By Tom Bennett at the Volkswagen Arena
Arsenal Ladies were defeated at the semi-final stage of the Champions League for a third consecutive year on Sunday afternoon, losing out on a place at next month’s Stamford Bridge final to a an excellent Wolfsburg side.
The Gunners went into the game at the Volkswagen Arena – the 30,000 capacity home of the Bundesliga men’s side - needing to overturn a two-goal deficit from last weekend’s first leg.
Against a Wolfsburg side that had won its previous 24 games at home, it was always going to be a huge challenge for Shelley Kerr’s side. And spirited though their performance was, the Ladies were unable to complete what would have been a remarkable turnaround.
Before the game Kerr had preached the importance of patience and discipline and the Gunners began the game with a real sense of focus, closing down quickly and keeping their shape well.
It was not long before Wolfsburg made their attacking intent clear though, when after 10 minutes a swift counter-attack saw Selina Wagner race through on Emma Byrne’s goal and scoop a shot just over the bar.
The home side came at Arsenal again moments later and the Ladies were grateful to Byrne for two more good saves.
But just before the quarter of an hour mark, Wolfsburg were ahead.
A hopeful looking punt into the box by Verena Faisst was superbly converted by Wagner, who looped a header over Byrne and in with a little help from the crossbar.
Arsenal reacted quickly and could have been level within a minute when Gemma Davison galloped down the right flank, cut inside and squared for Jordan Nobbs who fired over from close range.
The Ladies had further first half chances, with Ellen White coming close to converting a Rachel Yankey centre, and Niamh Fahey inches from latching onto a loose back-pass from Lena Goessling. Davison, last week shortlisted for the Women’s PFA Player of the Year award, was a constant threat down the right-hand side with much of Arsenal's attacking intent coming through her.
The home side continued to pose a constant threat to the Arsenal goal though. Captain Nadine Kessler, Anna Blasse and Conny Pohlers all spurned good chances to double their lead. But for a goal-line clearance from Gilly Flaherty and a smart save from Byrne, Martina Miller could have had a brace before the break.
Both sides continued to make chances in the second period.
The visitors were first to carve an opening, with Kim Little expertly playing in White, whose toe-poked effort rolled just wide of the post
Anna Blasse came close for Wolfsburg five minutes later, rounding Byrne but shooting into the side-netting from a tight angle.
Then, with 55 minutes played, the Ladies gave themselves a glimmer of hope thanks to Kim Little's superb strike.
The young Scot exchanged a neat one-two with Nobbs before firing into the bottom left corner from 20 yards.
But Arsenal’s new-found optimism was extinguished after an hour, when a Wolfsburg cross ricocheted off Little’s arm in the box and referee Silvia Spinelli pointed to the spot.
Byrne saved the initial effort but could do nothing when Kessler followed up the rebound and fired in from close range.
It was testament to the character that Kerr has instilled in the side during her short reign that the Ladies refused to accept they were beaten, and a host of chances followed for the visitors in the final half hour, with White, Little and Ciara Grant all coming close.
On a day when the breaks needed to fall their way, Arsenal were unable to display the offensive efficiency that they so often exhibit on the domestic stage and could not find the second goal needed to regain a foot-hold in the game.
- Flaherty Yellow Card
- Houghton (C) 80
- Fahey 80
- Little Goal! Yellow Card
- Yankey 65
- Ludlow 80
- Carter 80
- Beattie 65
VfL Wolfsburg Ladies
- Goessling 90
- Odebrecht Yellow Card
- Kessler Goal!
- Pohlers 80
- Wagner 87 Goal!
- Hartmann 90
- Magull 80