by Mosope Ominiyi
A well-taken second-half strike by Chioma Ubogagu settled the score in what was a cagey affair, meaning that the Gunners have now leapfrogged Notts County into third place in the table – just two points off league leaders Chelsea.
The north Londoners looked to bounce back from a disappointing 3-1 defeat at the hands of Liverpool, as they went head-to-head with Birmingham at the Autotech Stadium this evening – who are yet to record a victory this season.
The Gunners were hoping to close the gap on current leaders Chelsea after the Blues’ shock 4-0 defeat at the hands of Sunderland, but it promised to be a tough fixture nonetheless.
Jo Potter and Karen Carney returned for the hosts after their World Cup success with the Lionesses. Meanwhile, Arsenal made three alterations to their starting eleven. Casey Stoney and Jemma Rose started as the centre-back pairing for Pedro Martínez Losa’s side – with Leah Williamson being deployed as a holding midfielder.
The game started quickly, neither side wanting to make any mistakes with both eager to get forward. Birmingham looked to set-pieces for their main attacking threat with club captain Carney doing her best to pull the strings from midfield.
Marta Corredera was given the game’s first yellow card in the 12th minute for a cynical tug back on Freda Ayisi, as she raced forward on the counter attack with the Gunners backline looking vulnerable.
A dangerous delivery was fizzed into the box by Chioma Ubogagu with Williamson lurking inside the area – but a vital defensive clearance by Megan Sargeant ensured it was still goal-less.
Jade Moore had to receive treatment from the physios after a nasty-looking collision with Alex Scott, but it was evident she wanted to continue despite being dazed. Thankfully though, she was able to continue and was back in the fray soon afterwards.
A low fingertip save by Rebecca Spencer ensured Ubogagu did not open the scoring with a speculative effort from 20 yards out. The resulting corner-kick was poorly delivered as Arsenal failed to take their chance to up the ante, which was met by a disapproving shake of the head on the touchline from the boss himself.
Spencer seemed to be playing with fire as she was lucky not to see the ball in the back of her net – scrambling across her area to try and parry the loose ball to safety as Arsenal pressed for an opener with the momentum on their side. Somehow though despite the end-to-end opportunities up for grabs, the scores were still level at the half-time interval.
Birmingham were down to ten for the second-half, immediately playing with a disadvantage – Ayisi was given two yellow cards within the final three minutes of the first 45 and ultimately sent her marching orders after an overzealous sliding tackle on Williamson.
A change for either side at the break; Birmingham’s Potter off for Kirsty Linett whilst Danielle Carter replaced Alex Scott for the Gunners as the experienced English full-back was struggling with a thigh knock.
Arsenal pushed in-front after 53 minutes, with Ubogagu grabbing a well-deserved finish to break the deadlock after some neat link-up play on the edge of the box. Emma Byrne was troubled as an audacious effort took a wicked spin goalwards and the sunlight distorted her view of the strike, which she caught on the goal-line. Although there were some shouts of a goal from behind the net, the linesman could not make the decision himself as he was not in-line with play.
Carney continued to worry the Gunners backline with the clock ticking down, before swinging a cross in the box for Remi Allen – whose effort crashed off the crossbar. Warning signs were beginning to show for Arsenal, and with a slender lead to protect, Birmingham had nothing to lose in their pursuit of an equaliser.
It was a feisty ending, with plenty of robust challenges flying in but the Gunners held firm at the back to secure a much-needed win.