Ladies & Reserves Column #8
The first team have felt the flush of two victories this week and this appears to have been a club wide epidemic, with both Neil Banfield`s Reserve side and Laura Harvey`s Reserve side have been on the winning trail this week too. Both in tight circumstances. I`ll start with the Reserves, who are winding their season down now.
They played their penultimate fixture of the season at the Northumberland F.A. on Tuesday evening against Newcastle United. The Magpies are currently 6th in the Premier Reserve League North table (of 8 teams). With loans having prized away a good deal of the core of the Reserve side and a midweek fixture for the first team the next day depriving Banfield of any underperforming / fitness seeking first teamers, it was a side largely made up of next year`s core. Josh Rees got 83 minutes, whilst the likes of Kyle Ebecilio and Hector Bellerin completed 90 minutes. Connor Henderson continued his comeback from cruciate ligament damage with another 66 minutes of action.
The fact that neither Wilshere nor Diaby featured probably tells you differing stories as to their levels of fitness. It would indicate that Diaby is close, whilst Wilshere`s chances of seeing any level of first team action this year look remote. One player that did make a positive comeback was Thomas Eisfield. Signed in January from Borussia Dortmund, the 19 year old showed he was bona fide Arsenal material by instantly getting injured. But he returned with a winning goal, by all accounts forming a good partnership with Ozyakup in central midfield.
The tight 1-0 win was the Gunners` sixth win in 7, almost genuflecting the form of their first team mentors. Unfortunately, their rise to form has come a little too late to take the Southern League. Aston Villa wrapped that up with a draw against Sunderland on Tuesday. Villa will likely play Manchester United in the playoff final, as United have 5 games to obtain the 3 points needed to confirm them as Northern League winners. 2nd place is far from assured. Fulham sit 5 points behind with 2 games in hand, with West Brom 4 points back with one game in hand. But the win in the Northeast will please Banfield as he essentially got a glimpse of next season`s team in the making.
The last fixture is at Underhill on Tuesday, 1st May. 7pm kickoff. Entry is free to all as always. On the subject of Underhill, Barnet chairman Tony Kleanthous penned a statement on the Bees` website confirming they will stay for one more year before moving to a purpose built stadium in Harrow and Wealdstone on a temporary basis. What this means for Arsenal Reserves is still unknown, but presumably they can continue to use the ground for home games there next season should they wish to.
Moving ever so slightly North in Hertfordshire now and Laura Harvey`s Arsenal Ladies kicked off the defence of their Super League trophy with a rollercoaster, topsy turvy 3-2 win over likely title rivals Everton. Because of the proximity to the first team match against Manchester City I was unable to make this one, but it sounded like something of a corker. Everton took the lead after 6 minutes through Toni Duggan. Dani Carter, playing ahead of rested top scorer Ellie White, equalised. Jordan Nobbs put Arsenal in front ten minutes later, before Bridget Chaplen was sent off for Everton shortly before half time. Kim Little missed a penalty early in the second half which immediately precipitated a Toffees equaliser from Duggan again. But Katy Chapman`s header won it for Arsenal.
But the fact that they picked up three yellow cards and made hard work of a ten woman Everton side shows that the Merseysiders are preparing to push Arsenal all the way this year. Arsenal`s next Super League fixture comes after their two legged Champions League semi final against Frankfurt (more on that below) with a game against Chelsea Ladies at the Emirates on Thursday, 26th April. An F.A. Cup semi final immediately follows, so Harvey will need to use her squad to its fullest.
Her ability to do so may have been restricted by training ground knocks to striker Jen Beattie (back) and Faye White (knee). White has not long been back from a serious knee injury and for her to have another knock with so few playing minutes must invite concerns for the 34 year old. It puts more pressure on Jayne Ludlow to be the senior professional in the side. The same age as White, Ludlow plays pretty much every game because Harvey doesn`t have another player in that mould coming through.
The Ladies play the first leg of their Champions League semi final against Frankfurt on Sunday at Borehamwood. The Ladies made it to this stage last year before being outclassed by Lyon. Sunday`s game will be hugely important in determining Arsenal`s chances of making the Final in Munich on May, 17th. Frankfurt are the dominant side in Germany. They are 17 games into their Bundesliga season, having beaten Bayer Leverkusen 4-1 on Wednesday to stay top. They also qualified for the Final of the DFB Kopal (the German F.A. Cup) with a 5-4 penalty shoot out win over Duisburg last weekend. They will play Bayern Munich in the Final, whom they beat 7-1 earlier this season.
However, Sven Kalhert`s side don`t travel well. They have lost every away tie they`ve played in the competition so far this year, scoring only one goal in the process. Arsenal have won every game they`ve played at Borehamwood for 12 months, since succumbing to a 2-1 defeat to Birmingham City last April. The flipside is obviously that Frankfurt are formidable at home, having won all of their European ties at Stadion am Brantanobad by three goals. The reason here could be that Frankfurt have a dedicated home. Though a multi purpose stadium (that they share with Rot-Weiss Frankfurt), the 5,500 arena was built with them in mind. They get good crowds in a familiar stadium. It`s not a luxury many Ladies` sides get at any level.
Needless to say, it makes Sunday`s first leg pivotal. Frankfurt are a side that tend to spread their goals around, like most good teams, it`s difficult to isolate a threat. But Sandra Sismek leads the line, hitting 9 this season and she is complimented well by strike partner Kerstin Garefekes. But the woman that makes the team tick is Svenja Huth in central midfield. Much like Ludlow at Arsenal, her influence is subtle but huge, perfecting the "water carrying" role. She has missed only one game all season, which tells you what coach Sven Kahlert thinks of her. Sunday`s tie kicks off at 3pm at Borehamwood`s Meadow Lane. Tickets are £5 adults and £2.50 concessions. Why not go and watch one semi final on Sunday where you don`t want both teams to lose horribly!
In closing, it`s worth mentioning that Arsenal midfielder and Durham lass Steph Houghton`s shirt will have an interesting feature for Super League games. The WSL are keen to use social media to boost their profile and, as such, each WSL side will have one social media ambassador. Steph Houghton has been chosen for the Gunners so she will wear her twitter account name @stephhoughton2 on the back of her shirt. WSL bigwigs claim that the league has seven times as many Google searches per thousand spectators than the Men`s Premier League. Tapping into digital media is seen as the most innovative way of promoting the league.
Steph isn`t the only member of the Arsenal Ladies squad on twitter. You can follow the following:
Emma Byrne @emmsb30
Yvonne Tracy @wiv03
Gilly Flaherty @Gilly_Flaherty
Faye White @faye_white
Jordan Nobbs @JordanNobbs8
Ellen White @ellsbells89
Gemma Davison @GemD1987
Jen Beattie @jbeattie91
Danielle Carter @MissCarter_X
Kim Little @kimlittle16
And of course you can follow me @LittleDutchVA