It should have been a clash of the titans, an end-to-end game that could easily have grabbed the imagination of newcomers to the FA WSL (FA Women’s Super League) as two of the top teams in the country went face to face less than a week into the new season.
Sadly, it never materialized despite a promising opening 15 minutes which saw Arsenal press high and use Asisat Oshoala’s pace and power to trouble Manchester City’s defense. The game hinged on two big decisions within the first 15: City captain Steph Houghton brought down Oshoala as she ran through on goal, but covering defender Demi Stokes seemed to save Houghton’s blushes – the defender picking up just a booking.
After Fara Williams rattled the crossbar from the resulting free kick, Arsenal’s Jemma Rose was less fortunate when she also brought down her marker at the other end — in this case it was Jane Ross. Referee Michael Salisbury showed Rose a red card and promptly seemed to forget he had cards in his pocket. It was a game of attrition, of late challenges, and dissent from both sides, a rare spectacle in the FA WSL; Arsenal captain Alex Scott was booked for arguing post-penalty.
But several players from both sides inexplicably avoided yellow cards as the crowd grew restless with the leniency showed, culminating in the awarding of the decisive penalty as Nikita Parris was felled by Dominique Janssen OUTSIDE the box. But the game had been sealed before Toni Duggan stepped up to smash home the spot kick when substitute Leah Williamson’s clearance hit Duggan who promptly crossed for Ross to head home her first City goal — it was the second time in a week Williamson has made the same mistake. The majority of people who watch FA WSL know the 19-year-old is a midfielder in the long run and her coolness on the ball at times should hopefully see her return to her natural position once Josephine Henning is ready for action.
Arsenal struggled to make it back into the game after withdrawing both Danielle Carter and Oshoala to beef up the defense. Daniëlle van de Donk played the “false 9” role well in the second half while Jordan Nobbs and Vicky Losada were forced to play in the wide positions. For City, its three wins and three clean sheets from three games and Nick Cushing will be particularly pleased with how many chances his side created, pushing Sari van Veenendaal into a series of saves, one of which is potentially the best the FA WSL has seen for a while.
Final Score Manchester City Women 2 – 0 Arsenal Ladies
Ross 65’, Duggan (pk) 78’
What They Said
“I’m really pleased for a number of reasons, the performance was really good. Even before the sending off I felt we were dominating the ball but its one game and it’s early in the season. I didn’t actually think we defended too well today, they had 10 players and we allowed them to move the ball around a bit too much. The decisions in the game go over my head – I just focus on what we’re doing, the shape of our team and getting the right performance.”
“I think when the referee is the star of the game it is not a good sign. I had the impression it wasn’t a penalty and the yellow card for Steph [Houghton] was a similar action to Jemma Rose, so I’m not sure how the referee saw a difference. But our players gave everything against a top team and we’ll be ready for the next one.”
“Leah Williamson is a player who can play many different positions; she has played fantastic for us in midfield, at center back, and at left back but she’s young, she’s a teenager, and we have to give her the chance to improve. We all have good days and bad days.”
“The girls were excited to get going – it’s been difficult to pick up so many injuries but we’ve dug deep against two tough teams so we’re really happy to have got off the mark with six points.”
“I thought we did well to stay in it, we can take a lot of character from this game but the league isn’t going to be won today. It’s a long season so we can’t feel sorry for ourselves, it was a red card for us but City didn’t seem to be picking up bookings and we just felt a few things weren’t going our way. I shouldn’t be taking it out on the referee but it was just a bit of frustration on my part.”
Toni Duggan, Pedro Losa, and Nick Cushing were all speaking to a range of media outlets, including Our Game.