There was late drama at Meadow Park with two goals in the last four minutes as the clash of two London heavyweights ended all square.
Arsenal welcomed back Jill Roord into the starting line-up after her goal laden start to the FAWSL season was interrupted by injury. For the visitors, Guro Reiten was back on the bench after injury with Sam Kerr joining her in an exceptionally strong list of substitutes compared to the Gunners.
The two sides came into the game in contrasting form with the hosts putting in a disappointing performance at Manchester United last time out and Chelsea putting in a hugely impressive performance in defeating Everton 4-0. Arsenal boss Joe Montemurro was determined to improve his record against the reigning FAWSL champions which read as eight losses and a draw in ten matches.
In the early exchanges, Kim Little was involved in a collision with Ji which caused the Scot to leave the field for treatment for a long period, leaving the Gunners with ten players.
Chelsea offered an early threat as Sophie Ingle combined with Maren Mjelde. The Norwegian then found Pernille Harder, but she couldn’t squeeze a pass through to Ji as Chelsea started to look comfortable in possession.
Kim Little returned to the action and was involved immediately, playing a lovely pass through to Vivianne Miedema, but Ann-KatrinBerger got in quickly to save.
It was the Scottish international who was stamping her influence on the game in the opening fifteen minutes as Arsenal had to rely on less possession and territory.
Just after the twenty minute mark, JonnaAndersson combined with Ji and Ingle but Arsenal’s pressing defence worked well to win possession. They found Beth Mead on the right who did well to get a cross in, but it was too high for Miedema.
Arsenal’s energy in repelling Chelsea’s advances started to turn the tide in possession. Little found Mead, who in turn found Leonie Maier. Her pass played in Lia Walti who went down between two defenders, but it was never going to be a penalty.
With conditions ranging between sun, heavy rain, wind and a rainbow the final fifteen minutes of the half were generally even in terms of chances, but Arsenal were now shading the possession count.
Little combined well with Miedema once more, but the Chelsea defence closed the Dutch star down instantly and snuffed out any threat.
Arsenal were doing well to contain the threat of Jonna Andersson who bossed the game for Chelsea against Everton the week before, taking away a significant threat down the left. They were also working hard to keep both Melanie Leupolz and Beth England on the periphery of the action.
Two minutes before the break, Sophie Ingle gave the ball away to Australian international Caitlin Foord and the Matildas star crashed in a shot which came off the bar, flew up in the air and bounced off the woodwork again on the way down with Ann-Katrin Berger punching away the rebound. It remained goalless at the interval.
Emma Hayes brought Sam Kerr on for thesecond half and Chelsea started with greater intensity. Leah Williamson lost Pernille Harder and the Dane found Beth England who shot over. This increased energy from Chelsea began to force errors from Arsenal in possession.
Seven minutes into the half, Arsenal mounted a promising attack down their right which was ended by Millie Bright. The England defender launched a move which saw Sophie Ingle find Beth England. Her cross saw Erin Cuthbert get a shot away but Katie MacCabe blocked the effort.
Twice in quick succession, Beth Mead caused danger for the Blues defence. First, she closed down Ann-Katrin Berger and forced a less than impressive clearance from the Chelsea goalkeeper and shortly afterwards she forced a corner from Magda Eriksson.
Beth England had a great chance on the hour mark as a dreadful pass out from Leah Williamson allowed the Lionesses’ hot shot in, but her effort was well off target.
With twenty-two minutes left, Mead escaped down the right once more and fired in a cross which was blocked by Magda Eriksson for a corner which was cleared temporarily before a second flag kick was earned. Foord got in a shot, but Berger saved comfortably.
An error from Lotte Wubben-Moy then allowed Sam Kerr to use her pace to close in on goal, but a superb tackle from Katie McCabe cleared the danger momentarily. From the resulting throw, Ji found Pernille Harder in the box and it took a great save from Manuela Zinsberger to deny the former VfL Wolfsburg star.
Miedema then had a great chance which was deflected out for a corner. Mead’s ball in found Williamson whose effort went wide.
With four minutes to go, Miedema popped up down the left hand side and made a great run which resulted in her comfortably beating Bright to get in a cross for Mead to dispatch into the net.
Emma Hayes reacted with a double substitution as Canadian Jessie Fleming came in for Ji and Niamh Charles replaced Cuthbert.
As the clock ticked into stoppage time, Harderfloated out onto the right hand side and played in a cross which deflected off of Wubben-Moy and ballooned over Zinsberger into the net for an equaliser.
Two minutes later, Chelsea could have won it as Kerr lofted the ball over Zinsberger, but with just as everyone was starting to shout “Goal!” the ball dropped narrowly wide.
Berger still had one last save to make to deny the Gunners at the death in an end to end conclusion.
Chelsea’s ability to get up off the floor and fashion an equaliser – albeit one with a great slice of fortune about it – shows the sort of character that champions are made of. Joe Montemurro will no doubt feel that his side should have won, but once the dust settles the Gunners will be pleased with the progress in their performance and organisation from last weekend.
Arsenal: Zinsberger, Maier, Williamson, Wubben-Moy, McCabe, Little, Walti, Roord, Mead, Miedema, Foord. Substitutes: van de Donk, Evans, Williams (GK), Gut, Mace, Pearse, Garrard.
Scorers: Mead 86.
Chelsea: Berger, Mjelde, Bright, Eriksson, Andersson, Ji, Leupolz, Ingle, Cuthbert, England, Harder. Substitutes: Thorisdottir, Carter, Reiten, J. Fleming, Kerr, Charles, Telford, C. Fleming.
Scorers: Wubben-Moy OG 90.
Referee: Kirsty Howle.