Coming out a Champions League sligthly disappointed with a 3-1 lead is a bit unusual. It comes from the nagging feeling that the away goal might be costly in the end. It just spoiled what has been an excellent performance from the girls with 3 superb goals by Smith, Nobbs and Little. To be fair the Torres goal was superb as well and the result of a great pass and move.
It was Shelley Kerr first game in charge and she went for what can be described as a flexible 4-3-3 system with Byrne, Scott Grant Flaherty Houghton, White Little Nobbs Yankey, Smith Beattie. If we compare to Laura Harvey’s usual 11 Fahey and Davison got dropped with Beattie and White coming on for them.
Interesting to note that Kerr chose to play Houghton in place of Fahey at left back, where she has done so well for England and Team GB but was rarely used there for Arsenal. Also Ellen White selected ahead of Gemma Davison is another interesting choice. An all rounder rather than a pure winger, maybe the work rate involved is the main reason, at that stage, we have no idea about team selection reasons. Davison came on in the second half and created loads of problems for the tired defender and could have had a couple of assists.
That starting 11 was a very bold and attacking with both full back Scott and Houghton bombing forwards alongside at times the two central midfielder Nobbs and Little. At time, you could see Arsenal attacking with 7 players leaving 3 at the back a bit vulnerable to a counter attack. It worked really well because the trio of Little, Nobbs and Smith controlled everything in the center of the pitch with their superb technical ability. I think it was the first time ever that I have seen all 3 in the midfield area alternating ball possession and orientation of the game. It is no surprise that Kelly Smith and Jordan Nobbs scored in that game. Kelly from a Jennifer Beattie flick on a free kick. Jordan from a Yankey cross that she controlled with the help of a defender.
At that stage of the game, it was more like a 4-0-3-3 system with Katie Chapman’s holding midfield position not occupied at all. Then came Kelly’s unfortunate injury, let’s hope it is not a serious one, because loosing her on the first game of the season would not be a good thing. Her capacity to turn a game on with one moment of magic is not matched by the 6 or 7 other forwards in the squad. They are all superb and quality and will do the job in the WSL without problem but to beat the best teams in Europe these days, you need Kelly and her world class talent.
So Niamh Fahey came on for Kelly. She went at left-back and Steph Houghton moved to defensive midfield where she promptly assisted for Kim Little 3rd goal. If you see the highlights, she made a Beckham style 40 yards pass from a quick free kick that went from the right wing to the left. Yankey received it and crossed it straight to Kim who finished it superbly.
With Steph holding the midfield, the team got a bit more defensive balance and carried on attacking using Beattie as a focal point as well both wings with Yankey and White seeing a lot of the ball. In the middle of the second half, Gemma Davison was introduced replacing Jennifer Beattie. Ellen White went to the center forward position. Gemma did a lot of running down the right and troubled the left back. The final product was not there unfortunately on the day but that will definitely worry the defenders in the second leg.
Overall a very good performance, the game ebbed and flowed at times with Torres creating chance and rewarded with the precious away goal. There is no doubt Arsenal will score in the away leg though and will surely qualify. Next is the FA Cup game away to Forest on Sunday where Arsenal will face one of the team’s player currently on loan there until the end of the 2012-13 season.