For those who come to this blog for the first time, I am an Arsenal Ladies fan, so my comment are biaised. For a neutral report, please look at http://www.fawsl.com and for a Liverpool perspective the excellent blog : http://liverpoolladiesfans.blogspot.co.uk/2013/08/match-report-liverpool-ladies-0-3.html?m=1
So before the game started, I anxiously waited for the teamsheet to be produced and was very surprised by the some of the names on it. Full credit to Shelley Kerr who made some bold decision on personnel and tactics.
Liverpool Ladies had 2 changes from their usual starting 11 from the 1st half of the season. Rachel Laws in goal who came as an emergency loan and has kept her place since. Put it this way, I was quite pleased with that because Julie aka Sarah Quantrill kept 2 clean sheet against us in consecutive season with Chelsea and Liverpool and not many GK can claim such a record. Jess Holbrook also started in continuity with previous games keeping Omarsdottir out of the side. Again no complaint from me as we saw later when she came on, the Icelandic player is strong and powerful.
So the Arsenal line-up threw a few unexpected surprise :
Byrne, Scott Houghton Flaherty Mitchell, Bailey Little Nobbs, White Carter Yankey. Subs were Harris, Tracy, Grant, Chapman, Weir, Ayisi and Yankey. No Kelly Smith after her Euro cameo, but Freda Ayisi signed from the reserves but not announced. No Doris Bacic either, she was on the bench but not on teamsheet.
Houghton preferred to Grant : I guess due to Grant struggling with Dowie on many occasions in previous games.
Mitchell at left back : it was expected if you had watched the team’s friendlies, especially with Fahey out for the season and Beattie gone to France.
Bailey rather than Chapman : this one suprised me as I thought Chapman’s experience would be important in that game. Credit to Jade, she had another outstanding game and has never let the team down despite big expectations since she made the first team.
White on wing and Carter up front. One very clever tactical choice that paid dividend : White’s pace caused havoc and she made 2 goals with her crosses. Quite important to note that Kerr kept the same center forward profile by sending Ayisi for Carter up front late in the game, while the other option Weir was deployed on the wing late with White also staying on the wing.
So the Arsenal gameplan was to press high, win the ball as quickly as possible and use pace to go behind Liverpool’s defence. With 2 speedy wingers in Davison and White alongside Nobbs in a very advanced midfield position. Little was player a more deeper role than usual but so fundamental for ball retention and finding openings for other players. Although Liverpool created many chances, most of them were off target due to the quality defending.
The gameplan worked a treat and the Liverpool team seemed sluggish and not at full speed for the entire first half. Their defence was not always aligned and their attacking players did not click much on the night. If you add some sloppy passing at times, it was a logical 2-0 HT scoreline.
In the 2nd half, there were 3 key moments. First Davison robbed the ball of Bronze went one on one with Laws and shot wide. So early in the 2nd half, she could have killed the game. Liverpool then started to dominate the proceedings a bit more, with changes set pieces and were nearly back in the game, when they were awarded a penalty as Houghton bodychecked Dowie who was going past her. Dowie shot it left and low and Byrne got it right and pushed the ball away. Then about 10 minutes later Nobbs who was excellent (but not ready for the Euros except sitting on the bench according to Hope Powell) sent a rocket for the 3-0 and closed the game.
Some post game comments suggest Liverpool were off colour as it was their first game as a full team after the Euros. As a reminder the Germany Norway final was played 6 days prior to this game. Not much rest for the England players. They got lucky to go out at group stage and get a free extra week. Arsenal did play a couple of friendlies without the England players to prepare for the game.
So overall a team performance that pleased all the Arsenal fans. Shelley Kerr gave a FA WSL debut to 3 players. Emma Mitchell, Caroline Weir and Freda Ayisi and welcomed back Katie Chapman who gave birth a little more than a month ago. Byrne, Flaherty, Mitchell, Bailey, Little, Nobbs and White performed very well.
With Bristol winning at Everton yesterday, there is still an 8 points gap to catch up the Vixens and 5 with the Reds. The 2 games in hand are a must win as well as the home game to Bristol. History this season suggests Arsenal will beat Bristol as they did in 3 consecutive games in 3 competition earlier in the 1st half. There are 9 League games to play and a Conti Cup semi-final on Thursday v Everton. The season is long and just beginning (again).