Arsenal Ladies 0 - 1 Birmingham City (Allen 26')
Starters: Byrne, Scott, Kinga, Stoney, Mitchell, Ohno, Weir, Bailey, Carter, Smith, Yankey
Subs Used: Ayisi for Yankey 77'
Unused Subs: Chamberlain, Bragg, Hoogendijk, Sampson, Williamson, Humphrey
I was correct on the Birmingham City side of my prediction, but sadly their lone goal would prove to the the difference in the first leg of this quarterfinal tie. Things could have been much worse for Arsenal, as there were several close calls including a goal line clearance that could have made quite a hole for the Gunners to dig out of at home. That being said, things are still very much up for grabs.
For a team that for the most part has never played together before, and only had four returning starters from their last game of UWCL action (Scott, Byrne, Mitchell, and Yankey), things looked relatively put together on the field. Arsenal actually got off to a rather hot start and had the games first chances on goal, sadly the finishing just wasn't there. Despite the loss there are still several silver linings to pull from the loss.
1. Kelly Smith Begins Her Rise: Smith not only started the game, but was selected the captain for the match and grabbed herself a nice yellow card. Our Queen actually had several fouls throughout the course of the game, and for a player that is known to be a bit fragile in the injury department, its fabulous to see her throwing herself around out there. Smith made some nice passes and was able to make several forays into the box. Overall a nice return for Smith.
2. Debuts, Debuts, Debuts: Ohno and Kinga really did quite well in their debuts for the clubs. Kinga had a nice bit of last second defending that came in clutch throughout the match, and overall her communication with Stoney was pretty solid for, as I mentioned earlier, two center backs that have never played together before. Ohno had several chances in on goal, but sadly could only shoot over the crossbar for the entirety of the match. Hopefully with what was her first match jitters out of the way, the home leg will see her score at least one goal.
3. Dan Dan Can: Danielle Carter really seemed to have quite a bit of spark in this game, and that's definitely something that's going to have to continue in the second leg if Arsenal wants to advance. Overall Carter did a pretty good job of pressuring Birmingham's backline, but other than that she wasn't really involved much. Would like to see her get some more positive touches in the next leg.
It was a loss so not everything is rainbows and sunshine. If the Gunners want to come back and win this quarterfinal, which is very possible, several things are going to need to change in the upcoming game at the Hive.
1. What's In A Midfield: The Blues had several breaks throughout the game, and it seemed like every time Arsenal was getting forward it was through outside backs Scott and Mitchell. While its great to have outside backs involved in the offense, when playing a team with pace at the forward position like City things can get a bit sticky. The central midfield is going to be a bit more on point, and close that gap between the defenders and forwards. Stopping the breaks and connecting passes are a must.
2. Crossing Is Necessary: It seemed like every time a great chance for Arsenal opened up, it was squandered away due to a poor cross or lack of attackers in the box. Corners and free kicks were essentially rendered useless, and that cannot happen when you're getting a free chance to attack the goal. Better service and better runs need to happen, and a finishing touch for anyone inside the 18 sure wouldn't hurt either.
3. Communication, All Of It: Duh. Anytime you have a team that's lost six starters and one sub there are going to be obvious communication issues. I would argue that heading into the home leg just one goal down is a small victory in itself, but if Arsenal wants to have any sort of success in the second leg there will have to be a communication improvement. Getting that first game out of the way is a good thing, but by no means does it guarantee that communication is going go get easier by the next time out.
The final leg of this quarterfinal matchup is March 30th, at home. A fun fact is that one of my favorite referees in the women's soccer world, yes those do exist, will be officiating the match: Bibiana Steinhaus. If that's not reason enough to tune in, then I'm really not sure what to tell you.
I'm uncertain at this time if the match will be streamed anywhere, as it so beautifully was this time around (seriously major props to Birmingham City, that's what the UWCL needs), but I'll be sure to update if it is.