Two braces from Lashante Paul and Paige Bailey-Gayle alongside the opener from Shauna Vassell gave Arsenal a comfortable win against the United Development team in Loughborough on Sunday.

via Arsenal.com

On a day that saw the senior women’s team move to within three points of the title, Lauren Phillips was missing a few players due to injury, like Amelia Hazard, or called-up to the first team squad like goalie Libby Harper, but it did prevent her from naming a strong side.

The team was Georgie Ferguson; Shauna Vassell, Gracie Pearse, Abbie Roberts, Hannah Dawbarn; Ana Albuquerque, Ava Kuyken, Ruby Grant; Paige Bailey-Gayle, Melisa Filis, Lachante Paul.

Shauna Vassell opened the scoring early in the game in the third minute, when a lay-off from Paige Bailey-Gayle found her on the edge of the penalty area on the right and she hit a ferocious shot that hit the far post before going in.

One nil to the Arsenal and the best possible start.

The second goal came just before a quarter of an hour with Lachante Paul on the left wing coming on and turning around a United defender to produce a powerful, low shot that beat Alex Everett at the near post.

2-0 after 14 minutes and the game looked like it was going the right way for the Arsenal girls.

The game was flowing and United started to come back after being outclassed in the first 20 minutes and it was no surprise that their most experienced and well-known player, Levi Rathburn, was a constant threat yesterday and got a few shots in, all saved by Georgie Ferguson.

Then, there was the customary controversial refereeing moment when Beth Smith went in with a very late tackle, studs up straight on Hannah Dawbarn’s shin pad. The noise of the impact was quite worrying, but the young Arsenal defender was ok.

And, to my disbelief, the referee did not even book the United player.

Those are the typical incidents in the women’s game that can end up in breaking a leg as we’ve already seen many times this season. I don’t think there was any malice from the United player, she was just late. To be fair, the referee’s leniency was consistent with what we see in the FA WSL/FA WC. See Abbey-Leigh Stringer’s tackle on Beth Mead in the first team game yesterday, for instance.

At the end of the day, that incident had no bearing on the final result. The game was generally played in good spirit, so no harm done. But I have seen many games, when incidents like are not punished, players then get stuck in because they are given the freedom of fouling and someone ends up being seriously injured.

The third goal came in the 40th minute. Ruby Grant was sent through on goal one on one with Alex Everett, the United goalie saved her shot but Lachante Paul put the follow up in the back of the net for 3-0 and Arsenal had one hand on the trophy before half-time.

One minute later, Paige Bailey-Gayle added the fourth with an excellent left-foot finish after being teed-up by Lachante Paul. 4-0 and the grip on the trophy was really firm by half-time.

The second half was not as free-flowing and disrupted by many substitutions on both sides. United made a good fightback but did not manage to score. Silvana Flores came on at half-time for Ava Kuyken, Maxine Borden replaced Hannah Dawbarn, Jennifer Echegeni came on for Melisa Filis and Alexandra Fuggle replaced Shauna Vassell.

There was still time for a fifth goal in added time when Paige Bailey-Gayle was found inside the penalty area and rifled a powerful low shot and concluded a deserved win for a very young Arsenal Academy u21 team as all the players are aged between 16 and 19.

I spoke to the Academy manager Lauren Phillips after the game and here is what she had to say about that Cup win and the whole season:

“I am absolutely ecstatic, the girls have grown up a lot this season and it goes to show their resilience, their commitment to the club, their ability to control what they can influence.

“As a group, they have experienced so much and progressed so far as well, I am really pleased for them,” Payne added.

Academy players were given chances with the first team due to the unusually high number of injuries to senior players. Eight youngsters were given game time with Joe Montemurro’s squad. It is a success story for the academy team in my opinion and certainly contributed to the Cup win.

“We had lots of brilliant stories. With a lot of girls experiencing first team football this season, they had a lot of opportunities, which we were able to give them which all built into today’s game.”

We spoke about the League season, as I mentioned in my final preview, the schedule has been erratic if not awful with the teams only playing nine league games overall, which is not enough in a whole season. “[It’s] not a problem, it has been a challenge but a good challenge”

The League structure might change a bit next season to solve that scheduling problem because having 50% of your League results decided by a walkover is not good.

We also spoke about the upcoming season and retaining players because the squad is quite young and many girls could play at least for two seasons for the Academy team before being transitioned to the first team.

“We have many young players around the first team and we hope to keep as many as possible. Those going to University next year, we wish them well.”

Ava Kuyken has committed to the Florida Gators and she might not be the only one going to the USA. There were a couple of US University scouts in attendance on Sunday and they will have noticed they excellent performances by the Arsenal youngsters.

“We have some very good young players coming up from the RTC, looking forward to next season to see which player we can look to develop.”

The u16 team will compete in the FA Girls Youth Cup final against Chelsea on Saturday 27 April at Quorn FC, kick-off at 3pm.

Congratulations to Lauren Phillips, Tessa Payne, all the coaching staff and the players for that successful season.