Arsenal Ladies are now in the Champions League quarter-finals after a master-class over Glasgow City Ladies. These two fixtures were never going to be easy with Glasgow the current Scottish Premier League champions and far from pushovers, but Shelley Kerr’s side won 3-0 in their home leg and came through a hard-earned 3-2 win in Glasgow to win 6-2 on aggregate.
The injured Steph Houghton came back to captain the side and even scored the opening goal with a header in the 14th minute. Danielle Carter scored Arsenal’s 2nd just before half-time and Ellen White’s header ensured a comfortable lead for the home side (minus any away goals for the Scots) before they travelled up to Glasgow. It was a disciplined, controlled performance from Arsenal who didn’t compromise on their attacking game and could have had a goal or two more, but also made sure they kept a clean sheet, especially in the second half. This was acknowledged by Kerr in her post-match interview.
There was also good news as Kelly Smith (who had spent the last seven months on the sidelines with a shin injury) came on for the final 15 minutes of the game. The manager highlights the importance of having such a quality player back in training and as part of the team, and emphasises how much having Kelly back is going to help Arsenal in their push for winning this Champions League (Reminder: After finishing third in the recently completed WSL, the Ladies need to win this season’s trophy to be able to compete with Europe’s best next season).
“I thought she was absolutely first class. She does things that no other player does and was a little bit unlucky not to get a goal. She has such great vision, she’s trained hard for a while and she’s done exceptionally well to get herself in the shape that she’s in so it was brilliant getting her on the pitch again. I think her last game was in the Champions League against Torres in March so it was fitting for her to come on in the Champions League again. It’s been a long wait for us and she’s just such an exceptional talent so we’re all really delighted for her as a Club that she’s back on that pitch.”
But even with a 3-0 lead, Arsenal had a job to complete up in Scotland, with Glasgow City Ladies not very likely to give up so easily on their home turf.
Credit to the girls who put up a professional, committed performance in the face of cold and blustery weather conditions, an artificial pitch, a sell-out roaring home crowd and a tough and defiant Glasgow who showed their intent with a 2nd minute goal (Suzanne Lappin with a close-range header). Another goal for the Scottish side, or even an added spell of attack and pressure might have changed the tides of the tie but the away side responded well as Rachel Yankey made it 1-1 only 10 minutes later. In goal, Emma Byrne pulled off some important saves to keep her side in pole position. It took until the 69th minute for Arsenal to put the game beyond Glasgow. Jordan Nobbs picked up a loose ball and made it 2-1 in favour of the Gunners. But the game wasn’t over yet. Glasgow’s Fishlock and Corsie took advantage of poor marking from Arsenal to make it 2-2 in the 79th minute. Alex Scott scored the winner with a late 90th minute equaliser to give the away team a 6-2 aggregate victory that puts them through to the last 16 of the Champions League.
After the match, which was the last for Arsenal this season, Shelley Kerr gave a very interesting and insightful interview to Arsenal.com where she talks about her first season in charge as well as discusses what needs to improve for the next (including the possibility of Arsenal maybe looking into bringing in their first foreign player).
A final piece of good news before I say goodbye for this week – Danielle Carter and Jordan Nobbs, both quickly integral parts of this team, have signed new contracts. We at Gunners Town look forward to seeing them at Arsenal Ladies Football Club for a long time to come.
Clear Eyes. Full Hearts. Can’t Lose.