Chelsea deny Arsenal WSL top spot in late drama

A bruising encounter at Meadow Park Stadium came alive in the dying embers as Arsenal and Chelsea shared what turned out to be a pulsating 1-1 draw.

This battle between second and fourth in the Women’s Super League always had the makings of an engaging affair. But we had to wait for the final five minutes of regulation time for the reward of goals.

The first would fall to Beth Mead, netting what she thought was to be Arsenal’s winner. The credit, though, belonged largely to its architect, Vivianne Miedema. An interception from the returning Kim Little saw a sharp pass into the Dutch forward out on the left wing. Still with plenty to do but, as she would prove moments later, with more than enough room to do it.

So, she clicked up a gear, burning Millie Bright on the outside and putting in the perfect cross for Mead, who followed her lung-busting run of support with a lunge to spear the ball in.

Thankfully for Chelsea, who will have feel aggrieved with defeat after perhaps having the best of this match. Justice, for them, was served when Penille Harder tore down the right and put in a cross that deflected off Lotte Wubben-Moy and looped into the far top corner.

Read more: Manchester United fight back to earn derby draw

Though it would cost Arsenal the chance to go top, it did bring to an end a six-match losing streak against Chelsea, who themselves climb to third, three points off the leaders Manchester United, with a game in hand.

It was on these two to close out Women’s Football Weekend, one that opened in style after Manchester City and Manchester United had put on a thrilling 2-2 at lunchtime on Saturday. Ending with a London derby between rivals who know just what it takes to win the WSL (three apiece) as well as they know each other. Modern dynasty recognise modern dynasty.

Even as conditions fluctuated, giving us sweeping rain and bright sunshine in the opening 30 minutes, neither side wavered from their approach. For Arsenal, that was of patient build-up from the back, while Chelsea did more or less the same, with greater physicality and with a greater incentive to harry red shirts given how successful it has been in the past. Not only has it formed the cornerstone of Chelsea’s six consecutive wins between the two, but Manchester United did similar to the Gunners last week, securing a 1-0 win that sent them top.

Quelling any threat of a repeat was the return of Little and Jill Roord to the Arsenal midfield. Little, who spent most of the opening 10 minutes on the sideline to patch up a bloody lip sustained during an early midfield jostle, ensured battles on the deck and shoulder-to-shoulder were even affairs, even when blue swarmed red in the middle.

Arsenal had the best chance of the first half: Caitlin Foord first to a stay pass from Chelsea’s Sophie Ingle to cannon a shot off the bar that came down to hit it for a second time. A melee for the rebound gave Foord a second chance closer in albeit on the volley and under pressure which she shanked wide. Miedema, who had a quiet game, might have converted said rebound had she not given up after the first contact with the bar.

Emma Hayes’s players were the quickest out of the blocks in the second-half. Stepping up with their intensity and backline to squeez Joe Montemurro’s charges, like a boxer who had got the measure of their opponent after the opening rounds. Alas, they were unable to land any telling blows despite being more productive in the final third.

Harder had two shots cleared off the line after coming off her right-wing to try and add the finishing touches on a couple of crosses. Beth England should have done better from 10 yards out when she was all alone after Erin Cuthbert’s work from the left. Sam Kerr, on from the start of the second-half, looked to have a free gallop through on goal only for Katie McCabe to produce a goal-saving tackle just as the Australian was about to enter the box.

Then came the bedlam of the final throes, which could have been all the more dramatic had Kerr found the target when she lifted over Manuela Zinsberger and towards an empty net.

For now, this was a result to ensure both teams are at ease in the title race and a performance that capped off another productive weekend for the women’s game. 

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