It proved to be a cracker; a dazzling advert for the women’s game. Chelsea FC Women v Arsenal Ladies saw the Gunners equalise twice, yet still lose an absorbing, end-to-end league match which the Blues eventually squeaked 3-2.
If any match could have been conjured up to boost interest in Chelsea FC Women as a spectacle, this was it. There was goalmouth drama, knife-edge decisions, more galloping about than the Epsom Derby and a mixture of icy winds and blinding winter sunshine to add a measure of luck and uncertainty.
Emma Hayes fielded a strong side to take on top-four Arsenal, with goalie Hedvig Lindahl having her best game between the sticks for the Blues this season, making a string of important saves.
While Chelsea attacked with more purpose and structure, Arsenal were better on the break. The sides seemed to be cancelling each other out until the 24th minute, when the Blues went ahead after a scrappy goalmouth skirmish saw Gilly Flaherty hit the post and then Maren Mjelde – so often the right girl in the right place at the right time – bundling over the line.
Eleven minutes after the restart, and after several terrific blocks by Lindahl, Arsenal’s relentless pressure told, with Viv Miedema scoring… the ball tantalisingly dribbling over the line as the Chelsea keeper watched helplessly.
Four minutes later, as Arsenal’s goalie, Sari Van Veenedal, battled to see the action with the low winter sun, a Ji So-Yun shot appeared to be stopped right on the goal line, only for ref Adrian Quelch to rule it a goal. 2-1.
The advantage didn’t last. The Gunners, playing with the wind behind them, raced back upfield two minutes later. Earning a corner, Arsenal threw bodies at the Chelsea defence, with Dominique Janssen managing to get the final touch.
The 2,570 spectators were thoroughly enjoying the match, despite the raw wind, and Arsenal could have stolen the points if Beth Mead’s 71st-minute shot hadn’t been brilliantly saved by woman-of-the-match Lindahl.
But there was a final twist on 83 minutes, when new signing Jonna Anderson’s daisycutter cross was deflected into her own net by an unlucky Van Veenedal to ensure Chelsea grabbed maximum reward to keep the pressure on Manchester City, who visit Kingsmeadow in the Conti Cup semi on Sunday January 14 at 2pm. Visit www.chelseafc.com/ladiestickets for full details.