“What they did do well was the basics. They fought for every single ball, they were committed, they had hunger, they had desire. They’ve done the basics better than us. But we need to put that behind us and get ready for the Super League competition which is the bread and butter in women’s football. We need to go back to the drawing board and make improvements.” (Shelley Kerr)
This is what the Arsenal Ladies manager had to say after they were knocked out of the Champions League following a 0-2 loss to Birmingham City Ladies (0-3 on aggregate). This means that Kerr’s team will not feature in the next edition of the competition, having finished third in last season’s Women’s Super League. However there is plenty to play for – the 2014 WSL kicked off yesterday, and Arsenal Ladies posted a 2-0 victory over Gillingham in the FA Cup to go through to the quarterfinals.
After a goalless first half versus Gillingham, Arsenal needed something special and it was returning veteran Kelly Smith who provided just that: putting away a penalty in the 63rd minute and scoring with a left-footed strike into the top corner in the 81st minute.
“It was a good, professional team performance, even though it was frustrating at times. Credit to Gillingham, they stuck to their game plan and were very organised but it was always going to be a matter of time before we broke them down. Siobhan [Chamberlain] didn’t have a save to make so we were very pleased with our defensive performance.” (Shelley Kerr)
This win lifted the team’s spirit ahead of their Women’s Super League opener at Meadow Park versus newly formed Notts County (in the place of the former Lincoln Ladies) and made a positive statement as the Arsenal Ladies look to regain the title they lost to Liverpool last season. Veterans like Kelly Smith know the importance of continuing to keep at it, but are also aware that the pressure is not fully on the north London club, with new entrants and ambitiously assembled squads.
“I’d like to think that we’re still going to challenge for the title. I think there are more expectations on other teams with the likes of Liverpool and Man City looking strong. Chelsea have signed a lot of players as well so I think all the expectations are off us this year. There’s more pressure on other teams to step up and try and win the league.” (Kelly Smith)
This offers Kerr’s team a good chance of focusing on assimilating all the newer players and quietly going about their business. However they have an additional hurdle to consider: that of other teams thinking they can take the game to Arsenal and beat them, now that it’s been proven it can be done.
“Teams set up in a certain way to play against us and we like to play attractive football. Sometimes for us it’s about playing football with a high tempo and not allowing teams to sit back in behind the ball. You could see against Gillingham we were trying to find those penetrative runs and that becomes more difficult when teams sit behind the ball. It’s about having good movement and patience.” (Shelley Kerr)
It is important to notice that while Arsenal did give up their league title, it is in no way an indication of the loss of their dominance at the top flight of women’s football. It was still a successful season where they won two domestic trophies (FA Cup and the Continental Cup) and lost only one game. It was only the lack of a killer, finishing edge in the final third that cost them points in their draws.
Beginning their 2014 WSL campaign with a draw was probably not the start Arsenal wanted, but that’s what they’ll have to make do with, as Alex Scott’s beautifully controlled volley (55th minute) cancelled out Jess Clark’s first half opener. It was an ultimately frustrating result after the Gunners’ second half dominance and chances, but there were glimpses of the new-look team starting to be more cohesive. It was an opening day of draws as Everton Ladies played out a goalless stalemate with Birmingham City Ladies. This is what the League table currently looks like.
There’s not much that can be said after one game, but Arsenal have a few games in the domestic competitions to settle in before they return to WSL action. May 1, 2014 sees them play a home game versus Watford Ladies in the FA WSL Continental Cup, before the FA Cup quarter-finals against Birmingham City Ladies (away) on May 4, 2014.
Birmingham beat Doncaster Rover Belles 3-1, and this will be the third match between them and Arsenal this season. Kerr’s side will certainly be out to get a much more favourable result after their Champions League loss. Chelsea Ladies play Manchester City in the other quarterfinal in this half of the draw. (The semifinal’s scheduled for May 11)
For the season ticket holders amongst the Gunners Fair readers, you have a chance to attend an Arsenal Ladies training session at London Colney on either Tuesday, April 29 or Wednesday, April 30. There are only 40 spaces available per day so it will operate on a first-come, first register basis. Click here for information and instructions on how to register. For those who are yet to buy their season tickets, please do so before April 25 to be able to avail of this opportunity.
There is much to be played for yet, whether it’s the men’s or the women’s side so keep supporting and keep believing!
Clear Eyes. Full Hearts. Can’t Lose.