By Sylvain Jamet
Arsenal Ladies are back in the Champions League places following their 2-1 victory over Notts County Ladies, with Pedro Losa once again making winning substitutions and tactical changes to turn the game on.
For the top of the title clash against a very ambitious and financially backed Notts County Ladies, Pedro Losa was deprived of six players: Alex Scott, Jordan Nobbs, Vicky Losada, Kelly Smith, Leah Williamson and Vyan Sampson were not available. Therefore the starting 11 more or less consisted of the only 11 senior players available in a classic 4-3-3 formation.
Arsenal Ladies XI: Emma Byrne; Marta Corredera, Casey Stoney, Jemma Rose, Emma Mitchell; Jade Bailey, Dominique Janssen, Natalia Sanchon; Danielle Carter, Chioma Ubogagu, Rachel Yankey.
The current injuries problems at the club can be underlined by the bench. At the age of 19 Carla Humphrey was the oldest outfield player among the subs.
From the start, it was obvious that the team’s balance was a bit wrong: two left-footed wingers were stepping on each other’s toes in the same areas of the pitch, a center-forward was in midfield, and it was no surprise to see Notts County open the scoring with Arsenal making errors with their positioning.
Bailey was dragged to the left side of the midfield to challenge a player but, as the ball was played into the middle, Sanchon and Janssen were caught too high up the pitch. A simple through ball was played in front of Jess Clarke. Rose and Stoney are not exactly the quickest of center-backs, and could not catch the forward who went around Byrne for a simple tap-in to give Notts County the lead in the fourth minute.
That early goal settled the Notts County playing pattern and they decided to drop deep and hit Arsenal on the break with their two speedy forwards Clarke and Williams. Last season they were the most efficient defence in the league; it was a logical tactic to use and they were always dangerous on the break threatening with through balls.
Arsenal were dominating the ball but, set-pieces aside, posed little threat. The pitch was not in great condition and the continuous rain did not allow for technical errors or imprecise passing. Danielle Carter was doing a lot of work and was denied by a superb Telford save: despite all the pressure applied by the team the girls trailed 1-0 at half-time.
Right from the start of the second half, Arsenal carried on applying the pressure in search for an equaliser until Pedro Losa made an important and bold change in the 54th minute.
The manager withdrew Yankey and introduced 17 year-old centre forward Chloe Kelly. This saw Ubogagu move across to her natural position on the left-wing, while Corredera moved from right-back to central midfield. Meanwhile, 17 year-old striker Kelly went…to right-back..
A bold move, but with Notts County simply happy to defend adding an extra forward was a smart decision. The system used was very fluid being a 4-3-3 when defending and turning into a very bold 3-3-4 on the front foot with Kelly and Ubogagu on the wing alongside the two center forwards Sanchon and Carter, at the back Mitchell was tucking in alongside Stoney and Rose to form a back three.
Arsenal’s continuous pressure was finally rewarded with an equaliser in the 60th minute. Corredera swung in a superb delivery from a corner which was met by a powerful Danielle Carter header.
Just a few minutes later Rose hit the crossbar from another corner yet the ball came fell to Sanchon, who managed to put the ball past the diving Telford. The ball was hooked away but only after the assistant referee had signalled it had crossed the line.
Notts County then introduced Arsenal center-forward Ellen White to try to get back into the game. They also removed their left-back with their center-back, moving Greenwood to the wing were she her superb delivery has benefitted England in the past.
County had a great opportunity to equalise at the death from White but Byrne made a big save to deny White’s close range shot.
Arsenal managed to clinch an important win to take them back into the top two.
Sunderland are now league leaders with 18 points, which is an incredible feat from the promoted team. Arsenal are level with them on points but have a lower goal difference.
Chelsea, who were beaten by a late own goal from a wrongly awarded free-kick, are now in third place a point behind the top two teams.
At the bottom of the table Birmingham registered their first win and are now coasting four points clear of Bristol as well as having an huge 13 goal advantage on goal difference. Birmingham are essentially five points ahead and Bristol will need a miracle not to go down now with only five games to the end of the season.