This was not the start to the new Women’s Super League season that any of the record-breaking crowd at the Emirates had been expecting. Arsenal, the big movers of the summer transfer window, are playing catch-up already after Miri Taylor silenced the record WSL crowd of 54,115 and earnt an organised and impressively resilient Liverpool a shock victory.
What was written as the grand unveiling of new striker Alessia Russo suddenly became an opening-day setback for Jonas Eidevall’s side when Taylor steered Liverpool ahead shortly after half time. The Gunners were expected to lead a stronger challenge to champions Chelsea in this season’s title race but England star Russo, after arriving from Manchester United on a free transfer, was the landmark signing who struggled on her debut. Collectively, Arsenal did not play with their usual fluency and Liverpool survived the late pressure to claim a famous win.
Perhaps Arsenal will hope that history can repeat itself: last season, Liverpool also stunned Chelsea on the opening weekend yet the champions recovered to win a fourth consecutive title. But Liverpool themselves will hope to kick on from here. This is the Reds’ biggest win since they took down Chelsea at home; that Matt Beard’s side pulled off this heist on the road and in front of the biggest crowd in WSL history suggests they can improve considerably on the last campaign’s bottom-half finish.
Liverpool survived long spells of Arsenal pressure and struck just two minutes into the second half, with Taylor converting a low cut-back from the lively Missy Bo Kearns. The defending from Arsenal, not for the first time, was questionable, with Taylor allowed time in the box to prod a finish past Manuela Zinsberger. Bo Kearns, the scouser in the Liverpool side, also threatened with a first-half free kick that went narrowly wide but the rest of the match saw one-way traffic.
Liverpool goalkeeper Rachael Laws made a series of fine stops but the visitors also rode their luck, with Caitlin Foord’s cross taking a deflection and kissing the top of the bar amid a number of scrambles in the penalty area that didn’t fall Arsenal’s way. Russo, who had a quiet game, did not have a clear chance to open her account. Arsenal had spent much of the first half looking for the Lionesses star, but the closest they came was when Frida Maanum’s ball across the face was cut out before Russo could finish into an empty net.
Laws also had to be sharp to keep out Lotte Wubben-Moy’s header, a volley from Maanum and a drive from Kim Little, but Liverpool ensured that the majority of the Arsenal attempts came from range. In the 10 minutes of added time, the hosts only managed a blocked shot from Foord. Liverpool, who could name just five players on the substitutes bench, stood strong and their defending was resolute until the last.
This, though, is another early blow for Arsenal. While Liverpool were already working with a reduced squad, the Gunners have added strength and depth in the window and Eidevall could call upon new signings and World Cup stars in Kyra Cooney-Cross and Amanda Ilestedt from the bench, as well as Stina Blackstenius and Victoria Pelova. But Arsenal now have an opening defeat to add to their shock exit from the Women’s Champions League qualifying rounds. The return of the WSL was supposed to lift the mood but, on a record day, Liverpool rather spoilt the party.
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