By Declan Taylor
Arsenal Ladies will travel to Sweden with a slender advantage after a thrilling 3-2 victory over Umea at Boreham Wood on Thursday night.
Jayne Ludlow headed Vic Akers’ side ahead within two minutes but the visitors edged infront through goals from Mami Yamaguchi and Frida Ostberg. Substitute Julie Fleeting equalised for the hosts 13 minutes from time and Kim Little ensured Arsenal eventually came out on top with a strike three minutes later.
Akers made two changes to the side that lost 3-0 against Lyon in their final Group match. A dead leg prevented Kelly Smith from facing the French side but she was reinstated to the Arsenal frontline at the expense of Julie Fleeting. Ciara Grant, who started that game on the bench, replaced Faye White.
A hip injury meant that Marta, two-time world player of the year, was only among the substitutes but there was more than enough quality in the Umea ranks without her.
Despite their obvious calibre, the visitors were behind within 90 seconds. Smith whipped in a glorious dead-ball from the right-hand side and captain Ludlow rose highest at the back post to head home from 10 yards. It was the perfect start to 180 minutes of football against the Swedish champions.
A sustained period of Umea pressure was to follow and the home side eventually buckled after 13 minutes.
Yamaguchi drifted in front of her marker at the near post before glancing her header past Emma Byrne. The momentum was well and truly with the visitors but the quite frantic pace of the opening stages was broken as Madeleine Edlund received lengthy treatment.
The long break in play did not affect Arsenal and they almost took the lead after some neat footwork from Gemma Davison on the edge of the area. Unfortunately for the 21-year-old, her shot was always off target.
In the second of the 12 added minutes, Smith really should have handed Arsenal a half-time advantage. The all-action striker latched onto a superb Davison through ball but, after waltzing around the keeper, Smith scooped her shot inches over the bar.
Both sides threatened in the early stages of the second half without creating any real chances. However, Arsenal were beginning to press with more vigour and the visitors picked up two cautions in quick successions as they struggled to deal with Smith’s direct running. Karen Carney’s dangerous free-kick somehow evaded everyone before Smith fired two long-range warning shots.
Moments later, the striker provided Ludlow with the perfect opportunity to double her tally on the hour mark. Kim Little fed Smith who in turn squared to her unmarked captain eight yards from goal. But with the goal at her mercy, Ludlow snatched at her shot sending it high and wide.
Arsenal were punished for the spurned chances 10 minutes later when Umea took the lead for the first time in the tie. Rasmussen slid a corner to Ostberg lurking on the edge of the area and the left back fired a low effort past Byrne via a deflection and the post.
Almost immediately, Fleeting replaced Katie Chapman and, with her first touch, she drew her side level. Goalkeeper Ulla-Karin Rennlund could only parry Smith’s shot to the substitute who made no mistake from three yards.
The comeback was complete three minutes later when Little capitalised on some hesitant Umea defending.
After a superb turn on the edge of the area, the 18-year-old let fly from the edge of the box. Despite a strong hand from Rennlund, the ball nestled in the bottom corner.
The visitors introduced Marta in the dying stages but even she couldn’t force the equaliser.
Advantage Arsenal - just.
- Ludlow Goal! Yellow Card
- Little Goal!
- Chapman 73
- Smith Yellow Card
- Fleeting 73 Goal!
- Rasmussen 85
- Edlund 38
- Yamaguchi Goal!
- Östberg Goal! Yellow Card
- Bachmann Yellow Card
- Jakobsson 38
- Marta 85