By Nik Brumsack at Meadow Park
Defence was the best form of attack for Arsenal Ladies on Thursday night as goals from Gilly Flaherty and Alex Scott either side of half-time gave the WSL champions a 2-1 victory over Chelsea.
On a beautiful summer’s evening in Hertfordshire, Flaherty gave the hosts the lead when she headed home Kim Little’s corner.
Scott extended the advantage on the hour and, despite Eni Aluko’s prompt response, it was Arsenal that had the better opportunities as the game became stretched in the closing stages.
This was a win that will have delighted Arsenal's manager, Shelley Kerr. With a more clinical edge they could have been out of sight early in the second half, while the performance of teenager Jade Bailey, who replaced Steph Houghton early on, was a major positive.
Kerr named an unchanged side to the one that had secured a first league win of the season at Bristol Academy last time out.
The coach had spoken of her desire for the Ladies to put on a show for the live television cameras and her side started brightly enough.
For all their assurance in possession though, the Ladies struggled to create any clear-cut chances.
They were not helped by an injury to Houghton, who picked up a suspected ankle ligament problem following a collision with Aluko early on. Despite trying to run the injury off, the skipper was forced from the field after 15 minutes and had to be replaced by Bailey.
After a quiet opening, it was the visitors that made the first opportunity in the 19th minute. Having accelerated her way through the defence, the lively Aluko was denied by Byrne, whose block took the pace off the shot and allowed Flaherty to clear.
Flaherty had spoken in the build-up to the game of her joy at registering her first goal of the season in the 3-2 win at Bristol last week. And she grabbed her second in as many games after 24 minutes as Little’s deep corner dropped perfectly for the centre half to power in a header.
Chelsea responded well to going behind, with Aluko instrumental in everything they created. The England international’s cute flick sent Ester through on goal on the half-hour but Byrne raced from her goal to save, though the offside flag had gone up.
One of the hallmarks of Arsenal’s play this season has been their constant threat down the wings and they came close to doubling their advantage 10 minutes before the break when Scott’s terrific run and cross from the right was somehow knocked over by Jordan Nobbs.
The teams continued to take it in turns to make chances.
Byrne again thwarted Aluko before Yankey fizzed a shot off target at the other as the half drew to a close.
Buoyed by the excellent Bailey, whose strong and combative performance underpinned Arsenal’s second-half display, the Ladies came out from the break with vigour and intent.
And after Little, Nobbs and Yankey had all been denied by the impressive Carly Telford, they finally found a second goal on the hour - and it was one of real quality.
Scott embarked on a typical surging run on the right and exchanged passes with Nobbs before side-footing a powerful drive into the roof of the net.
Chelsea had been unable to live with the hosts’ quick pressing and quick breaks but they were gifted a route back into the game with 25 minutes to play when Jennifer Beattie slipped on the edge of her own box.
Aluko nipped in and, after again being denied by Byrne, she slotted home the rebound despite pressure from Flaherty.
The visitors’ response ensured that the closing stages were edgier than they perhaps should have been but Arsenal held out comfortably to ensure a second successive league win.
- Houghton 15
- Scott Goal!
- Flaherty Goal!
- Yankey 81
- Carter 81
- Bailey 15
- Blundell 55
- Vidarsdottir Yellow Card
- Aluko 76 Goal!
- Ward 70
- Spence 70
- Coombs 55
- Longhurst 76 Yellow Card