Late Kerr header retains Chelsea's WSL lead
Arsenal (0) 1 Little (pen) 57
Chelsea (0) 1 Kerr 90
Arsenal were given reason to believe the hunt for the Women’s Super League title is very much alive despite being held to a late 1-1 draw by leaders Chelsea at the Emirates Stadium.
The Gunners finally found a way past Zecira Musovic courtesy of a second-half Kim Little penalty, but were denied a win that would have moved them level on points with Chelsea by a 90th-minute Sam Kerr header.
Whilst a number of Arsenal’s less heralded attackers more than stepped up in the absence of some of Jonas Eidevall’s stars, Chelsea looked as though they were yet to wake up from the winter break until substitute Jelena Cankovic delivered the perfect cross for Kerr in the dying moments.
Had Arsenal’s two brightest attacking talents in Beth Mead and Vivianne Miedema been on the field instead of in the treatment room, they could well have been ahead long before Little’s second-half spot-kick.
Lina Hurtig, enjoying a start on the right wing in Mead’s continued absence, connected weakly with her shot following some delightful Stina Blackstenius approach play - denying them the chance to take the lead within ten minutes.
Caitlin Foord was an equally constant presence on the opposite flank, and after the Australian had got the better of Niamh Charles a few moments later, she possibly should have done better then shooting straight at Musovic.
The Chelsea goalkeeper was called upon regularly without being overworked throughout the remainder of the first 45 minutes.
She denied Hurtig for a second time following more productive Blackstenius playmaking, and had to claim a Lia Walti shot after the midfielder had once again ghosted into space left by the cracks in a malfunctioning Chelsea midfield.
Emma Hayes’ side played in fits and starts, relying on the other-worldly dribbling of Lauren James or the constant uncertainty caused by Kerr’s mere presence to bring anything to an occasion witnessed by some 46,811 people inside the Emirates.
James bent an effort wide of Manuela Zinsberger’s goal after shrugging off Rafaelle early on, but a lack of fluency in attack was best summed up by a long-range Erin Cuthbert effort that cannoned back in her direction off the back of Kerr’s head.
The battle between Hurtig and Musovic continued apace after the interval as the goalkeeper first pushed away a looping cross before getting back to her feet in time to save the Swedish international’s header.
It was a familiar pattern that opened the scoring too. Clever play by Foord left Charles in her wake, and the Chelsea full-back could only respond in time to drag the Arsenal forward down as she breached the penalty area.
Magdalena Eriksson and her team-mates in blue were insistent that the foul had taken place outside of the box, Arsenal captain Little ignored the noise to send Musovic the wrong way from 12 yards.
Hayes threw Fran Kirby on with half an hour to play, yet the England international was a peripheral figure as the gloves of Musovic kept the defending WSL champions in the game.
She got down well to her left to keep out a whipped effort from Foord and then stretched to touch a looping Steph Catley attempt on to the crossbar.
It was one of Hayes’ other substitutions that saved Chelsea a point, with Cankovic finding the ideal delivery from nowhere to allow Kerr to rescue the game.
Even though the visitors remain three points clear at the top of the standings, the performance alone will have Arsenal believing that the title race can go to the wire once more regardless of the players they are missing.
Arsenal: (4-2-3-1) Zinsberger – Wienroither, Williamson, Souza, Catley – Little, Walti – Hurtig (McCabe 81), Maanum, Foord – Blackstenius. Subs not used: D’Angelo, Wubben-Moy, Beattie, Maritz, Queiroz, Pelova, Kuhl, Iwabuchi
Chelsea: (4-3-3) Musovic – Charles (Perisset 62), Buchanan, Bright, Eriksson (Kaneryd 86) – Cuthbert, Ingle (Cankovic 81), Fleming (Kirby 62) – James, Kerr, Reiten. Subs not used: Berger, Carter, Svitkova, Mjelde, Abdullina