Arsenal Ladies lost their first League game of the campaign with a 2-0 defeat at direct contender Manchester City Women FC.

It is a bad result as the season only lasts 16 games and previous champions haven’t lost more than two games in the last five season since the FA WSL started (albeit in a 14-game format).

The most disappointing thing is City were there for the taking as they had only 11 valid first team players plus the sub goalkeeper. The only outfield players they had on the bench were four kids from their development team and, indeed, they made no substitutions in the game for the second game in a row.

For this potential title decider, Pedro Losa decided to rotate his squad again and bring experienced players like Casey Stoney and Fara Williams into the starting line-up as well as Dutch playmaker Danielle Van De Donk.

Arsenal Ladies XI: Van Veenendaal; Scott, Stoney, Rose, Mitchell; Williams, Losada, Nobbs; Van De Donk, Oshoala, Carter.Byrne, Williamson, Henning, Janssen, Corredera, McCabe, Natalia.  Smith, Kelly, Sampson and Taylor were not in the squad.

Subs: Byrne, Williamson, Henning, Janssen, Corredera, McCabe, Natalia.Smith, Kelly, Sampson and Taylor were not in the squad.

Not in squad: Smith, Kelly, Sampson, Taylor.

The game started with City dominating possession and pressuring the Gunners. Oshoala managed to get away from the City defence but was chased by three defenders and ultimately fouled by Houghton on the edge of the penalty area. The England captain was booked.

Was it a red card for denying a clear goalscoring opportunity? I don’t think the word ‘clear’ applied in this case as she was not going to pull the trigger yet. Williams’ free-kick hit the crossbar but did not go in.

Then, a couple of minutes later, it all went wrong in a scenario already seen with Mertesacker against Chelsea in the men’s side this season. A long ball was sent above the head of Rose who was on the wrong side of Ross. She kind of tried to grab the forward by the shirt, but ended up tripping the City player and was rightly sent-off according to the law of the games.

It obviously changed the complexion of the game as 75 minutes with 10 players against 11 is a tough ask. Pedro Losa sacrificed Carter to make way for Williamson at centre-back. Considering Henning was also on the bench, it was an interesting choice to prefer the young midfielder to the experienced German defender, although to be fair Henning no experience of the English domestic football so far.

Still, considering Williamson has made errors in the previous season at centre-back that cost goals and another on Wednesday against Reading, with hindsight, of course, it was a key moment in the game.

The first half was more or less attack versus defence with Arsenal trying to find Oshoala’s pace on the break and City trying to find holes in the stubborn Arsenal defence organised in two lines of four. The 0-0 scoreline at the break was good for the Gunners considering the circumstances.

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At half-time, Pedro Losa substituted Oshoala and replaced her with Janssen in order to beef up the midfield area where Losada was not always tracking back the runners on the left side and it left Mitchell in two-versus-one situation against Bronze and Parris.

Nobbs was dispatched to the left wing, Williams and Losada in central midfield area with Janssen on the right side of the midfield. I believe the adjustment was also made because the transition from attack to defence was non-existent with a direct being the only route used in the first half after the red card.

The downside of that change is there was no more pace up front and Arsenal invited even more pressure from City. It did work for a while with the team more compact and able to bring the ball out the defence a bit more.

Then City opened the scoring, Duggan chased a long ball on the Arsenal left wing with Williamson attending her. The defender decided not to clear the ball into touch and Duggan managed to nip it and put a cutback to Ross to head it in the Arsenal goal.

It was disappointing to see Williams not tracking Ross and letting her head the ball in the back of the net too easily.

And it went from bad to worse with a penalty given for a foul on Parris by Janssen. It was borderline on the edge of the penalty area, but the referee did not hesitate. Toni Duggan put the penalty away and the game finished 2-0 to City

 

The Gunners now trail the Citizen by three points after two games played and, with 14 more to go, will hope that City will drop points during the season.

At the highest level, even the smallest mistakes get punished and the Ladies paid the price for it today. Hopefully, they will bounce back next Sunday in the FA Women’s Cup quarter-final against a defensive Notts County side at Borehamwood.