By Isaac Moore
Arsenal Ladies were narrowly beaten by Birmingham Ladies in the first leg of their Champions League quarter-final tie on Monday.
Remi Allen's first-half strike was the difference between the sides and the Gunners have it all to do when the sides meet in Sunday's return leg at The Hive.
Despite the defeat, there were positive signs for manager Shelley Kerr with new signings Shinobu Ohno and Yukari Kinga impressing on their debuts. Overall though, the visitors lacked a cutting edge going forward.
SETTING THE SCENE
Before their Champions League campaign began back in October 2013, Arsenal knew that lifting the trophy would be their only path into next season's competition.
They duly brushed aside Kairat and Glasgow City before embarking on an off-season which saw wholesale changes to Kerr's squad.
The only survivors from the side that started the second leg in Glasgow were new elected vice-captain Alex Scott, Emma Byrne, Emma Mitchell and Rachel Yankey.
In came Japanese duo Kinga and Ohno to make their Arsenal debuts while experienced defender Casey Stoney also marked her return to the Club with a start.
Arsenal would go into this game in confident mood having got the better of the Blues four times last season.
Arsenal were quick to settle and immediately set about getting an early away goal. Kelly Smith found Ohno in space but the forward's shot was blocked.
The Gunners' next attack came in the 11th minute after Stoney released Scott with a defence-splitting pass. The full back's low cross was met by Ohno but she could only send her shot over.
In the 23rd minute, Birmingham missed a big chance to take the lead. Chelsea Weston's cross was punched clear by Byrne and it fell to the feet of Melissa Lawley, but the forward fired over with a first-time shot.
But the Blues didn't have to wait much longer to go in front. In the 26th minute Weston again found space on the right and her cross was hooked into the corner by debutant.
Birmingham had the momentum now and Arsenal were fortunate not to go two behind when Kirsty Linnett latched onto a loose ball with Byrne stranded, but Mitchell scrambled back to clear her shot off the line.
The opening 15 minutes of the second half were cagey. Arsenal saw plenty of the ball but struggled to get in behind the Birmingham back four.
In the 60th minute, Scott cushioned a neat header into Ohno's path but the forward was closely tracked by Aoife Mannion and the defender made a smart covering block.
Moments later, Byrne had to be on her guard to push away a dipping drive from Linnett.
As the half wore on, Arsenal continued to control possession from deep but Birmingham were content to sit on their one-goal advantage, knowing a clean sheet could prove crucial when the sides meet again on Sunday.
Arsenal's best chance of the game came in the final three minutes when Smith crossed for Ohno, who could only volley over.
So overall a disappointing start to 2014 for Kerr's side but a place in the last four is still well within their grasp.
Referee: Esther Staubli (SUI)
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