Arsenal Ladies are through to the FA Womens Cup semi-finals following their penalty shootout win against Notts County Ladies.
In a cup competition, the most important thing is to be in the hat for the next round, so it is a job well done by the Arsenal girls. The performance overall was poor in the first half, better in the second half and in extra time.
The referee’s performance was simply in line with all the FA WSL referees throughout the recent season. Both sides can complain about mistakes. Arsenal could have got three penalties, a few free kicks and some yellow cards given to Notts, while Notts’ Ellen White was harshly sent off for two bookable offences.
Pedro Losa made three changes from the City game as well as a system change. Smith, Williamson and Janssen coming in with the 4-4-2 diamond midfield used. The line up was Van Veenendaal, Scott Williamson Stoney Mitchell, Janssen Losada Williams Nobbs, Oshoala Smith.
That system was used in the FA Cup defeat from last season against Chelsea and failed badly. And unsurprisingly it did not work either in the first half, where Notts could have been 3-0 up had they been more clinical. Williams was too high and not doing a lot, Nobbs was stiffled on the left and most of the players were stuck in the middle of the pitch.
The diamond system concentrates most of the players in the central area and width is provided by the full-backs. But the Arsenal full-backs could not go forward too much as they were facing a front three that was extremely quick in Clarke, White and Williams.
Every time, one of the full-backs was caught forward on the pitch, Notts were quick in transition with direct football and put the ball in the space for the forwards to chase. Arsenal on the other side, were too narrow and unable to create many chances and scored against the run of play via a peach of a finish by Kelly Smith.
Then Notts equalised via a set pieces that was not cleared, they had many chances from them but luckily only scored one. Notts scored a second goal in controversial style as the Arsenal players thought Van Veenendaal was pushed when she tried to clear the ball. The ball did not travel far and Notts scored from a tap-in.
Arsenal had a couple of penalty calls rejected by the referee, who was absolutely inconsistent with his use of cards and whistling on fouls in a random fashion. Half-time was reached with the Ladies 2-1 deservedly down.
Pedro Losa introduced Carter and withdrew Losada at half-time, making it a better balanced team with the forward playing a lot higher on the pitch and giving the width that had been desperately missed in the first half.
There was a definite improvement with chances created and Notts were being pushed in a defensive position after playing the first half very high on the pitch. Not their usual park the bus stance. They had to revert to it once White sent off for a second bookable offence.
A harsh decision by the referee with big consequences. Had he been consistent with that booking, he should have at least booked a minimum of five players during the game.
Arsenal went on full attack mode with Notts down to 10 players and needing an equaliser. Natalia was put on the left wing to ruffle some feathers and then McCabe was introduced as an attacking full-back for Mitchell. The Irish winger delivered the cross from which the Spanish striker scored the equaliser.
The match ended with a 2-2 scoreline at full-time and the same scoreline in extra time as Arsenal Ladies were not able to make the extra player advantage count. In the end Van Veenendaal won the tie for the Gunners by saving three penalties in the shootout.
It was a great fightback from the girls from a poor first-half and the semi-final draw to be made Tuesday will see the top four teams from last season in the hat. Semi-finals are played at a neutral venue close to the first team drawn in each tie. With Chelsea, Manchester City and Sunderland involved the worse draw would be Sunderland away for the fans.