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Arsenal Ladies establish two-goal advantage in Champions League quarter-final against ASD Torres
Arsenal Ladies will take a commanding lead to Italy next week after beating ASD Torres 3-1 in the first leg of their Champions League quarter-final tie at Meadow Park this afternoon.
The Gunners led at the break through Kelly Smith and second-half strikes from Jordan Nobbs and Kim Little put them in control, although Sandy Maendly’s away goal could yet prove crucial in the tie.
New manager Shelley Kerr handed Smith the captain’s armband in her first match in charge. England’s record goalscorer lined up alongside Kim Little in midfield, with Rachel Yankey and Ellen White on the wings and Jennifer Beattie the lone striker.
After withstanding some early pressure from the visitors, Arsenal should have taken the lead after seven minutes. Yankey’s exquisite pass sent Little clear but the Scottish international was quickly closed down and her tame effort was easily saved by goalkeeper Gaelle Thalmann.
Ten minutes later, neat play between Smith and Little on the edge of the box resulted in the latter finding Yankey in space but Thalmann was equal to the shot.
The hosts were almost caught out in the 21st minute when a long ball caused panic in the defence. Emma Byrne’s clearance hit Ciara Grant but Alex Scott was alert and got to the loose ball before Torres striker Patrizia Panico.
Moments later Arsenal took the lead. Little’s free-kick was glanced on by Beattie and Smith flicked the ball past Thalmann and into the corner from six yards.
That appeared to spark the Italians into life. Byrne did well to hold Pancio’s dipping 25-yard shot in the 26th minute before an excellent last-gasp challenge from Gilly Flaherty denied the same player a clear goalscoring opportunity seconds later.
On the half hour Arsenal suffered a major blow when goalscorer Smith was injured making a challenge on the edge of her own box. After treatment on the pitch, the physio signalled that she was unable to continue and Niamh Fahey came on as her replacement.
That meant a reshuffle in the Arsenal line-up as Fahey went to left-back while Steph Houghton took Smith’s position in midfield.
The change disrupted the Gunners’ play but they could have doubled their lead ten minutes before the break when confusion in the Torres defence allowed White to pounce on a loose ball but her shot was well saved by the impressive Thalmann.
In first-half stoppage time Pancio found space in the box but could only drag her shot across goal and wide.
The hosts made the perfect start to the second half when Nobbs controlled Yankey’s cross and drilled a shot into the bottom corner to double the lead.
Soon after, Thalmann did well to cut out another cross from White with Beattie waiting, before brilliantly tipping Houghton’s 20-yard curler over the bar.
The reprieve was only temporary though, as the hosts increased their lead ten minutes later. Houghton’s quick thinking allowed her to find Yankey down the left. The England international found Little who beat her marker before firing into the roof of the net. It was a fabulous goal which was consistent with Arsenal’s play.
The Gunners were well on top and Kerr introduced Gemma Davison in place of Beattie in an attempt to put the tie to bed.
Moments later, however, the visitors scored their away goal. Maendly found space on the edge of the box and her precise left-footed finish gave Byrne no chance.
The last ten minutes were end-to-end as both teams went in search of another goal. Davison was getting plenty of joy down the right but the Torres defence held firm and the match finished 3-1.
The second leg will take place next Wednesday afternoon in Sardinia.