Date: 11th June 2012 at 9:56am
Written by:

It seems odd that in what is ostensibly the off season, I`ve managed to watch eight games of football this weekend. 6 international matches on British terrestrial TV formed the bulk of that, but with a Brasileiro match late on Saturday night it`s fair to say I`ve gone some way to getting my fix. However, none of these were live games that I attended in the flesh and that`s the bug that really lives under my skin. The sounds of studs colliding together without the need for pitch side microphones, the thud of the ball connecting with boots and the thunder of rolling plastic seats.

Ladies` football gives you the chance to sample this during the summer, away from the glare of HD TV screens and watered down lager promotions in your local soulless, identikit Wetherspoons. Arsenal Ladies faced Chelsea Ladies for the third time in six weeks across three competitions. Despite a relatively straightforward 3-1 win over Chelsea in the WSL at the Emirates, there were scores to settle after Chelsea somehow survived an Arsenal onslaught to win the F.A. Cup semi final between the teams 2-0 at Griffin Park. Yesterday was a winner takes all affair in Group A of the Continental Cup. The Gunners shock 4-3 defeat to Lincoln last time out meant winning the group was no longer in their own hands. The Lady Imps squeaked past Liverpool 3-2 on Saturday to top the group. Arsenal needed a draw to qualify for the semi finals, Chelsea had to win. An Arsenal defeat would see them suffer a third cup exit of the season. Unthinkable.

The Gunners had some good cheer on their bench, with Ellie White, Kelly Smith and Jayne Ludlow all having returned from injury to make the matchday squad. Jennifer Beattie played an unfamiliar left back role in place of Nahim Fahey and Danielle Carter started upfront, Jordan Nobbs dropped back into midfield with Katy Chapman rested. Arsenal dominated possession in the opening stages, but found goalscoring opportunities at a premium. Really, the first chance they registered was their opening goal on 14 minutes. Some intricate passing on the edge of the Chelsea box saw Kim Little touch the ball back to Jordan Nobbs, who hit a bending shot past the desperate reach of Carly Telford and into the top corner to make it 1-0.

Arsenal continued to dominate, with Danielle Susi and Helen Lander cutting frustrated figures upfront for Chelsea. Dani Buet was busy in the Blues midfield. The Gunners still struggled to really penetrate Chelsea`s rearguard. (Every phrase you use when describing women`s football sounds utterly perverted). Two minutes before half time, the home side really ought to have doubled their lead. Little latched onto Nobbs` though ball (it doesn`t help when Arsenal have two midfielders named ‘Little` and ‘Nobbs`) and tried to trick her way around Telford when clean through on goal. Telford stood firm and denied the diminutive Scot. The ball then broke loose inside the six yard area, Carter stabbed it towards goal but was blocked on the line by Gemma Bonner.

Chelsea had to win and the second half saw them become slightly more enterprising and that`s where Arsenal really began to purr into their groove. That said, Chelsea really ought to have equalised as Gilly Flaherty looked to turn and pass the ball back to Byrne, she lost her footing and that allowed Helen Lander in on goal, but she arrowed her low shot centimetres past the post. A real let off. But it was to be Chelsea`s only sight of goal all afternoon. Davison`s shot was well saved by Telford and Kim Little was again put through on goal by Houghton this time, but as she bore down on the Chelsea goal, she was slightly unbalanced and sliced her shot into the side netting. Just before the hour mark, the pressure told. Davison`s corner wasn`t emphatically cleared by the Blues defence, Yankey got a toe to the ball in the area and Spence handled. The referee acquiesced to the fierce penalty claims. Kim Little stepped up and steered her spot kick beyond the reach of Telford`s right hand and into the bottom corner.

Chelsea knew the game was up and Arsenal continued to press. Telford made an outstanding one handed stop as Beattie powered a header goalwards from Davison`s corner. The Scottish striker did eventually get on the score sheet when she powered another header goalwards from another Davison corner. Initially, it looked as though Lafferty had scrambled it off the line, but the assistant referee flagged that the ball had crossed the line. Arsenal were able to bring on Ellie White, absent for the last two months with a back injury and Academy graduate Bianca Bragg also got a run out. White is a West Ham season ticket holder and so is Chelsea substitute Kate Longhurst who came off the bench for the Blues. She got a good natured “wayhay!” for a complete air kick next to the East Bank touchline where most fans gathered. She responded with the sort of class and poise one comes to expect from an employee of Chelsea F.C.

In the end, a comfortable 3-0 win assured Arsenal finished the group in 2nd place and booked themselves a place in the semi finals of the Continental Cup. In finishing 2nd, they`ve actually avoided the tougher draw, with Lincoln facing Birmingham City. Arsenal play Bristol Academy away on September 2nd. The bookmakers would suggest we are in for a repeat of last year`s Final in which Arsenal beat Birmingham City 4-1 at Burton Albion to win the inaugural trophy. But the F.A. Cup semi final showed Arsenal they will need to be on full guard. The girls now join their countries for a round of Euro 2013 qualifiers next week. If Rachel Yankey, as expected, plays both of England`s games she equals Gillian Coultard`s record of 119 England caps. Arsenal`s next game is a top of the table clash with Birmingham City in the WSL. Birmingham are two points behind the Gunners at the top of the table. The match will be played at Borehamwood`s Meadow Park on Sunday, 24th June. Tickets £5 adults, £2.50 concessions as always. LD.

ARSENAL: 1.BYRNE, 22.SCOTT, 5.FLAHERTY, 7.GRANT, 14.BEATTIE, 2.HOUGHTON, 16.LITTLE, 8.NOBBS, 12.DAVISON (30.Bragg ’84), 11.YANKEY, 15.CARTER (9.E.White ’66). Unused: 3.Tracy, 4.Ludlow, 23.Smith, 25.Ladd, 31.Harris.

CHELSEA: 1.TELFORD, 2.FAY, 5.BONNER, 6.INGLE, 11.RAFFERTY, 25.BLEAZZARD (22.Gwilliam ’85), 7.SHERWOOD (20.Longhurst ’66), 11.COOMBS (4.Spence ’35), 8.BUET, 18.SUSI, 10.LANDER. Unused: 3.Perry, 9.Hincks, 13.Quantrill, 14.Williams.

Follow me on twitter @LittleDutchVA