Villa women lose as title-chasing Arsenal put on a late show

The Aston Villa Women returned to WSL action as they were hosts to Arsenal at Villa Park. It was the third time the two sides had met this season with the previous two encounters ending in wins for the Gunners. Carla Ward would have been hoping for a better performance after their recent heavy defeat in the Conti Cup Semi-Final.

Ward was without a number of her first-team players after Daphne Van Domselaar was recently ruled out for the remainder of the season with a hip injury. Kirsty Hanson who had suffered a calf injury in the Conti Cup Semi-final joined duo Lucy Parker and Lucy Staniforth on the sidelines. There was a sickness bug going around the training group so there were worries about how many players would be fit for the encounter.

The biggest surprise came when the starting line-up was announced as Captain Rachel Corse was dropped to the bench with Rachel Daly taking the armband. Anna Leat started in goal, with Anna Patten, Noelle Maritz and Dan Turner in defence with Sarah Mayling and Maz Pacheco starting in wing-back positions. Ward decided to start with the experienced Kenza Dali and Jordan Nobbs in the middle with a front 3 of Leon, Daly and Ebony Salmon. Simone Magill and Alisha Lehmann dropped to the bench for this game alongside loanee Miri Taylor, Corsie and the young Freya Gregory, Sophia Poor and Georgia Mullett.

Report: Aston Villa Women 1-3 Arsenal Women

There was a 45-minute delay to the start of the game as the visitors had travel issues due to a crash on the motorway meaning they weren’t able to get to Villa Park in time for a warm-up and to start the match at the originally scheduled 18:45. This is the second Arsenal game in a row where there has had to be a delay to the start of the game after their new kit man brought the wrong socks to Stamford Bridge, meaning there was a kit clash with both teams wearing white socks.

The first half of the game went as expected with Arsenal dominating possession and creating many chances but none of their shots forced Leat into a save.

The home side surprised Arsenal when they took the lead with a moment of magic against the run of play on 35 minutes. Leon was played down the line before cutting the ball back to the feet of Salmon who was able to slot home with what turned out to be Villa’s only effort on goal all evening.

In the second half, Arsenal came out proving that they put their heavy defeat to Chelsea last week behind them, as less than 10 minutes after the restart they got the equaliser with Alessia Russo’s shot being saved by Leat before falling at the feet of Victoria Pelova who slotted home the equaliser. This goal came from a sloppy pass from Nobbs being dispossessed by Cloe Lacasse before finding the feet of Russo. Arsenal were piling on the pressure after this creating chance after chance and beginning to test Leat who was playing the game of her life in the Villa net.

After a flurry of changes for the visitors, they once again got their breakthrough in the 84th minute when Russo won the ball back and crossed into the Villa box finding the head of Lotte Wubben Moy who found the bottom corner. This could have been avoided as it was poor defending from Villa and they were sitting too far back inviting pressure and seemingly playing for the draw.

Just a couple of minutes later Arsenal increased their lead with a very controversial goal from Stina Blackstenius. Leat poorly cleared the ball to an Arsenal player who played the ball through to Blackstenius who was offside when the pass was made, before she slipped in the box and used her arms to pull the ball towards herself before getting up to take the shot. In my opinion, this goal shouldn’t have stood, however she was awarded too much time to get her shot off after slipping over with the Villa defence stopping to protest what had happened instead of playing to the whistle which is what we get taught early on as children. These protests led to Daly finding herself booked. The game ended 1-3 to Arsenal with Villa falling to another defeat.

Analysis

I feel that Ward got this tactically wrong as she chose to play with a back five against a side who were always going to pin us back. It meant we were overly defensive from the off, with the single shot on goal backing this up.

We looked short on ideas as we tried to play the ball over the top of the opposition’s defence where Lionesses captain Leah Williamson was able to clear up on every opportunity.

Salmon struggled to make any real impact in the game being isolated too much while Nobbs lost possession far too easily and often throughout.

I also think that the wrong substitutes were made, when we have players like Lehmann, Magill and Gregory on the bench who were all unused subs in a game when we were drawing I don’t think bringing on Corsie and Mullett helped that situation. Hopefully, we see a better performance next Saturday when we face Leicester at Bescott with a 12:30 kick-off.

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