By Giuseppe Muro at Meadow Park
Arsenal’s Champions League Quarter-Final tie is finally poised after they came from behind to draw 1-1 with Swedish side Linköping on Thursday.
Laura Harvey’s side weren’t at their best against disciplined opponents but a moment of magic from Ellen White cancelled out Linda Sällström’s first-half opener to leave their progress intriguingly in the balance.
The Swedish side may have a crucial away goal but Arsenal’s fate is very much in their own hands in next Wednesday’s return leg.
An enthusiastic crowd of 239, including a very small Swedish contingent, made their way to Boreham Wood hoping for a slightly less stressful afternoon than they had endured during the last-gasp success against Rayo Vallecano in the previous round.
The 2007 winners had only played one competitive fixture since that hair-raising triumph over the Spaniards in November. More than five months had passed since Linköping's last meaningful game which maybe explained the cagey opening.
On paper, Arsenal could have been handed tougher opponents at this stage of the competition, but Linköping demonstrated their technical quality from the off and created the first chance after just eight minutes.
Established Finnish international Sällström sprung the offside trap and only smart work from Emma Byrne prevented the away side taking an early lead.
Arsenal had started sluggishly and they went behind on the quarter-hour mark.
Sällström, a constant livewire, latched onto a lofted ball and found the top-left corner with aplomb from just inside the area.
Just how important would that away goal prove to be come the end of the tie?
Arsenal had plenty of time to respond but could have gone further behind when Byrne denied Kathryn Gill minutes later.
Much of Arsenal’s best work was coming through Ellen White on the right flank, and it was her endeavour that preceded Kim Little’s effort which was blocked at point-blank range by a brave blue shirt.
Openings were proving hard to come by as a well-organised Linköping began to frustrated the Ladies, who were seeing more of the ball as the half wore on.
The hosts were left with a predicament. They needed to cancel out that one-goal deficit but were susceptible to the pace of the Swedes on the counter as they looked for parity.
Gill missed a wonderful opportunity when she fired Tilda Heimersson’s cut-back straight at Byrne from six yards. The Irish goalkeeper was fortunate the ball wasn’t hit either side of her.
Rachel Yankey screwed an effort well wide just before the break and Arsenal went in behind.
Whatever Harvey said to her players at half time, it seemed to have the desired effect as Arsenal started the second period on the front foot.
Yankey’s teasing cross just evaded Jordan Nobbs at the back post. At the other end, Sällström was at it again as she stung Bryne’s palms from range.
Katie Chapman then ambitiously volleyed at Sofia Lundgren from all of 30 yards and then Arsenal received a real let-off.
With everyone appealing in vain for offside, Sällström ghosted in on goal and was left with only Byrne to beat. The 31-year-old stood up well and just managed to divert the ball behind.
Then came Ellen White’s moment.
Just after the hour mark, the England international spectacularly volleyed a bouncing ball into the far-left corner from the angle of the penalty area. Lundgren was barely a yard from her line but somehow White’s dipping effort looped over her despairing dive and into the net.
A quite outrageous piece of skill. Sällström’s opener was good - but this was special.
All of a sudden, the travelling side appeared to be tiring and Arsenal sensed a turnaround.
Substitute Nobbs and then twice Ellen White were felled inside the area, but they got nothing. The goalscorer's second tumble was probably the clearest of the three.
Julie Fleeting thundered over when she might have done better as the clock ticked into injury time but Linkoping held on.
Arsenal will have to score in Sweden but, on today’s showing, they will be confident of finishing the job in six days' time.
Referee: Cristina Dorcioman (ROU)
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