By Oliver Yew
Arsenal Ladies got their FA Women's Super League campaign off to the best possible start after a goal from Gilly Flaherty gave Laura Harvey's side a 1-0 win over London rivals Chelsea.
In front of 2,510 fans at Tooting and Mitcham FC's Imperial Fields both teams took time to settle on a difficult pitch which did not suit either side.
With the Gunners looking to get back to winning ways following their 2-0 Champions League defeat to Lyon in France, the visitors started brightly and looked the more likely early on.
Kim Little tried to thread passes into the path of first Rachel Yankey down the right and then Jennifer Beattie through the middle but on both occasions she just failed to find her targets.
But despite Arsenal's early dominance it was Chelsea who went closest to scoring in the opening stages.
Ashlee Hincks' first time strike from 25 yards nearly caught goalkeeper Emma Byrne cold but the ball sailed inches wide of the top corner.
Despite not being at their best it was Arsenal who kept up the pressure and had two corners in quick succession but Blues goalkeeper Carly Telford produced two smart clearances to avert the danger.
The pressure soon told as Harvey's side got their breakthrough in the 33rd minute after Little's corner was missed by the two Chelsea defenders at the near post and found left-back Flaherty unmarked. The defender stayed calm in front of goal and made no mistake, steering the ball home from five yards.
Minutes later it could have got even better for Harvey's side as man of the match Ellen White raced clear of the Blues defence and rounded Telford only to see her shot creep wide.
After the break the teams once again struggled to find any rhythm on a pitch that produced a very uneven bounce but there was no shortage of commitment from both sides as Chelsea's Leanne Champ and Arsenal star Little fought for the ball in the middle of the field.
Chelsea began to cut out the bad pitch and go more direct in search of an equaliser and they had a glorious opportunity to get back on level terms as Danni Buet broke free down the left. The midfielder got to the byline and produced an inviting cross into the box but the ball did not fall for either Hincks or Helen Lander and Arsenal scrambled the ball to safety.
With time running out Chelsea looked to get the ball up to their front two, in particular the lively Lander, quickly but the Gunners skipper Faye White and Ciara Grant were holding firm.
Arsenal nearly sealed the three points when White tried to get onto the end of Little's free-kick but she could not get enough of a connection on her header to test the Chelsea keeper.
Chelsea manager Matt Beard threw on Lara Fay and Emma Plewa to try and get back on level terms but Harvey responded with changes of her own to close the game out.
Dan Carter replaced Beattie and Jordan Nobbs replaced goalscorer Flaherty and the move nearly paid dividends as Nobbs sent Ellen White clear, but the forward - challenged by two defenders - could not get the ball under control to get a shot away.
With four minutes of injury time to play Arsenal looked to close out the game and despite Chelsea's best efforts it was Arsenal who held on to get their Super League season off to a winning start and boost confidence ahead of Saturday's vital Champions League Semi-Final second leg against Lyon.
- Flaherty 89 Goal!
- Little 90
- Beattie 60
- Carter 60
- Nobbs 89
- Laura Bruton 90