Lauren Hemp lifts Manchester City but Arsenal retain title hopes
Joe Montemurro said you could not count Arsenal out of the Women’s Super League title race “just yet” after a 2-1 defeat by Manchester City dented his team’s aspirations.
He may be right. A shock defeat for the leaders, Chelsea, 2-1 at home to Brighton, to end a 33-game unbeaten league run, and a 2-0 defeat for second-placed Manchester United by Reading at Leigh Sports Village, have shown there is no longer a safe bet in the top tier.
City moved to with two points of United and Chelsea (having played a game less than United) thanks to goals from England’s Ellen White and Lauren Hemp. White’s first-half goal means she overtook Arsenal’s Vivianne Miedema as the WSL all-time top scorer, on 55 goals to the Dutch striker’s 54.
“Only having 12 teams in the league, it’s very difficult because you have to be consistent,” said City’s manager, Gareth Taylor. “When I heard that result afterwards, with Chelsea, it was a real surprise, but it’s very hard.
“People will be looking at those two results today and saying they are a shock, they are a surprise, but this is football. This is why we love it – it happens. Fortunately for us today, it hasn’t happened to us.”
Chelsea dominated at Kingsmeadow, with 77% possession against Hope Powell’s Brighton. Emma Hayes’s team had 30 shots to Brighton’s three but two of the visitors’ shots resulted in goals – the first by Aileen Whelan, who levelled three minutes after Sam Kerr’s opener, before Megan Connolly struck in the 78th minute.
In Borehamwood, things were much more evenly matched. Before kick-off, hopes of an Arsenal win appeared slim. Covid, a frozen pitch and a waterlogged pitch meant Arsenal had played only once (a lacklustre 1-1 draw with Reading) since 20 December. City had played twice more over that period, scoring 11 goals.
Taylor’s side have really found their feet in the new year. They have been without the influential US World Cup winner Sam Mewis because of an ankle injury but it has not halted their flow.
For Arsenal, despite a widely reported internal review into training practices, injuries remain a huge concern. Hours before kick-off they announced the absence of the midfielders Jordan Nobbs and Kim Little and centre-back Jen Beattie to muscular injuries picked up in training, adding to a list – in addition to the longer-term stints on the sidelines of Viki Schnaderbeck and Steph Catley.
It did not prevent the home team from fielding a strong XI, but the bench – comprising two goalkeepers, two defenders and two defensively-minded midfielders – was woefully lacking in attacking options.
After White’s goal, the Australian forward Caitlin Foord equalised in the second half but a flying header from Lauren Hemp with 11 minutes to play sealed the victory and left Arsenal’s hopes of Champions League football looking shaky. They sit fourth, seven points behind City, having played a game less.
“There’s a lot of football still to play,” said Montemurro. “I wouldn’t count us out just yet. I believe in the squad. I believe in what we’re trying to do. In the end, we’ll keep fighting. Hopefully we can get a full complement of the squad back. I don’t think we’ve had that in any game this season. It’s frustrating.”
This weekend showed that there could be many more twists and turns to this title race and, with Chelsea hosting Arsenal on Wednesday and Manchester City playing Manchester United on Friday, expect more twists sooner rather than later.