Two goals by Kelly Smith set up a 3-0 Women's Premier League opening day win at newly promoted Blackburn Rovers, whose athletic goalkeeper Kay Hawke prevented what could have been a much higher scoreline for the Gunners.
Striker Julie Fleeting hit the third goal to wrap up victory in a match which saw fine debuts by close season signings Katie Chapman and Karen Carney, the England colleagues having arrived from Charlton Athletic and Birmingham City respectively.
"We could have won by six or seven," said manager Vic Akers, "but Blackburn toughed it out and resisted as much as they could. We were too narrow in the first half, but in the second half we were excellent and it was a good start to the season for us."
On an awkwardly sloping pitch it took Akers' team some time to get into their stride and they might have gone behind after 25 minutes, when goalkeeper Emma Byrne was forced into a good save from striker Amanda Barr - Blackburn's summer signing from Charlton.
On the half-hour though, Smith shot the visitors in front with a tremendous 30 yard strike which flew into the far corner of the net. That proved the prelude to an irresistible second half performance by the Gunners.
Smith was denied a second goal when Hawke flung herself to the right to keep out a long range shot, but in the 66th minute the keeper could do nothing to prevent the England striker's exquisite 25 yard drive from zipping into the roof of the net.
From that point the Blackburn goal was under siege, but the defiant Hawke made two fine saves in quick succession from Chapman and again thwarted Smith when her hat-trick goal seemed an absolute certainty.
In a Blackburn breakaway Byrne had to make a one-on-one stop from Barr, but when play switched to the other end Fleeting controlled a 78th minute Rachel Yankey cross to fire the third goal in off the near post.
Further goals looked on the cards as Arsenal kept up the pressure, but first Hawke made point blank saves within seconds of each other from substitute Gemma Davison and Carney, then yet again kept out a powerful shot by Smith.
Four minutes from time Davison swept into the penalty area to drive in a low cross-shot which hit the inside of the far post and bounced to safety, summing up the visitors' late frustration as they looked to increase their goal tally.
Blackburn manager Andy McNally was understandably pleased that the victory margin was no wider and, in his team's first match at National Division level, was more than satisfied with the Rovers' efforts.
"Meeting the best team in the country in our first game at this level made it a very special occasion for us," he said. "It was a massive test, but I think we came through it pretty well and having seen the best team in the League, I think we'll do okay this season."
The only post-match concern for Akers was his team's injury situation, which before a ball was kicked was a problem with Faye White and Yvonne Tracy out for long spells and their fellow defender Leanne Champ also forced to miss the start of the season.

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21 Aug 2006