By Oliver Yew at Filton College
Former Arsenal Ladies star Corinne Yorston scrambled home a last-gasp equaliser to earn Bristol Academy a 2-2 draw in a thrilling appetiser for next weekend's FA Cup Final.
Laura Harvey's side dominated the first half, taking the lead with Ellen White's cool finish before Bristol fought back after the break to level proceedings through Grace McCatty.
The Gunners got the advantage back through Rachel Yankey's freak goal and looked on course for a fifth win of the season before Bristol skipper Yorston broke north London hearts with three minutes left.
Bristol came flying out of the traps. Jessica Fishlock threaded an inch-perfect ball through to Helen Bleazard in the second minute but the winger’s cross was easily gathered by Emma Byrne.
Arsenal hit back straight away as Yankey turned McCatty and whipped in a dangerous cross for Julie Fleeting, whose shot was cleared off the line by Jemma Rose.
The visitors were finally settling into their rhythm. Despite a bad clearance from goalkeeper Emma Byrne the ball fell for Jordan Nobbs, who released White in behind the Bristol defence. Siobhan Chamberlain rushed off her line to stop the England striker's weak lob.
Arsenal were dictating play and creating chances with Nobbs firing just wide from 25 yards and Jennifer Beattie’s header coming back off the post.
Harvey's side were piling the pressure on the hosts and next it was Fleeting’s turn to go close when her header from point-blank range was expertly saved by Chamberlain.
The woodwork was to deny the Gunners for a second time when Houghton rattled the bar with a thunderous 20-yard drive.
Somehow the score was still level with Bristol's only threat coming from testing crosses into the box. But the Arsenal defence and goalkeeper Byrne were standing up to the test.
Arsenal were in bullish mood as Yankey and the energetic Nobbs combined to release White, who headed inches wide from five yards.
But White did not make the same mistake twice as she finally gave her side the lead in the 37th minute. After latching onto Yankey's delicate through ball in behind full-back Alex Culvin, she slotted a neat finish past Chamberlain and into the bottom corner.
It was no more than the visitors deserved and it could have got even better just before the break when White used her pace again to get in behind the Bristol defence. But she tried to cut back inside and was tackled by Culvin.
Harvey's side would have been disappointed to have only gone in at half-time one goal to the good but they showed no sign of relenting at the start of the second half as first Yankey and then Fleeting tested Chamberlain.
But, despite the Gunners' dominance, the home side showed they still possessed a threat as Bleazard used her pace and trickery to win a corner from which McCatty went close with a header.
Mark Sampson's side were putting on a far better show than they managed in the opening 45 minutes and they were rewarded in the 54th minute when McCatty raced onto the excellent Bleazard's pass and calmly finished past the onrushing Byrne to level.
Bristol were now putting the pressure on Arsenal and once again Bleazard, who caused the Gunners problems all evening, combined with Loren Dykes to set up Ann-Marie Heatherson who wasted a glorious opportunity eight yards out.
It was a real let off for Arsenal, who punished Bristol for their wastefulness in the 59th minute when Yankey put the Gunners back in front with a freak goal straight from a corner-kick.
The England winger rifled in a low ball to the near post and it evaded everyone, including the full back on the line and the goalkeeper, to nestle into the net.
The goal came against the run of play but it did not seem to dent Bristol's confidence as they continued to pressurize and pin Arsenal back. But they could not take advantage of their dominance with Heatherson once again wasting a decent opportunity.
The Gunners responded by bringing on Kim Little for Beattie but it could not avert Bristol's dominance as Byrne was called into action to make a smart stop from Heatherson's volley.
Arsenal looked likely to seal the win and would have done had it not been for a stunning double save by Chamberlain to deny a stinging Danielle Carter strike and tip Yankey's shot onto the bar.
And the saves proved to be crucial as Bristol conjured up an equaliser when Yorston's strike rolled into the net off the post to snatch a point right at the death.
- Beattie 58
- Chapman (C)
- Yankey Goal!
- Nobbs 73
- White Goal!
- Fleeting Yellow Card
- Carter 73
- Little 58
- Yorston (C) Goal!
- Culvin 83 Yellow Card
- Anouk Hoogendijk Yellow Card
- Clark 79
- McCatty Goal!
- Lauren Dykes
- Ann-Marie Heatherson 79
- Green 79
- Billson 79
- Radburn 83