Chelsea may have suffered our first loss in the WSL for over two years this past Sunday, but that didn’t mean we had any interest in starting a losing streak — especially not with London rivals Arsenal coming to Kingsmeadow, looking to bounce back from their own late defeat to Manchester City. Manager Emma Hayes named the club’s strongest lineup and formation: Berger; Andersson, Eriksson, Bright, Mjelde; Ingle, Leupolz; Ji, Harder, Kirby; Kerr.
The Blues charged out of the gates, putting Arsenal under immense pressure and forcing mistakes. While we couldn’t quite find the right link-up to make it show on the scoreline just yet, Arsenal were so flustered that some hilarious calamity at the back saw the goalkeeper at the top of the box and Melanie Leupolz lining up a chip toward an open goal. But she cut underneath the ball too sharply and the effort spun wide.
Then Arsenal settled down and the Blues had to suffer a bit. Some inconsistent refereeing didn’t help, as Leupolz picked up an early yellow despite multiple challenges of a similar caliber going unpunished — if called at all. At half, the contest remained a 0-0 stalemate, and both teams could point to spells of positive play to hope to replicate in the second forty-five.
However, just three minutes after the break, some good pressing work saw Kirby pounce on a loose ball and feed Pernille Harder for a shot low and hard from the top of the box that found its way into the far bottom corner of the net.
Then, just ten minutes later, Harder got on the end of another ball from Fran Kirby and stuck the ball into the roof of the net.
This goal was the best of the lot, as Chelsea essentially ran a training exercise on Arsenal. Millie Bright pinged the ball wide to the left from the center circle and found the feet of left back Jonna Andersson, who released Kirby behind the defense and into the box with a delicately slipped pass. Kirby rushed onto it and popped the ball back into the space vacated by the defender trailing her, which, by then, was occupied by Harder. Her first-time close-range hit gave the keeper no chance and capped off the spectacular move from the Blues.
Over the next twenty or so minutes Chelsea defended resolutely, allowing Arsenal to get close but never close enough for a final pass or cross to reach its intended target. Leupolz made way for Erin Cuthbert in the 61st minute, Bethany England came on for Ji in the 74th, and seven minutes later Guro Reiten replaced Sam Kerr. Chelsea’s defense had held long enough to force Arsenal to have to do something remarkable in the final ten minutes to get a result.
Instead, it was Fran Kirby who broke through again. Chelsea had been narrowly missing the final pass to spring through Arsenal’s very high line, until Bethany England collected possession in Arsenal’s half and slid the ball into space where Arsenal defenders were suddenly trapped in a foot race with Fran Kirby — and there was only ever going to be one winner. Kirby burst through on goal, went wide of the keeper then slipped a shot beyond her outstretched foot and into the back of the net.
Kirby wheeled away to celebrate then dropped to the ground and asked for a bit of a calf stretch.
The moment was indicative of the entire match, as Chelsea had to chase Arsenal around for long spells, but still found the right connections to put the ball in the back of the net, giving our rivals in red no chance.
Emma Hayes reveals @frankirby got cramp as she ran past the halfway line for her goal, carried on and scored, that’s why she looked injured at the end— Molly Hudson (@M0lly_Writes) February 10, 2021
Having exorcised the frustrations from the poor result on the weekend, Chelsea sit at the top of the table three points clear of Manchester United — who are next in action against Manchester City on Friday. That’ll be a big game to keep an eye on, but for now, watch that second goal again and marvel at the precision this Chelsea team are capable of.
Chelsea’s next match will be on Sunday on against bottom-of-the-table but suddenly semi-resurgent Bristol City.