A thumping header from Vivianne Miedema helped a makeshift Arsenal stay in the Women’s Super League title race with a tough 3-2 win at struggling Liverpool.
The home team took a surprise lead through Rinsola Babajide early on but Arsenal struck back with two goals in two minutes, from Miedema and Jordan Nobbs, to take the advantage. Arsenal’s backline, though, struggled against the pace of Liverpool’s forwards and they levelled on the stroke of half-time through the winter signing Rachel Furness.
With the bit between their teeth it looked like Liverpool would take a valuable point off the champions but Miedema headed home her 16th league goal of the season to deny them a chance to move clear of bottom-placed Bristol City.
Liverpool have endured a testing season but with two wins in succession – a first league victory, against Bristol City, and a 8-1 drubbing of Blackburn Rovers in the FA Cup – there was a sense that the Merseyside club could be turning a corner. They may have had just one win from their 12 outings and been level on points with bottom-placed Bristol before kick-off but look more closely at the league table and the potential that exists in Vicky Jepson’s side is clear. They have a superior goal difference to the four clubs above them and Liverpool’s eight previous defeats have been tight.
Having not played in 18 days as three of their last four home ties were postponed due to the state of the Prenton Park pitch, the visit of Arsenal was switched from Tranmere’s home to Chester’s Deva Stadium.
Arsenal were not without problems of their own. With Kim Little having undergone surgery on a foot injury, Lia Walti still absent and Jill Roord suspended, Joe Montemurro was forced to push Leah Williamson forward into the midfield and to field a bench with just four outfield players on it – two 16-year-olds, one 17-year-old and a returning Jen Beattie.
Needing a win to stay in the title race Arsenal began brightly, with Nobbs forcing a save from Anke Preuss within two minutes. But they were wasteful with their chances and, with close to 15 minutes played, a sublime one-touch Furness through ball set Babajide free in a race against Louise Quinn. The Ireland international was no match for the forward’s pace and Babajide slipped the ball low past Pauline Peyraud-Magnin in the Arsenal goal.
Babajide continued to cause problems for the Arsenal left-back Leonie Maier but Liverpool seemed to play their way into trouble a little too easily, with a determination to play out from the back struggling under the Gunners’ high press. Two goals in two minutes was the punishment. A Nobbs ball from the right was deflected away but Miedema beat everyone in the middle to push the ball past Anke Preuss. Then, Nobbs was on hand to head in from close range after a pinpoint cross from Lisa Evans on the left.
The impressive Thursday night crowd fell silent but on the stroke of half-time they roared back into life as Furness’s first-time finish, after an Evans clearance was headed to her feet, drew them level.
After a bruising 2-1 defeat to Manchester City in their previous league outing, which handed the title race advantage to their opponents, this felt like an Arsenal side licking their wounds. Bench options favoured the home team and, when Beth Mead fell to the ground under a heavy challenge from Leighanne Robe, Montemurro was forced to send on Beattie as his squad took another hit.
It was also a potential blow to a watching Phil Neville, who is days away from announcing his England squad for the SheBelieves Cup in March as the Lionesses gear up for the Tokyo Olympics.
Liverpool brought Rhiannon Roberts on for Kirsty Linnett with half an hour left and there was a fluidity and organisation to their play, something more akin to Arsenal but woefully lacking from the visitors. Arsenal though, have a game-changer in Miedema and a powerful header from the Dutch forward ended the renaissance.