Arsenal Ladies got their new Women’s Super League campaign off to a winning start with a hard fought 3-2 victory over Everton at Meadow Park.
First-half strikes from Danielle Carter and Jordan Nobbs cancelled out an early Everton goal from Toni Duggan, and a Katie Chapman header secured the win for the home side after the Blues had drawn level through a second from Duggan.
It was not the most auspicious of starts to the Gunners’ defence of their WSL crown – with the visitors taking the lead after just five minutes – but Laura Harvey’s players quickly found their feet and went on to dominate a thrilling opening league fixture.
The Gunners began the game nervously and were punished with a quite exceptional strike from Duggan, the Toffees forward latching onto a loose bobbling ball on the edge of Arsenal’s box to send a fizzing shot beyond Emma Byrne.
Arsenal quickly regained their composure and within a quarter-of-an-hour they were level.
Kim Little danced down the right flank before squaring to Carter, who steadied herself and unleashed a fierce strike from ten yards. Her shot, which took a slight nick on the way through, gave Rachel Brown no chance and took Arsenal into the ascendency.
Two minutes later Nobbs clipped the Everton post with a wayward cross, and just before the half-hour mark the England youth international gave Arsenal the lead when she applied a cool finish to a threaded through ball from Rachel Yankey.
Nobbs could, and perhaps should, have had a second before half-time when through on goal again, but with plenty of time to set herself she dragged just wide of the far post.
On 38 minutes the game swung in Arsenal’s favour when the visitors were reduced to ten – Brooke Chaplen lunging in on Yankey to earn a second yellow card. And the home side pushed forward, eager to capitalise on their one player advantage.
Early in the second period, Arsenal could have all but wrapped things up when trickery from Carter in Everton’s box was rewarded with a penalty. Little - the Ladies’ top scorer last term – showed rare profligacy in front of goal though, skewing her spot kick against the post.
Arsenal were made to pay for the miss minutes later when Duggan rose high to head home a free-kick from the left flank and give the Toffees an unlikely equaliser.
The home side refused to be ruffled though, and came at Everton again.
On 66 minutes Arsenal got the third their dominance deserved, courtesy of a Chapman header, to set up a frantic final half-hour.
Little could have alleviated some of the tension from the final minutes had she been able to capitalise on a fumble from keeper Brown from close range.
But in the end it was of no consequence, with Arsenal able to see out their one-goal advantage.
“These games are always tough against Everton and today was absolutely no different," Harvey told Arsenal.com afterwards.
“We know we’ve got big characters in this team and we know we’ve got players who can come on and win football matches. The fact we’ve been able to get a result today was massive.
“We have great characters in this team and that is why we won the treble last year. Not because we were always the best side but because of our character and that helped us get the season off to an excellent start.”
Arsenal: Byrne; Scott, Grant, Houghton, Flaherty; Ludlow, Chapman, Nobbs (Fahey 90); Carter (Davison 62), Little, Yankey (E White 82). Not used: Tracy, F White and Beattie.