A week is an exceptionally long time in football. Goalposts move (only figuratively, one hopes), expectations change, eras begin and end. Since the last football roundup, one of the most astonishing eras in modern football has come to an end. You may have read something about it, if you cared to listen hard enough. And no, we’re not talking about a certain Scotsman working in Manchester.
The FA WSL
After a 2-week break, top-level league action returned to women’s football and announced its comeback with a result which sent tremors across the sporting world. Going into the new season, two-time champions Arsenal had not lost a league game since July 2011, a remarkable streak by any measure. Having been kept out of league action through various European and Cup competition commitments, their curtain-raising encounter at home to a Liverpool side beaten by the Gunners just weeks earlier in the FA Cup might have been expected to be something of a showcase, regardless of their opponents’ encouraging start to the season. Not so, though, as the North Londoners succumbed to a 4-0 defeat, the highest endured by an Arsenal Ladies side for a decade.
Having soaked up immense early pressure from the home side, Liverpool took the lead midway through the first-half through Amanda Da Costa’s strike; yet it was a sensational five minute streak early in the second half which saw Matt Beard’s side put the Gunners to the sword, with Da Costa’s second goal swiftly followed by strikes from Natasha Dowie and Louise Fors opening up a four goal lead before the hour mark. Arsenal might have pulled goals back on numerous occasions, but a combination of excellent goalkeeping from Sarah Quantrill and a seemingly charmed woodwork saw Liverpool home to their biggest ever league victory.
Celebrations, then, for Liverpool; but not celebrations that lasted too long as they were brought crashing back to earth with a 2-1 defeat to Chelsea on Sunday. Despite falling behind to an early Whitney Engen strike, a Chelsea side that have largely lit up the early stages of the season took victory through goals from in-form strike duo Sofia Jakobsson and Eni Aluko. Despite having joined Chelsea with a less than stellar career goalscoring record, Jakobsson has begun the league season in blistering form – an early name to watch out for in this summer’s European Championships.
Elsewhere, Lincoln continued their unhappy start to the season with a 2-0 home defeat to Everton, Brooke Chaplen and Nikita Parris supplying the goals, while Bristol Academy saw off Doncaster Belles 3-1 to make them the only team with a 100% record in the early stages of the season, Natasha Harding and Lucy Staniforth firing the home side into a 2-0 lead before half time. While Jemma Rose’s own goal offered some hope to the visitors, Nikki Watts’ strike made the game safe for Bristol after Harding’s initial shot was well saved.
Arsenal 0 – 4 Liverpool
Lincoln 0 – 2 Everton
Bristol Academy 3 – 1 Doncaster Belles
Chelsea 2 – 1 Liverpool
The Continental Cup
News of one Continental Cup game to bring you and some much needed solace for Arsenal as they came from behind to defeat Birmingham 2-1 on home turf. Back at Borehamwood after their season-opener had been played at the Emirates Stadium, Arsenal had some nervous moments against their midland opponents and must have been dreading a repeat of their earlier capitulation to Liverpool when the Blues took the lead through Rachel Williams’ spot kick in the 2nd half. Arsenal struck back quickly through Gemma Davison, though, before a late header from Ellen White secured a welcome victory for Shelley Kerr’s charges.
Despite victory, though, the uncomfortable truth remains that the previously dominant Arsenal have now tasted defeat in three of their biggest matches this season. While losing out to full-timers Wolfsburg in the Champions League is no disgrace, and while it is also true that this season’s Liverpool vintage is a far cry from the also-rans that finished bottom of the league in both previous WSL seasons, a certain sense of malaise seems to hang over the Gunners at present. Indeed, in post-match interviews after their astonishing league victory, Liverpool manager Matt Beard made reference to the paucity of options on the Gunners’ bench. That the team has been so apparently shaken by Kelly Smith’s early season injury and the continued absence of Jane Ludlow from matchday squads inevitably leaves the country’s pre-eminent women’s team open to questions of complacency, particularly at a time when each of their closest rivals has strengthened significantly since the 2012 season.
This, of course, remains an exceptionally capable Arsenal side and undoubtedly it will take time for Kerr’s coaching methods to bed in following the successes of both immediate predecessor Laura Harvey and long-term influence Vic Akers. The fact remains, however, that questions are now being asked where previously it would have been sacrilege to do so. Kerr needs her biggest players to begin to exert greater influence over matches and to swiftly shake the habit of falling behind. How quickly they can do so will go a long way to shaping the remainder of what is already shaping up to be an exceptionally interesting season.
Arsenal 2 – 1 Birmingham
A very brief word on Sir Alex Ferguson and his remarkable achievements in leading Manchester United to 26 years of unprecedented success. On one hand, it has been telling to see how many of the country’s leading female footballers have taken to social media to praise the influence of the Great Scot on the wider game. He truly has been – and will surely remain – a key part of the footballing fabric of this country. On the other, we do wish that his influence had been able to impart on the club a women’s team to rival that of its male counterparts. Instead, Manchester United disbanded their women’s team in 2005 to concentrate on youth player development instead. Frankly, a team with United’s resources could very easily have maintained its women’s team which might have led to the mouthwatering prospect of a Manchester rivalry between two well-backed women’s clubs. Instead, only the Blue have of Manchester can boast a well-supported women’s side. Sadly, not everything in Fergie’s legacy is what we might wish.
Image from thefa.com – Thank you!