By Joe Brewin at Wheatsheaf Park
Kelly Smith came off the bench to earn Arsenal Ladies a hard-fought three points against Chelsea on Thursday night.
Laura Harvey’s side were heading towards their first defeat of the campaign before the striker’s introduction on 55 minutes. But the England international had other ideas as she first headed home from Alex Scott’s pinpoint cross before firing a superb second 10 minutes from time.
Danni Buet’s first-half brace - one from a direct corner and the other a penalty - put Chelsea in command at the break after Kim Little slotted Arsenal ahead inside 10 minutes.
But the resilient Gunners battled through a difficult second half to maintain their unbeaten start to the Women’s Super League campaign. Little added a second of her own five minutes from time to put the seal on an impressive comeback.
Harvey named an unchanged line-up from the side which eased past Birmingham almost two weeks ago, with Gemma Davison spearheading the attack once more. Utility player Jennifer Beattie slotted in at left back.
Chelsea elected for Sophie Quantrill - chief frustrator in Arsenal’s FA Cup semi-final defeat in May - in goal ahead of England international Carly Telford. Former Gunner Susi led the line up front.
Arsenal made a bright start and were gifted an opener inside 10 minutes when Sophie Ingle bundled Davison over inside the penalty area. Little stepped up and slotted home her 11th goal in eight matches.
But the hosts fought back and equalised just four minutes later when Buet’s corner evaded everybody and nestled into the far corner.
It was against the run of play and it gave Harvey’s side work to do. Steph Houghton stabbed a weak effort at Quantrill before the Blues goalkeeper was called into action at the feet of captain Katie Chapman.
The visitors were asking most of the questions but it was Chelsea who should have taken the lead on 19 minutes. Kate Longhurst burst through the middle after breaking the offside trap but saw her weak effort saved by Emma Byrne at the second attempt.
Davison, Beattie and Rachel Yankey went close for Arsenal moments later but, just as the first half threatened to peter out, Chelsea edged ahead for the first time. Gilly Flaherty brought down Susi inside the box and Buet fired home from 12 yards.
Harvey had spoken before the game about her desire to restore Arsenal's old ruthlessness in defence - but both goals conceded had been particularly disappointing.
With their manager’s words ringing in their ears, it was the Gunners who enjoyed the second half’s first chance. Davison picked up on slack possession from Buet to play in Little, whose strike was defended superbly by Sophie Perry. Beattie rattled the crossbar from the resulting corner.
Houghton was alert to nod Gemma Bonner’s goal-bound header off the line before Harvey introduced Smith in a bid to turn the tide.
It was Chelsea who should have extended their lead on the hour mark. Susi’s deflected effort fell kindly into the path of Longhurst, who curled onto the post from close range.
And that proved costly. The hosts felt the full force of Smith’s impact on 72 minutes when the striker headed home expertly from Scott’s cross.
Within eight minutes Arsenal had turned the game on its head. Smith picked up the ball just inside the box and jinked past two defenders before firing a firm strike past Quantrill.
The third goal had deflated Chelsea and Harvey’s side grabbed a fourth through the influential Little. The Scot latched onto Jordan Nobbs’ perfect through-ball and weaved past Quantrill to set up a comfortable finish.
Another four goals, three more points and a victory which sees Arsenal extend their lead at the top of the table to eight points ahead of their six-week break.
- Houghton 55
- Chapman (C)
- Little Goal! Goal!
- Davison 70
- White 70
- Smith 55 Goal! Goal!
- Coombs 78
- Susi (C)
- Spence 90
- Longhurst 78
- Danni Buet Goal! Goal!
- Hincks 78
- Davies 90
- Lappin 78