Arsenal Ladies returned to winning ways in their penultimate Women's Super League game of the season with a 2-0 win over Birmingham City, despite being reduced to 10 players midway through the second half.
Jordan Nobbs’ third-minute screamer set the Gunners on their way before Rachel Yankey’s deflected free-kick doubled their advantage and sealed the points for Shelley Kerr’s side
Emma Mitchell was dismissed for a professional foul in the area on Kirsty Linnett in the 72nd minute but Cherie Rowlands saved Isobel Christiansen’s resulting penalty to prevent a nervous ending for the home side.
Kerr’s team went into the game on the back of two desperately frustrating goalless draws that had all but ended their hopes of retaining their Women’s Super League title. But with the Continental Cup final fast approaching and qualification for next year’s Champions League still within their grasp, the Gunners needed a performance and more importantly, a win. And they did just that.
The Scot made two changes from the Bristol game last time out. Yankey replaced Gemma Davison and Ciara Grant came in for Steph Houghton. Emma Byrne was only fit enough to make the bench so Rowlands kept her place after impressing on her debut for the club against Bristol.
Arsenal got off to the perfect start in the third minute. Katie Chapman had a header brilliantly saved by Becky Spencer before the ball fell to Nobbs on the edge of the area and she drove the ball past Spencer and into the top corner.
However, the goal seemed to settle the opposition and Rowlands had to be quick off her line to claim a dangerous cross from Melissa Lawley before Chelsea Weston sent a half volley over in the 19th minute.
Rowlands was called into action again eight minutes later. First she parried a Jade Moore drive over and from the resulting corner she did well to push away Emily Westwood’s header.
The hosts were beginning to become untidy in possession and the Blues looked the more threatening for long spells of the opening half. But it was Arsenal who perhaps should have gone in at the break two goals up - and it was the industrious Nobbs who went close again. In the 38th minute, Alex Scott latched onto the ball after Kerys Harrop’s slip and aimed a low cross towards Nobbs. Spencer did well to stop the midfielder’s resulting low shot.
Kerr’s team began the second half on the front foot and could have doubled their lead in the 50th minute when Ellen White side-footed over from close range from Yankey’s lofted pass. The forward then couldn’t quite direct a difficult header towards goal before Yankey had a shot that Spencer did well to hold. It was a much better spell from the Gunners.
And in the 57th minute the second goal came, albeit in slightly fortunate circumstances. Yankey’s free-kick from 25 yards took a wicked deflection off the wall and totally wrong-footed Spencer.
Mitchell was given her marching orders after bringing down Linnett when she was clean-through on goal. But the faultless Rowlands got down to block Christiansen’s penalty in just her second appearance for the Gunners.
Unsurprisingly, Birmingham had the lions share of the ball for the remainder of the game but Arsenal defended solidly to keep their fourth clean sheet in a row.
The victory sees Arsenal remain in third after Bristol’s win over Doncaster - which also ended the Ladies' hopes of retaining their WSL title. The race for Champions League qualification will now go down to the final round of matches.
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