Derby stalemate ‘a victory for WSL’

Televised clash under the lights leaves Arsenal and Chelsea managers purring

Thursday, 17th February — By Catherine Etoe

Chelsea Women v Arsenal Women - Barclays FA Women's Super League

Gunner Vivianne Miedema challenges Chelsea’s Ji So-Yun in the goalless draw. Getty Images via The FA

A PACKED week of international tournaments awaits some of the FA Women’s Super League’s top players, but they depart knowing that the title race remains on a knife edge after a standout weekend.

Spurs surged into third after beating Birmingham City 2-0 to overtake Manchester United, who had earlier dropped points in a 1-0 loss to Manchester City in front of an Academy Stadium record 5,317 fans.

And while there was no change at the top after the goalless showdown between leaders Arsenal and defending champions Chelsea, that sold-out televised clash under the lights at Kingsmeadow left both managers purring.

Littered with missed chances, three penalty shouts, a disallowed goal and some seat-of-the-pants defending, Gunners boss Jonas Eidevall declared afterwards that the only let-down was the size of the capacity crowd.

“It was a very enter­tain­ing game and the best game that’s been played in the league,” he said.

“Women’s football and the WSL is the winner of games like this. There’s only one thing wrong – that it’s played in front of an audience of 3,000 and not 30,000.”

With two ties set for the Emirates Stadium in late March – the Champions League quarter-final against Wolfsburg and a WSL match-up with Spurs – Eidevall’s players will soon get to show off their skills to a bigger fanbase.

Meanwhile, Chelsea head coach Emma Hayes took time to appreciate the significance of this week’s table-topping London derby with Arsenal assistant coach and veteran Leeds, Fulham and Doncaster Belles goalkeeper Leanne Hall.

“I think for people like her and myself, who have been in the women’s game a long time, that was a real victory, that type of game,” Hayes said. “Of course you want it to keep growing and putting it in bigger stadiums, but as long as we keep growing year on year. I certainly think it was a very interesting tactical battle between two very good teams.”

The WSL resumes in early March, but before that Chelsea will face Leicester City in the FA Cup fifth round on February 26 and Arsenal are away to Champion­ship leaders Liverpool the following day.

Leah to lead

Arsenal defender Leah Williamson will wear the armband for England this week as they host the inaugural Arnold Clark Cup, featuring third-in-the-world Germany, Olympic champions Canada and highly-rated Spain.

Hoping to be involved alongside 24-year-old Williamson are fellow Gunners Jordan Nobbs, Beth Mead and Nikita Parris. Lotte Wubben-Moy won’t be adding to her seven England caps, however, as she continues her rehabilitation following injury.

Spurs skipper Shelina Zadorsky is in the Canada squad.

The first double-header is today (Thursday) at Middlesbrough’s Riverside Stadium, with Germany taking on Spain at 2.30pm, followed by

England versus Canada at 7.30pm. The remaining ties take place at Carrow Road in Norwich on Sunday and Molineux Stadium in Wolver­hampton on Wednesday.

All games are live on ITV4, with Emma Hayes and Gunners legends Kelly Smith and Ian Wright among the pundits and commentators.

Meanwhile, Arsenal defender and newly named Scotland vice-captain Jen Beattie, her clubmate and Republic of Ireland skipper Katie McCabe, and Spurs and Wales midfielder Josie Green are out at the Pinatar Cup in Spain.

Both north London clubs have players out at the Algarve Cup and Tournoi de France, too.

Elsewhere, Spurs and New Zealand defender Ria Percival is in the US for the She Believes Cup and keeper Becky Spencer will play for Jamaica as they host CONCACAF qualifiers.

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