By Paul Lagan at the Emirates
Arsenal 3 v Chelsea 2
Champions Chelsea crashed to a 3-2 opening day WSL defeat to Arsenal that already puts their title defence challenge on the back foot.
In a pulsating see-sawing match the home side deserved the victory.
Chelsea lost only once last season – to Brighton – but this defeat will pile the pressure on head coach Emma Hayes before the opening salvos of the season are completed.
With just 12 teams in the league, a defeat can be critical to any title mount, and with Manchester City hammering Everton on Saturday, there is already daylight between then two supposed league challengers.
Arsenal, are now firmly back in the mix and if their defence plays as well as it did late on to thwart the Blue tide hurtling towards them as Chelsea desperately sought an equaliser, then they will do very well this season.
As for Chelsea, they need to lick their wounds, and go again.
Playing in front of just over eight thousand fans at the Emirates stadium, Arsenal set about the Blues with gusto, they were not going to be intimidated by the west Londoners and their aggressive stance reaped dividends.
Hayes kept Sam Kerr and Fran Kirby on the bench and it was only when the Blues were 2-1 down that she decided to being them on.
In a quiet opening 10 minutes, with Chelsea dominating possession, the first real threat on goal came from the home side when Chelsea Ann-Katrin Berger completely misjudged the flight of a deep free-kick allowing it to sail over her head.
Thankfully for the Blues, there was no Arsenal player on the far post to take advantage.
The Blues responded with a free kick of their own. This was met by Magdalena Eriksson. But it was a looping effort and the ball went straight to Manuela Zinsberger.
Seconds later and Arsenal were in front.
A long ball beat the Chelsea defence on the right – in-running Vivienne Miedema twisted Jess Carter into the ground before slotting a low right-footer between Berger and her right post.
Katie McCabe was lucky to still be on the pitch, on 23 minutes, when she hammered Carter with a late lunge – she got a yellow card from referee Rebecca Welch, but had VAR being in operation, the Gooners would be down to 10-men.
Arsenal on the break looked like they would score every time, whereas when the Blues get close to the Arsenal penalty area, they are confronted by a phalanx of red.
A long-range effort by Carter showed the Blues frustration – and the ball ended up in row z in the stand behind the goal.
Pernille Harder’s deflected shot on 38 minutes, which went for a corner, was the champion’s first serious effort on goal.
A wonderful attack, inspired by Ji So-Yun, almost saw the South Korean smash the ball home, but again the effort was deflected for a corner.
From the resultant kick, the Blues kept the ball well, and showed strength and controlled aggression, leaving Cuthbert free just in the six-yard box, and the Scotland wizard drove the perfect low drive wide of Zinsberger to level the score.
There were no changes by either side at half-time.
But within seconds of the restart, Guro Reiten clipped the Arsenal crossbar, Zinsberger beaten by the flight of, to be honest a cross.
But when Ji lost the ball in midfield, four minutes in, Arsenal broke in clinical fashion leaving Beth Mead with a heck of a lot to do. But she outpaced Bright and Eriksson, kept the ball as she got inside the Chelsea penalty area, then unleashed a rocket of a left footer that arrowed past the desperate dive of Berger to restore the one goal lead.
Mead almost scored seconds later but Berger managed to kick the ball away.
Hayes had seen enough and decided to make changes – on came Sophie Ingle, Sam Kerr and Fran Kirby – off came ineffectual Melanie Leupolz, Niamh Charles and Beth England
Disaster struck again for the Blues on 60 minutes when an offside-looking Mead collected the ball, rounded Berger and slotted home into an empty net to extend the lead.
Nikita Parris then entered the fray for the home side.
Then to put the game back into the mix, Harder latched onto Cuthbert’s right-wing cross and thumped her header into the goal off the crossbar.
Kerr had a fantastic chance to level on 75 minutes but she just failed to leap high enough to latch onto a wonderful clipped left-byline cross by Harder.
Jonna Andersson then came on for Reiten with eight minutes left on the clock.
Chelsea piled on the pressure as they sought an equaliser, but Arsenal held firm and after the six added minutes were completed took the win but more importantly the three points.
Teams: Arsenal, Zinsberger, Beattie, Williamson, Mead, Little, Miedema, Maanum, Walti, McCabe, Maritz, Iwabuchi,
Subs: Wubben-Mooy, Patten, Cayley, Parris, Williams, Boyle, Cull, Goldie
Chelsea: Berger, Bright, Carter, Leupolz, England, So-Yun, Reiten, Eriksson, Charles, Cuthbert, Harder
Subs: Musovic, Nouwen, Ingle, Kirby, Fleming, Kerr, Spence, Andersson, Fox
Referee: Rebecca Welch