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Arsenal 0 VfL Wolfsburg 2
Arsenal were hit by a smash and grab display from Bundesliga leaders VFL Wolfsburg in the first leg of their UEFA Champions League semi final at Boreham Wood.
VFL's veteran World Cup winning strike force of Conny Pohlers and Martina Muller scored in each half to leave the Gunners with a mountain to climb in order to reach the Stamford Bridge final. Arsenal had plenty of pressure at times and created a number of decent chances but lacked the decisive finish to turn the tie around and give themselves an advantage or even parity to take to Germany..
Wolfsburg opened the better, forcing Emma Byrne to make a smart smothering save from a Pohlers back flick after a corner in the opening minute. Moving the ball around fluently, the visitors barely allowed Arsenal a worthwhile attack in the opening fifteen minutes.
It was Gemma Davison who lifted her team and the majority of the 1,406 crowd with a couple of trademark runs to test Verena Faisst. Arsenal stepped up a gear, Steph Houghton releasing Jordan Nobbs down the left
then Kim Little sending a perfect crossfield ball for Davison to win a corner. Rachel Yankey's near post delivery forced a nervy punch from visiting keeper Alisa Vetterlein but Arsenal were thwarted by good defence by Lena Goessling.
The half chances comtinued as Arsenal dominated. Kim Little created a shooting chance but was wide. Then on the half hour, against the run of play, Wolfsburg took the lead. Anna Blasse won possession out on the left
wing and crossed for Pohlers to guide a volley at full stretch wide of the dive of Byrne.
Arsenal nearly equalised straight away when White profited from a lucky rebound to round Vetterlein but her shot was cleared off the line by Luisa Wensing for a corner. Davison did well to get to the goal line and whip in a vicious low cross but White was unable to turn the ball home on 35 minutes. Yankey was fouled deep on the left wing and Houghton powered in a shot which flew across goal requiring only a final touch.
Arsenal went to the break trailing but in the knowledge that they had troubled the Wolfsburg rearguard on several occasions. The visitors continued to absorb the pressure well on the restart although Yankey forced a last ditch headed clearance with another testing cross.
Alexandra Popp was a focal point for the German team, her physical presence drawing a foul from Gilly Flaherty, then racing clear only to be booked for simulation as she fell over the advancing Byrne on the hour. Her status as the butt of the Arsenal faithful's anger was sealed when Byrne was left injured after fielding a through pass under pressure from the German international three minutes later.
At the other end, good work by Alex Scott released Davison who stood up a far post cross which was just too high to allow Jennifer Beattie to head home. A blocked Kim Little shot flew upwards fo White to win a header which rattled Vetterlein's bar before being cleared. Wensing then blocked a White header on the line from the resultant corner as Arsenal sought a deserved equaliser.
Popp was wisely withdrawn from the action and her replacement, Selina Wagner, was to play a major part in doubling Wolfsburg's lead, winning an aerial battle for a left wing cross to flick the ball into the path of the unmarked Muller who was left with a simple finish past Byrne on 83 minutes.
Arsenal pushed forward to salvage something from the game but Wolfsburg were by now comfortable and Nadine Kessler tested Byrne with a rasping low drive in the final minute.
Arsenal had played well but lacked the spark that the injured Kelly Smith might have found to unlock a very well organised and disciplined back line. At the other end, two momentary lapses in marking and concentration were ruthlessly exploited by a pair of players with winning experience at the highest level of the game.
Arsenal: Emma Byrne, Alex Scott, Niamh Fahey, Steph Houghton, Gilly Flaherty, Jennifer Beattie, Gemma Davison (sub Danielle Carter 86mins), Jordan Nobbs, Ellen White, Kim Little, Rachel Yankey. Subs not used: Rebecca Spencer, Yvonne Tracy, Jayne Ludlow, Jade Bailey.
VfL Wolfsburg: Alisa Vetterlein, Luisa Wensing, Verena Faisst, Josephine Henning, Lena Goessling, Nadine Kessler, Viola Odebrecht, Conny Pohlers (sub Selina Wagner 77mins), Anna Blasse, Martina Muller (sub Laura Vetterlein 90mins), Alexandra Popp (sub Lina Magull 68mins). Subs not used: Jana Burmeister, Annabel Jager, Stephanie Bunte, Navina Omilade.
(Report by Patrick Higgins)
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