MATCH REPORT: Reading FC Women 1:2 Arsenal Ladies 

Reading FC Women succumbed to a 2-1 defeat against Arsenal Ladies on Wednesday evening as they got their FA WSL1 season at Adams Park underway. Despite a late goal from Emma Follis, goals from Jordan Nobbs and Dominique Janssen were enough to see Arsenal through to their second win of the season against the newly promoted Royals. Arsenal now find themselves in third position, behind Chelsea Ladies and Manchester City women, while Reading remain winless in seventh.

Pedro Martinez Losa made four changes to his Arsenal side following their 2-0 defeat to Chelsea Ladies. Josephine Henning was handed her debut, while Katie McCabe made her first WSL start. The most notable change was that England international Fara Williams started from the bench. Kelly Chambers, meanwhile, named an unchanged Reading team after her side’s 2-2 draw against Notts County.

As the game got underway on a cold, wet April evening, Arsenal were in control from the off. In terms of possession, the away side were superior throughout the game but both teams were keen on pressing their opponents. Arsenal full-backs Leah Williamson and Alex Scott were keen on making offensive runs down the wing as often as possible in the early stages, but ultimately with no end product.

Both teams were also keen to play long, looping balls over the top at times but again to little effect. Arsenal looked the more comfortable of the two sides on the ball, but Reading were continuously able to intercept it. While the Royals were increasingly able to press higher up the pitch and block Arsenal passes, they were not able to retain possession as often as they would have liked.

On the half-hour mark, Arsenal were to take the lead. Grace Moloney in the Reading goal appeared comfortable when claiming the ball up until this point, but Nobbs’ effort from twenty-five yards seemed to catch out the Ireland international. It was a well struck effort by Nobbs but the weather may have played a part as the Reading goalkeeper could only push the ball into her net despite seemingly getting both hands to it.

Moloney came to Reading’s rescue on a number of occasions, however, as the half drew to a close. England international Dan Carter was making a nuisance of herself throughout the game, often swapping wings to try and make a breakthrough, and forced a save from the Reading goalkeeper on the thirty-six minute mark. Displaying great footwork, Carter skipped past three defenders before seeing Moloney tip her shot wide of the post. Moloney also prevented Vicky Losada from increasing the score line as she fired her attempt straight at the Reading keeper. Natalia Pablos Sanchon felt that she doubled Arsenal’s lead going into the break when she chipped the ball into the net but it was ruled out for offside.

As the second half got underway, Chambers made her first substitute of the evening bringing on Melissa Fletcher in place of Nia Jones. Reading were being marshalled well by the Arsenal defence so the Reading manager clearly felt that a substitution was needed to try and make a breakthrough. It was Arsenal that continued to threaten from the off, however, with Carter again looking dangerous. After being picked out by Scott, Carter neatly turned and ran through the Reading defence before forcing another save from Moloney. The Arsenal ladies were looking threatening with some impressive interplay outside the box but the Royals’ defence stood firm.

While Scott narrowly avoided conceding a penalty down one end of the pitch after a mistimed slide tackle in the box, Arsenal were to double their lead minutes later. Losada initially showed great determination to worm her way through a number of Reading defenders but her effort was blocked out for a corner. The resulting set piece initially came to nothing but when the ball was delivered back into the area, Janssen rose highest to give Arsenal a 2-0 lead.

As the game approached the final twenty minutes, Reading seemed to find a new lease of life. Despite struggling to pick out the final ball for the majority of the game, the Royals were able to find Follis in the box. Dragging the ball wide of Sari Van Veenendaal, the angle was against the striker as she could only fire at the Arsenal goalkeeper. It was Follis who was to give Reading a lifeline, however, with just thirteen minutes of the game remaining. Finding herself in space out on the left, the striker ran past the defence before curling the ball perfectly into the Arsenal goal.

Reading had an opportunity to level the score late on, once again through Follis. After seeing her shot blocked by Williamson, the ball later fell to the striker following a corner but she could only volley wide. Arsenal Substitute Asisat Oshoala had the opportunity in extra time to put the game beyond any doubt when she broke free of the Reading defence but Moloney recovered well to make the save. It was a brave end to the game for the home side but Arsenal won the game 2-1.

If the possession statistics (62% Arsenal) and shot count (23 Arsenal, 7 Reading) were anything to go by, then you would say that Arsenal had it nearly all their own way. The scoreline, however, says otherwise. As one would expect with a squad of Arsenal’s calibre, they spent larger spells on the ball but were prone to mistakes under the pressure of the Reading players all over the pitch. What is clear, particularly from the final twenty minutes of this game, is that Reading are not intimidated by their opposition and will put up a fight until the very end.

Still in search of their first WSL win this year, the Royals next take on a Sunderland side that they have already faced twice in the early stages of this season. Arsenal, meanwhile, face a Birmingham team that have just won their first game of the season against Doncaster Rovers Belles.

“It should have been more comfortable, given the first half, but also in the second half we had a couple of one on ones with the goalkeeper and we haven’t taken them. But credit to Reading, they never give up, they always fight. They’re doing really well considering they’re a newly promoted team. They’re very difficult to play against.” Casey Stoney (Arsenal Ladies)

“We were hoping to go in 0-0 at half time and unfortunately they scored. But we were happy with 1-0 at half time and we knew we could push them in the second half. It was just a shame that we let in that second goal but we finished so well.” Lauren Bruton (Reading FC Women)

Reading FC Women v Sunderland AFC Ladies- Monday 2nd May, 2pm, Adams Park

Arsenal Ladies v Birmingham City Ladies- Sunday 1st May, 2pm, Boreham Wood FC

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