By Nik Brumsack at Wheatsheaf Park
Arsenal Ladies closed the gap between themselves and league leaders Liverpool to two points after a hard-fought 1-0 victory against Chelsea on Thursday night.
In a keenly-contested encounter, Danielle Carter’s strike on the half-hour proved the difference between the sides.
Shelley Kerr’s side were the better team for large periods and could have won by more were it not for a string of fine saves by home goalkeeper Marie Hourihan and some profligate finishing. Arsenal lacked the clinical edge that had saw them score 21 goals in their last five games but this result, and the manner of the performance, will have pleased the manager.
The Ladies had to dig in at times but were solid at the back throughout. Three successive away games have yielded nine points. Now the Ladies’ next four fixtures, all at home, will go a long way to determining whether they can retain their Women’s Super League title.
Kerr made two changes from the team that had beaten Doncaster Rovers Belles so convincingly on their last outing.
Emma Mitchell and White returned to the team, meaning that captain Steph Houghton shuffled across to centre back with Ciara Grant and Gemma Davison dropping to the bench.
Starting brightly had been a hallmark of the Ladies’ fine recent form. In four of their last five games, they had taken the lead before the 10-minute mark. And they began well here too.
Jordan Nobbs and White had already shot off target before Houghton’s 10th-minute header from Kim Little’s corner was instinctively punched over the bar by Hourihan.
At the other end, Arsenal’s defence remained largely untroubled, though Swedish forward Sofia Jakobsson’s skill and movement had threatened to cause problems.
She combined well with Ester 20 minutes in but the latter’s cross was a yard too far in front of another international, summer signing Yuki Ogimi.
Slowly, Arsenal began to take control. Houghton headed wide from one Little set-piece before Hourihan clawed another effort away from goal shortly after.
The corners kept coming and eventually the pressure told.
Rachel Yankey’s delivery from the right was not sufficiently cleared, allowing Little to swing in an inviting cross. White met it at the back post and intelligently diverted the ball into the path of the onrushing Carter, who eventually stabbed home her seventh goal of the season from inside the six-yard box.
White had been the game’s stand-out performer, combining clever movement with a direct and attacking intent which troubled left back Sophie Fogarty.
The England striker came close to doubling the lead after 34 minutes but sliced her shot wide after again escaping the clutches of her marker.
Three minutes later, White’s cushioned pass found the overlapping Scott in the area. The full back advanced at goal but side-footed her right-foot shot narrowly off target.
Arsenal had taken hold on proceedings and came close to extending their advantage just before the break. Carter charged down Hourihan’s clearance and worked the ball back to Yankey, whose lob was gratefully grabbed by the goalkeeper.
The second half began as the first had finished - with Arsenal firmly on top.
But despite being camped in the Chelsea half for large periods, they struggled to find a second goal. White, Little and Nobbs all shot narrowly off target and Carter’s toe-poked effort was comfortably held in the 10 minutes of play following the break.
As the half wore on, Chelsea began to gather attacking momentum.
Eni Aluko’s fierce shot was blocked at source by White and then, two minutes later, the striker was again denied, this time by Alex Scott’s timely tackle. Sandwiched in between those two openings, Byrne’s long ball was met 70 yards up the field by White, though her shot lacked power.
With 20 minutes to go, Kerr threw on Davison for some added impetus.
The substitute almost provided an instant impact but, after standing up a cross to the back post, White’s headed effort whistled wide. Little went close soon after, sending in a fierce 20-yard shot which Hourihan pawed away.
Chelsea threw numbers forward in an attempt to salvage a point but it was Arsenal that came closest to scoring late on when Carter shot over.
Despite late pressure, Arsenal held firm to secure their seventh straight win. You sense the title race is going to the wire.
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