Now that I am finally settled in to my new life in Spain, I had hoped that my installments of Gunners Fair could be a bit more regular, but with the last game played in the Women’s Super League a few weeks ago, it looks like this is more an end-of-season summary than anything. A season where despite the great run of form that characterized the latter part of the Arsenal Ladies’ campaign, they were unable to make amends for last year and Matt Beard’s Liverpool beat them to the title for the second year running.
During new manager Losa’s first game in charge, it had taken Bristol Academy all of one minute to take the lead and things got harder for the away team when player Nikki Watts doubled their lead from the penalty spot at the 35th minute. Trailing 0-2 at the break, manager Losa brought in Kelly Smith who showed just why she’s still got the magic. The 35 year old scored twice within 3 minutes (50”, 53”) to make it 2-2 and game on. Captain on the day, Alex Scott lost no time in sealing the comeback when she scored in the 55th minute off a Jordan Nobbs assist. 10 minutes later, Kelly Smith completed her hattrick and put the result beyond doubt, though Bristol Academy got a late consolation goal through Natalia Pablo Sanchon.
Arsenal took that momentum into their next two games – Liverpool and Everton – but were unable to stop Liverpool from winning their second successive WSL title. Against table leaders Liverpool at Meadow Park, the home team got off to a dream start when Jordan Nobbs’ header off an Alex Scott cross gave them a lead after only 40 seconds. The joy was doubled 12 minutes later when Nobbs took advantage of lethargic defending in the Liverpool area and scored her and her team’s second. Liverpool pulled one back around the half hour mark courtesy a Fara Williams free-kick. Arsenal restored their two goal cushion after half time off a Rachel Yankey corner and a Casey Stoney goal. However Liverpool’s Rosler (66”) and Davison (93”) ensured that the game finished with one point apiece.
Their last game of the WSL season was against bottom of the table, Everton Ladies, who were facing confirmed relegation for the first time in their history after failing to win any of their games. As we know very well, you can never write off any team, especially one with nothing to lose, and Everton duly didn’t make it easy for the home team by taking the lead. However in the end the Arsenal Ladies had enough quality to come from behind and make it a 3-1 win to end the season on a high.
The season was not over just yet as the Ladies had to defend their Continental Cup crown against newcomers Manchester City. Arsenal had won the last three tournaments and were aiming for a record fourth successive win. Unfortunately the defending champions were left to rue missed chances while City did just enough on the day to ensure that a new name would be on the trophy for the first time in its history.
But their performances in the last three WSL fixtures of the season spoke a lot about their quick comfort under new coach, Pedro Martinez Losa. With Shelley Kerr’s departure following a successful defence of the Women’s FA Cup, Arsenal Ladies were under the leadership of player-coach Kelly Smith and interim caretaker John Bayer. Despite a rather nervy and inconsistent start to the season, the incredible second half comeback against Bristol Academy and the unbeaten run that followed showed that this team won’t give up so easily, that there is much still to be positive about as we look forward to a new campaign.
There is also no lack of football to look forward to. Arsenal Ladies will be taking part in the International Women’s Club Championship in Japan next month. This is the first time the club will be involved in the tournament which is now in its third year. The participants will be a number of Japan’s J-League clubs, the winners of the 2014 Asia Women’s Club Championship, South American champions Sao Jose Esporte Clube and Australia’s Melbourne Victory.
This marks the club’s second visit to Japan following their charity tour in 2011 and will be a homecoming for Arsenal’s own Japanese imports, Yukari Kinga and Shinobu Ohno.
Off the field, the club has been doing a lot of charity and community work – a silent auction of the Puma shirts worn by the Arsenal Ladies for their matches versus London Bees and Chelsea back in July, raised £3,287 for the Arsenal Foundation. They also participated in a lot of events over the last half-term holidays and have recently announced a new club associate programme that will see them increase their current efforts in supporting grassroots girls football.
“We are delighted to launch this new programme and to demonstrate our commitment to supporting the growth of the female game. The work that some of these clubs are doing within their local communities is fantastic and we hope to use this programme as a vehicle to support and expand their current work so we can help engage and retain more female players within football.” (Arsenal Ladies development officer Ciara Allen)
Arsenal will have special guest coaching sessions at the local clubs and their players will be given the chance to be ball girls during the Gunners’ matches. This associate programme aims to support these local teams and aid the development of elite young female players by offering advice on training methods, recruitment and offering them the exposure to and guidance of top female professionals.
And the final piece of good news concerns the return of former Gunner, Lianne Sanderson from her stint in the United States. The 26 year old England international has come through Arsenal’s Centre of Excellence and boasts of 5 league titles, 4 FA Women’s Cups and the UEFA Women’s Cup during that time, including important contributions in Arsenal’s record breaking quadruple season. She is also well known to Pedro Losa Martinez –
The forward echoes the words of her new manager –
“I’m also really excited to be able to work with Pedro Martinez Losa, as I know all about his qualities from his time in the United States. There is a great spirit at the club and I’m really looking forward to returning to one of the best clubs in the world.”
It is a definite boost to the squad to have someone of her quality and experience back as they work towards the new season. Speaking of which, there is still plenty of football left in this season as the men’s team drag our emotions all over the play, stay sane and stay safe fellow Gooners!
Clear Eyes. Full Hearts. Can’t Lose.