After winning seven points from the opening three games, there was no better time for Aston Villa Women to take on the WSL’s most successful opponents, Arsenal. The Gunners were looking to make it four wins from four and retain their spot at the top of the table.
Notable absentees were last week’s winning goalscorer, Emily Gielnik, and free-kick specialist, Sarah Mayling. Arsenal’s starting XI also had some surprise missing players, likely due to their Champions League schedule, as Tobin Heath and Mana Iwabuchi took their places on the bench.
Villa hoped to repeat their defensive heroics of last season’s final day, which saw the club retain their league status following a goalless draw with Arsenal. Saturday’s occasion came with a different pressure – a push to continue their unbeaten run and a chance to impress fans at Villa Park.
The first half was made very difficult by Carla Ward’s side. Although dominant in terms of possession, Arsenal was unable to make anything of their chances. Hannah Hampton was tested in goal, but our opponents’ attempts were not up to their usual quality. Vivienne Miedema had several shots off target, and Kim Little and Frida Maanum forced the keeper into comfortable saves.
Villa’s first-half chances came on the counterattack. Chantelle Boye-Hlorkah worked hard with the few opportunities she was provided, but a header from the centre of the box should’ve put Villa ahead, instead of going wide of the post.
The cagey opening allowed Villa to go in at halftime on equal footing. One of last season’s departing players and World Cup winner Mana Iwabuchi was subbed on for Arsenal at halftime, a testament to their strength in depth.
At 51 minutes, the first goal was scored by Arsenal captain Kim Little. She opened the scoring with a low shot that went in off the inside of the right post, impossibly out of reach for Hampton.
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The goal changed the tone of the game, with Arsenal looking especially confident now. Both teams looked to freshen their attacks; Shania Hayles came on for Aston Villa and Tobin Heath for Arsenal.
Hayles worked hard and Villa won a handful of free-kicks within a short period. Ramona Petzelberger used one to take a shot on goal, which flew about a foot over the bar.
Villa was still looking for a result as Arsenal made even more quality substitutions. Katie McCabe and Leah Williamson entered the pitch, soon to be followed by the 80th-minute strike from Iwabuchi.
The underdogs stayed in the game up until this point, until unfortunately the difference in quality overcame Villa’s best defensive efforts. Hannah Hampton’s clearance fell to Katie McCabe who placed an impressive long-range effort over the keeper off her line. The fourth and final goal came in stoppage time, as Kim Little scored her 150th goal for the club.
Carla Ward tested this incredible Arsenal side and the 5,000 fans at Villa Park would agree that the scoreline did not do justice to Villa’s performance. There is a lot to take away from this display and with the positive earlier results, we can feel content with our league position and look forward to next weekend’s game against Reading.
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