Thursday was a frustrating night for Arsenal Ladies. The race for the Women’s Super League title slipped agonisingly out of their hands after a goalless draw with Lincoln Ladies. Despite dominating possession and having numerous chances, Shelley Kerr’s side failed to score for the first time since their 4-0 defeat to Liverpool in May.
At the other end however, the Gunners’ back five are proving to be a formidable force after shutting out an opposing team for the sixth time since returning from the summer break.
The form of Emma Byrne has been a fundamental part of their recent success and she made two more crucial saves on Thursday as Lincoln tried to catch Arsenal on the break. The Irish goalkeeper put in extra training sessions during the summer break and is reaping the benefits as a result.
"We’ve recently got in Tony Roberts from the Under-21s and he’s been fantastic to work with, he’s really built my confidence up"
“I have to put it down to working harder in training,” Byrne told Arsenal.com. “We’ve recently got in Tony Roberts from the Under-21s and he’s been fantastic to work with, he’s really built my confidence up.
“I’ve been doing a lot of strength work and I feel really sharp but all the defenders are playing their part as well.”
Kerr’s side have to pick themselves up quickly as they prepare to face Bristol Academy at Meadow Park on Sunday and Byrne insisted there will be a backlash after the disappointing result against Lincoln.
“We are very focused and we are winners. The setback against Lincoln won’t stop us and if Liverpool are going to win the league then we have to make them win it. We are all really annoyed about that game and Bristol will be on the end of a backlash that’s for sure.
“When you play a lot of games in a short space of time it can hard to find your peak level and Lincoln have been a bit of a bogey team for us so maybe we had that mentally hanging over us going into the game.”
To have any hope of retaining their WSL crown, Arsenal require Matt Beard's team to drop points before the season is over. Liverpool’s final two opponents are Bristol, who still have a chance of winning the league themselves, and local rivals Everton.
A hard-fought 3-2 win in the reverse fixture completed a run of three straight victories in as many competitions over Mark Sampson’s side back in May, but a fourth may prove to be the most important. However, Byrne stressed the team are treating all of their remaining games with equal significance.
“I wouldn’t say beating Bristol is the biggest task because every game is a huge test and I think the Lincoln game proves that.
“This is the most exciting part of the season and we are delighted to be up there competing for trophies because that’s where we deserve to be.”
Academy come into the game having lost just once since the summer break. Their main threat comes in the form of Spanish strikers Natalia Pablos Sanchon and Laura Del Rio Garcia who have scored 14 goals between them this season.
"We are all really annoyed about that game [against Lincoln] and Bristol will be on the end of a backlash"
“Del Rio is a fantastic player,” said Byrne. “We’ve played against her in the last two seasons and I played against her in America. She holds the ball up well and brings in other players around her because she is always looking to provide assists.
“Pablos Sanchon is very clinical, she takes a lot of first-time shots and she scored against us last time we played so I’m determined to keep a clean sheet against them on this occasion.
“We’re all anxious about what’s happening in the league because we have been playing catch up with Liverpool for quite a while now. But it’s not over because we are going to keep winning and that will start against Bristol on Sunday.”
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