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Title contenders Arsenal suffer opening day defeat

Arsenal have had a tough start to their Women’s Super League campaign, suffering defeat to Liverpool on home turf in front of a record-breaking crowd.

After a busy transfer window, which saw the prestigious club attract some of the best talent from across the world, there were high expectations on the players to perform and bring back some silverware. But, before the season had started fans were worried as the Gunners were knocked out UEFA Champions League early, during qualifiers.

Arsenal women are the only side in England to have won a European trophy, in 2007, winning what was then known as the UEFA Women’s Cup. But they were defeated on penalties by Paris FC to spoil their hopes of further victory in Europe.

The team turned their attention towards the WSL and have their sights set on domestic silverware. But it has been a rocky start, and it was Liverpool’s Miri Taylor who dampened Arsenal’s hopes on the first WSL match of the season.

The first half for the Gunners looked promising. New signings Alessia Russo and Chloe Lacasse both made their first starts and certainly had an impact on the game; they provided energy and got things flowing in attack. Despite these chances, along with the 12 corners they won, nothing seemed to be connecting to goal for the home side. Liverpool goalkeeper Rachel Laws kept the visitors in the game blocking the shots on target that Arsenal did have.

Liverpool women came out firing in the second half, with Miri Taylor scoring just three minutes after the restart.

The goal came from a team effort down the right wing with Marie Hobinger picking up a loose ball from Arsenal’s Steph Catley, sending it into Missy Bo Kearns whose cutback connected with Taylor, sending Lotte Wubben-Moy to the floor and leaving Manu Zinsburger off her line.

From then on, Arsenal looked unnerved. They struggled to find an answer. Play became predictable, relying heavily on the wingers to cross balls into the box with minimal play through the central channels. Once Liverpool had worked this out, they defended very well and on the counter, they looked increasingly threatening.  

Arsenal manager Jonas Eidevall apologised to fans for the lack of performance: “Champions League exit or not, it’s really disappointing to lose a game at home.”

While Liverpool’s Matt Beard rightly praised his team’s disciplined performance: “Defensively we were outstanding today. People will say you were lucky … we weren’t, we defended, we put our bodies on the line and made great saves when we needed to.”

While the Gunners didn’t come away with the win, Arsenal football club have a lot to be proud of.

Yesterday’s crowd broke their own WSL record set last season, attracting a crowd of 54,115. It was an incredible atmosphere, comparable with a sold-out men’s game; burger vans lining the streets, chants echoing down Gillespie Road and a continuous roar of applause for the home side. It is a promising sign for the women’s game with larger crowds attracting more media focus that will only work to improve the visibility of the game and encourage more investment.

Alongside the record-breaking crowd, this week Arsenal and Adidas again broke the mould by becoming the first major Women’s football team to have their own bespoke away kit and travel range. The vivid pink and pale blue kit was made in collaboration with Stella McCartney and will be debuted at Arsenal’s first WSL away game of the season on Friday 6th October against Manchester United.

This is a significant move in Women’s Football – while we have seen the likes of Adidas, Nike and Puma all releasing exclusive kits for the women’s national teams, this is the first for any club. For so long, women’s football has been compared to men’s and this kit signifies a departure from those comparisons.

Next up the Gunners face Manchester United away on Friday 6th October. This will prove a tricky game against a top opponent who are also hoping to challenge Chelsea for the top spot. Liverpool’s next match will see them taking on Aston Villa at home, a team they beat last season and will hope to defeat again this year as they continue to climb the table.