When the two sides took the only remaining 100 per cent record in the National Division - the women's equivalent of the Premiership - into yesterday's game at Potters Bar, the Belles were missing Joanne Broadhurst, the England international striker Gail Borman, and Ann Lisseman, which is like Newcastle losing Robert Lee, Peter Beardsley and Mark Hottiger.
Five of those who did play were not fully fit either, but as Paul Edmunds, the Belles manager, told his team before the game: ' It's 11 of us and 11 of them. These soft Cockneys never done a hard day's work in their life. Never been down the pit, this lot, so it's muck and nettles today. Get out there.'
Stirring stuff, but Arsenal are as disciplined, organised, and unforgiving as their male counterparts, and after Tracy Kilner hit the post for the Belles in an electric opening flurry of strikes at both ends, it was Sammy Britton who opened the scoring for Arsenal on 14 minutes.
A fiercely contested game swung from end to end and, when the Belles got the wind behind them in the second half, they looked to have levelled.
Karen Walker's flick-on from a free-kick found Tina Brannan rounding Pauline Cope, the Arsenal goalkeeper, only for the linesman to disallow it.
The controversy energised the Belles, and they had a bright 20 minutes before more injuries took their toll and Arsenal's superior strength finally told. Once Rebecca Lonergan had struck with 10 minutes remaining, it was all the Belles could do to stay standing.
Jo Churchman sidefooted home Kirsty Pealling's blocked shot with the whistle imminent, making it a 3-0 victory. Vic Akers, the Arsenal manager, conceded that the score was a shade flattering.
'Second half we didn't play well - they should have had a goal, and that might have turned it round,' he said. 'But we've kept at it, and it's a fair result in the end.' Edmunds, meanwhile, was left to reflect on 'a lot of good individual performances. But we'll have them when they come back to our place,' he said.
Arsenal: Cope, Pealling, Few (Spry, 60), Slee, Wylie, Barber, Williams, Britton (Churchman, 75), Spacey, Lonergan, Philt.
Doncaster Belles: Biggins, Woodhead, Uttley, Jackson, Lowe, Skillcorn, Coulthard, Davies (Jones, 75), Kilner (Majka, 65), Walker, Brannan.Reuse content