By Chris Harris at Meadow Park
Arsenal Ladies are out of the Women’s Champions League.
The 2007 winners will have to sit and watch this year’s Final like the rest of us after coming unstuck against a quicker, slicker Lyon side at Meadow Park on Saturday.
Lotta Schelin’s first-leg strikes had put the French champions firmly in control and they wrapped up the tie before half-time thanks to a brace from Eugenie Le Sommer and a calm finish from Lara Dickenmann.
It might have been a different story had Sarah Bouhaddi not got fingertips to Jordan Nobbs’ volley after just 19 seconds but, despite second-half consolations from Julie Fleeting and Ellen White, this was a reality check for the Ladies.
Guts had brought them glory in the previous rounds against Rayo Vallecano and Linkoping but guts alone was never going to be enough against last year’s finalists.
The good news? Arsenal only need to beat Barnet in their FA Women’s Cup Semi-Final later this month to have another crack at the big one next season.
Lyon’s players were probably bemused when they arrived at the home of Boreham Wood for this decisive fixture - more than 20,000 had roared them to victory at the Stade Gerland last week. In contrast Meadow Park housed just a few hundred Arsenal enthusiasts and their optimism was dimmed by news of Kim Little’s injury.
That made an already mighty task that much tougher but the Ladies put a string of sloppy European starts behind them to fly out of the blocks.
Only 19 seconds had elapsed when the ball fell invitingly for Nobbs to unleash a dipping volley towards the top corner, but Bouhaddi stretched every sinew to tip the ball aside.
Lyon were shaken but they soon knuckled down and within three minutes had created two openings of their own. Dickenmann fired the first over the bar and Camille Abily wasted the second after a fine cross from Wendie Renard.
Rachel Yankey looked the most likely source of inspiration for Arsenal. One jinking run and cross from the England winger caused panic but ultimately the tie turned on a lack of composure at the other end.
Niamh Fahey and Ciara Grant both gave the ball away to Le Sommer in quick succession. The Lyon winger lashed the first chance marginally high and wide and forced a save from Emma Byrne with the second.
That kind of carelessness is a no-no at the best of times, let alone at 2-0 down in a European Semi-Final, but Arsenal were clumsy once more in the 16th minute and paid the ultimate price. Byrne came for the ball on the edge of the area but was beaten by Le Sommer, who ran it into the unguarded net.
That left Arsenal needing four. They managed it against Rayo Vallecano in the last 16 but Lyon are a different kettle of fish. The fighting spirit of Harvey’s team has never been found wanting but, while they huffed and puffed, too many promising moves ran out of steam before they reached the Lyon box.
There was a glimmer of hope just after the half-hour mark when Yankey’s corner was spilled by Bouhaddi. Carter turned the loose ball goalwards but Ellen White was challenged as she tried to apply the finishing touch.
Two minutes later the tie really was over. Schelin, scourge of Arsenal in the first leg, resisted two markers and laid the ball off for Le Sommer to curve a delicious effort into the bottom corner with the outside of her right boot. Byrne could only watch and admire.
The third came on the stroke of half-time and it was a moment to forget for Steph Houghton. The right back completely missed a right-wing cross and Dickenmann calmly converted.
Byrne saved from Shirley Cruz-Trana and then denied Schelin at her near post as Lyon started the second half strongly. The keeper was also at full stretch to tip over a fine free kick from substitute Louisa Necib.
But it was by no means one-way traffic. Arsenal played with immense character and no little class after the break and forced Lyon back for long spells.
Yankey went alone just after the hour mark and stung the hands of Bouhaddi and the winger then provided the cross for Fleeting, on for Carter, to score from close range.
There was almost an immediate riposte as Schelin hit the post but the hosts never gave up the ghost with Katie Chapman driving them on in midfield and Nobbs and Yankey offering energy and creativity.
Ellen White's first-time finish gave the home fans something else to cheer four minutes from time but Arsenal's brave response had come too late to make a difference.
Lyon will return to England next month for a Women’s Champions League Final at Craven Cottage. But if the Ladies heed the lessons of this defeat, they can give Europe's best a bigger test next year.
- White (C) 74
- Flaherty 84
- Carter 51
- White Goal!
- Beattie 74
- Fleeting 51 Goal!
- Renard 51 Yellow Card
- Cruz-Trana 48
- Dickenmann Goal!
- Sommer 72 Goal! Goal!
- Bretigny 72
- Kaci 51
- Necib 48 Yellow Card