By Max Jones at Wheatsheaf Park
Arsenal Ladies battled to a goalless draw against Women’s Super League leaders Chelsea at Wheatsheaf Park on Thursday.
Pedro Martinez Losa’s side showed a marked improvement on this season’s previous meeting and were unlucky not to return to north London with three points having dominated Emma Hayes’ side.
The Gunners had the best chance of an energetic and competitive first half when Chioma Ubogagu headed Natalia’s cross towards goal, but Hedvig Lindahl dived across to save.
Ji So Yun then smashed over from six yards after the break before Chelsea mounted a late assault on Arsenal’s defence, but the Gunners responded well to secure an impressive result.
SETTING THE SCENE
Losa was forced to make one change to the side that beat Sunderland 4-1 on Sunday as injured PFA Women’s Young Player of the Year Leah Williamson was replaced by Emma Mitchell.
Siobhan Chamberlain was also sidelined so teenager Hollie Augustus retained her place on a youthful bench alongside Carla Humphrey, Chloe Kelly and Taome Oliver.
Despite the Gunners’ injury concerns, Losa had the luxury of naming an unchanged front line with in-form forward Natalia hoping to continue her goalscoring start to life at Arsenal after striking twice at the weekend.
However, Chelsea boasted an exciting attack too and, while Eniola Aluko and Drew Spence were on the bench, Arsenal would have to keep a close eye on Women’s Player of the Year Ji, who masterminded Chelsea’s victory in the FA Cup quarter-final tie between the sides earlier this month.
In the build up to the game Losa insisted his side had become more competitive since their FA Cup defence met its end, and the Gunners began the top-of-the-table clash with urgency and intent.
First Jordan Nobbs’ high pressing led to Danielle Carter’s early chance being blocked before Lindahl tipped Alex Scott’s deep cross away from Ubogagu’s head.
Nobbs was then withdrawn injured after 10 minutes, and Lianne Sanderson’s arrival saw Vicky Losada assume a more attacking role. The Spain midfielder almost made an instant impact in her advanced position when she raced onto Natalia’s low cross, but sent her shot just wide.
Chelsea were struggling to deal with Natalia’s pace and trickery as she set up the best chance of the half. The Spain forward raced past her marker and crossed to Ubogagu, whose header was well saved by Lindahl as the Gunners were unable to make their dominance count at the midway point.
The league leaders looked shaken and soon brought on Aluko in place of the ineffectual Marija Banusic in an attempt to give Arsenal’s defence something to think about after the break.
Chelsea manager Hayes’ decision nearly paid off. The lively England forward’s persistence led to Gemma Davison collecting a loose ball in the box, but Jemma Rose threw her body in front of the former Gunner’s strike to deflect wide.
Chelsea continued to mount the pressure and, after Natalia sent two curling strikes whistling inches wide, the hosts had the best chance to break the deadlock. Jackie Groenen dispossessed Jade Bailey on the edge of the box to feed the unmarked Ji, but she smashed well over from six yards.
Arsenal soaked up the pressure well, though, and continued to press. Lindahl could only clear as far as substitute Rachel Yankey when charged down by Carter, but the Sweden goalkeeper recovered to deny Ubogagu from close range and rescue a point for her side.
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