Derby defeat hits Gunners' title challenge

Arsenal suffer blow to their WSL hopes, losing 3-0 to Emma Hayes’ Chelsea – forcing the Gunners boss to rethink his side’s ambitions for the rest of the season

Friday, 12th February 2021 — By Catherine Etoe

Lisa Evans chases down Lauren Hemp IMG_5094-2 The FA Via Getty Images

Arsenal’s Lisa Evans chases down Lauren Hemp, the scorer of Manchester City’s winner at Meadow Park on Sunday. Photo: The FA Via Getty Images

ARSENAL boss Joe Montemurro ended Sunday’s 2-1 defeat at the hands of Manchester City with a vow to continue the fight for the Women’s Super League title.

But after losing 3-0 in a spicy midweek London derby against Emma Hayes’ Chelsea, the Australian downgraded his ambitions.

“There’s a lot of disappointment at the moment,” he told the Tribune. “Mathematically it’s still available, but realistically we have to start realigning our process and where we’re going. We’re still confident we can finish the season well.

“Hopefully we can get that third or second Champions League spot.”

The title race had been thrown on its head at the weekend when City, third in the table, condemned Arsenal to a first home defeat in over a year.

Caitlin Foord had cancelled out a super strike from City forward Ellen White in that match, but Montemurro’s side could find no answer to Lauren Hemp’s headed winner.

After the 2-1 defeat, Montemurro had insisted: “I wouldn’t count us out just yet!”

It was a fair analysis, considering Brighton had pulled off a shock 2-1 win over leaders Chelsea, while second-placed Manchester United were downed 2-0 by Reading. But the Blues got back on track on Wednesday, as a second-half brace from Pernille Harder and a late Fran Kirby goal left the Gunners stuck in fourth, 12 points off the pace.

“Derby wins are great, they really are,” Hayes said after the match.

“The first half, I thought we struggled a little in midfield. But it was a calm dressing room at half-time. I think once we got the goal in the second half there was only going to be one outcome.”

Chelsea go again on Sunday against Bristol City, with Arsenal facing Aston Villa – both are live on The FA Player.

Jen Beattie. Photo: Scottish FA

Scots gunning for it

A troublesome hamstring injury might be keeping defender Jen Beattie out of the Arsenal line-up, but Joe Montemurro isn’t the only one watching her recovery intently this week.

Interim Scotland head coach Stuart McLaren has named experienced centre-back Beattie and livewire Arsenal attacker Lisa Evans in the squad for his side’s final two Euro 2022 qualifiers.

With Scotland already out of the running to reach the Euros in England next summer, the outcome of those matches is academic, but McLaren is gunning for victory anyway.

He said: “These two matches for me are about going and making sure we represent Scotland as best as we possibly can, so that means going and getting two victories.”

McLaren is holding the national team’s reins while the Scottish FA search for a replacement for Shelley Kerr, who stepped down after Scotland failed to qualify. He will gather his group together for the first time on Monday ahead of a trip to Larnaca to face Cyprus on February 19, and Portugal four days later. And he hopes stalwart Beattie will be there.

“We’ve had good dialogue with Jen and the staff at Arsenal,” he said.

“The indications we’ve been given is that she’ll be working back towards being available for selection for Arsenal come the weekend. It’s a case where you just have to monitor that through the week and see how she responds to treatment and progresses in training, but we’re very confident.”

McLaren also said how impressed he had been with 29-year-old Beattie, who has played on this season despite treatment for breast cancer.

He added: “I’ve had some dialogue with Joe Montemurro and he is the same, he holds her in such high regard as a person and as a footballer.”

A calf injury has deprived McLaren of talismanic Scotland vice-captain Kim Little.

But after exchanging a couple of texts to check on her readiness, he says winger Evans is “ready and raring to go”.

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