a third with the final kick of the game.
Before long, Ludlow had her hands on the season's first piece of silverware. You sense that there will be more to come by the time the 2006/07 campaign draws to a close.
- Champ 88
- Chapman 66 Goal!
- Smith Goal!
- Carney 81
- Grant 66
- Larkin 88
- Davison 81 Goal!