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  • Writer's pictureBy Dan Evans

Arsenal breeze past Reading to send Chelsea a title warning

Arsenal (2) 4 Little 4 (pen), Maanum 43, Mukandi og 46, Williamson 68

Reading (0) 0

Arsenal rounded off a perfect week by comfortably seeing off Reading in the Women’s Super League at Meadow Park.

After winning the Continental Cup seven days ago, and then beating Liverpool in midweek to re-ignite their title hopes, the Gunners were just as convincing in breezing past the Royals and moving within five points of new league leaders Chelsea on Sunday night.

After a run of one win in four saw the north Londoners exit the FA Cup and fall off the pace in the league towards the end of February, Jonas Eidevall’s outfit now have a first trophy in four years in the bag and are arguably playing the best football of any team in the country.

The movement that so convincingly bamboozled Emma Hayes’ side in the Continental Cup final was showcased once more, but this time with even greater conviction and confidence as Reading were torn apart practically from first minute to last..

On the back of finding some goal-scoring form as part of the wider recent upturn in fortunes, Stina Blackstenius was restricted to a place on the bench due to feeling unwell. This led to a start upfront for Frida Maanum and Kim Little being shifted into an attacking midfield role.

Rather than bringing Arsenal’s momentum to a halt, there was little indication that their striker’s illness would catch them cold.

With Little closer to goal and Leah Williamson more than capable of adopting her habit of playmaking from deep, Arsenal attacking moves became even more precise, even more engaging, and still remained just as dangerous.

It took less than five minutes for the role rotation and switching of positions to get the better of Reading. Katie McCabe, starting the game on the left of midfield, popped up on the opposite flank before driving into the Reading box and drawing a foul.

McCabe’s conviction was undeniable, the panic in the Reading defence was tangible. For all the uncertainty created for opponents by Arsenal’s attacking play of late, there can be little doubt about Little’s record from the penalty spot. Grace Moloney got a hand to the effort but could not stop the Arsenal captain scoring a 46th spot kick from 49 attempts.

The chances continued to roll in despite the comfort of having an early lead, possibly another sign that Eidevall’s side are relishing the challenge of hunting down a first WSL title since 2019.

England skipper Williamson, in her slightly less familiar midfield position, was watched and surely enjoyed by Sarina Weigman at Meadow Park. She was cruelly denied a first league goal of the season against Liverpool in midweek by an errant offside flag, and was only kept out midway through the first half on this occasion by the quick reflexes of Moloney.

Reading showed few signs of the resolve that has seen them beaten by just a single goal against both Chelsea and Manchester United this term, and they were powerless to deny Maanum as the three points were effectively wrapped up before half-time.

Arsenal finally found the finish that their build-up play had deserved, as Maanum swept into an empty net after being picked out perfectly by Caitlin Foord.

The second half started with a moment of misfortune for former Gunner Emma Mukandi, as she bundled a Maanum cross into her own net with Foord waiting to pounce. The influence of Williamson was underscored in the build-up, as she powered through the Reading midfield before releasing Maanum.

Eidevall seemed even more impressed by a determined Williamson challenge that took place just in front of him a matter of minutes later though, roaring his appreciation audibly for the first time despite his team doing next to nothing wrong on the night.

His managerial prowess was almost affirmed around the hour mark as Blackstenius ran clear and was kept out by Moloney not long after coming off the bench.

The substitute was involved in the moment of the evening though, as after Moloney had denied the striker once more, Williamson found herself in the ideal advanced position to steady herself and sweep into the goal.

Celebrated with the vigour of a late winner rather than the satisfaction of the icing on a delicious cake, the message was clear: there may be work to do for this Arsenal side to collect further silverware come May, but the desire to do it is undoubtedly there.

Arsenal: (4-2-3-1) Zinsberger – Wienroither (Pelova 61), Wubben-Moy, Rafaelle, Maritz – Williamson (Kuhl 74), Walti (Gio 84) – Foord (Hurtig 74), Little, McCabe – Maanum (Blackstenius 61). Subs not used: D’Angelo, Marckese, Beattie


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