By Matt Fortune
Arsenal Ladies scooped their 10th League title in 15 years at Emirates Stadium on Thursday night with a deadly dismantling of London rivals Chelsea.
Karen Carney grabbed a brace in a player of the match performance. Kelly Smith, creator of two goals, scored from the spot and recent acquisition 17-year-old Kim Little had a night to remember, registering her first for the Club.
Both sides played their part in an enthralling match, fraught with chances and spiced with some meaty challenges. While the scoreline was probably a fair reflection of Arsenal's dominance, Chelsea deserve every credit for their spirited performance.
But it hadn't started too brightly for the hosts. Manager Vic Akers had been a dealt a blow with the news that Ciara Grant had picked up a muscle problem on duty with the Republic of Ireland. Anita Asante, though, who had complained of a back problem in the morning recovered in time to start.
Roared on by over 5,000 inside the stadium, both sides were visibly buzzing before kick-off.
And it took only a few minutes for the tone of the match to be set. At times it appeared Arsenal were playing with four up front while Chelsea were quick in supporting their own two-pronged attack.
Mary Phillip's late intervention prevented Emma Whitter getting a shot away in the games first meaningful chance, and Jayne Ludlow saw a thunderous shot rise high over the bar. Carney then wriggled herself out of a tight spot but shot tamely from just outside the box.
Eniola Aluka's tiny frame meant she was a unable to get any great purchase on Sian Larkin's cross. Rachel Yankey than proved she too had forgotten her shooting boots with an unconvincing volley from a narrowing angle.
By the time the quarter-hour mark had passed both teams had created sufficient chances to, at the very least, break the deadlock.
Moments before the visitors did snatch the lead Carney had a goal ruled out for offside. Perhaps that grievance was still playing on Arsenal's mind when Whitter was afforded too much time and space in the right channel. She didn't pass up the chance, sending a stinging shot above Emma Byrne and into the back of the net.
Arsenal were shocked but they instantly sought a reply. Carney and Yankey had chances but still couldn't work Siobhan Chamberlain in the Chelsea goal. Was it going to be one of those nights?
Thankfully not. With an army of yellow shirts swarming around her, Smith lofted an impeccably timed ball into the path of Carney. The former Birmingham player's marauding run through the defence was as excellent as the pass which found her. With only the goalkeeper to beat, Carney finished with aplomb.
Parity now restored, the Gunners went for the jugular. They robbed possession back almost instantly and went off toward the now nervous Chelsea rearguard.
Eventually, and with space running out near the byline, Carney tried to force a low cross into the area. Barely before it left the Arsenal midfielder's boot did Casey Stoney block with her hand. It looked harsh. Nevertheless, Lianne Sanderson failed to convert the resulting penalty.
However, it was to be second time lucky from the spot.
With a little over 30 minutes played Carney and Smith, Arsenal's two most effective players to this point, combined brilliantly before the latter was hauled down among a crowd of players just inside the box. The England international picked herself up, dusted herself down and confidently slipped the ball home from 12 yards.
The match continued to be played at a gloriously entertaining tempo but at the break Arsenal's advantage was just one. More of the same was hoped for. It was duly delivered.
Smith saw an audacious effort from nearly 45 yards land on the roof of the net before Ludlow was denied brilliantly by Chamberlain. Little then went close but was thwarted by the cross bar.
Chelsea were enjoying less luck. The work rate of Aluko and Whitter was certainly to be applauded, but they got little change from a stout Arsenal backline.
Inevitably, as they had spent the most part chasing the game, the visitors began to tire. Smith took full advantage. She danced herself around several challenges in one of several darting runs from wide, before prodding low across goal allowing Little to convert from only a few yards.
Game over? Carney soon made absolutely sure as she thrust herself into a chasm in the heart of Chelsea's defence and dinked the ball over Chamberlain.
It was a fitting end to the evening. Arsenal have their fifth successive title and will now turn their attention to making it a domestic Double.
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