An Alessia Russo double helped Arsenal to a huge 4-1 win against Chelsea in front of a record WSL crowd at the Emirates Stadium and ignited the title race in the process.

The Blues were three points ahead of Arsenal and Manchester City heading into the game, but a lacklustre display across the board saw them lose their first league game of the season in front of a new WSL attendance record of 59,042.

Beth Mead fired Arsenal ahead inside eight minutes, but Johanna Rytting Kaneryd (13) levelled things up soon after in an electric start.

But two goals in two first half minutes – coupled with some questionable Chelsea defending turned the tide in the Gunners’ favour.

Amanda Ilestedt (36) nodded the hosts in front before Russo (38) scored the first of her two goals, pulling away from Maren Mjelde to slot home Arsenal’s third.

Arsenal set new WSL attendance record

Arsenal set another attendance record for the WSL on Sunday, with 59,042 fans attending the game.

It beats the previous record of 54,115 set earlier this season in Arsenal’s home fixture against Liverpool, also at Emirates Stadium.

Arsenal CEO Vinai Venkatesham said:
“Breaking our own WSL attendance record is another landmark moment. We’re proud of our women’s team, our fantastic supporters, and our passionate people across our club – all of whom have contributed to this moment. The hard work that got us here will continue as we remain focused on nurturing the connection with our supporters.”

After three half-time changes, Chelsea looked more solid – but a sliding challenge from Ann-Katrin Berger on Russo saw the Gunners awarded a penalty. The England striker coolly slotted home (74) and the Blues could not muster a reply and slipped to their first league defeat of the campaign.

Chelsea, however, do remain top of the league on goal difference, although are now level on 22 points with Arsenal.

How Arsenal cruised to big win

Beth Mead celebrates after opening the scoring for Arsenal against Chelsea
Beth Mead celebrates after opening the scoring for Arsenal against Chelsea

By the 13th minute, both teams had already found the net. Arsenal opened things up as Victoria Pelova was found inside the area after a fine break from the hosts. She in turn picked out an unmarked Mead, who used a quick switch of direction to find her space before firing home.

Chelsea had worked Manuela Zinsberger in the interim and found the net five minutes later. Rytting Kaneryd drove into the area before powering her shot through the legs of Steph Catley and past the outstretched hand of the goalkeeper.

Team news headlines

  • Arsenal made two changes. Kyra Cooney-Cross and Frida Maanum dropped to the bench, with Kim Little and Lia Walti back in the starting XI.
  • Chelsea also made two changes. Sophie Ingle and Fran Kirby were among the substitutes, with Sjoeke Nusken and Jessie Fleming coming into the squad.

Arsenal continued to see the better of the play as the game continued, and made the breakthrough again in the 36th minute. It was a simple header from Ilestedt from a corner, with Berger going too early to claim, allowing the Arsenal defender to nod home.

Soon after, the Gunners made it three. It was a brilliant ball over the top from Lia Walti, picking out the run of Russo. She peeled away easily from Mjelde before easily slotting home past Berger.

Johanna Rytting Kaneryd celebrates with her team-mates after equalising for Chelsea at Arsenal
Johanna Rytting Kaneryd celebrates with her team-mates after equalising for Chelsea at Arsenal

It was no shock to see Emma Hayes make three changes at half-time, with Mjelde, Sjoeke Nusken and Eve Perisset hooked for Fran Kirby, Kadeisha Buchanan and Ashley Lawrence.

It was a more even performance from Chelsea after the break, with a penalty shout from the visitors, following a foul on Kirby, being waved away by referee Rebecca Welch.

Player ratings

Arsenal: Zinsberger (6), McCabe (7), Ilestedt (7), Wubben-Moy (8), Catley (7), Pelova (7), Walti (7), Mead (8), Little (8), Foord (7), Russo (8).

Subs: Maanum (7), Lacasse (6), Maritz (6), Blackstenius (7), Cooney-Cross (n/a).

Chelsea: Berger (5), Perisset (5), Mjelde (5), Carter (6), Charles (6), Nusken (5), Cuthbert (6), Kaneryd (6), Fleming (6), James (5), Kerr (5).

Subs: Kirby (6), Buchanan (7), Lawrence (7), Reiten (6), Fishel (6).

Player of the Match: Alessia Russo.

But Arsenal were awarded a penalty with around 20 minutes to play. As Russo tried to latch on to a through ball, she was bundled off the ball by Jess Carter, with Berger then sliding in across a rain-soaked surface to send the striker tumbling over.

Despite Berger’s protests, the decision stood and Russo made no mistake in slotting home for Arsenal’s fourth.

The goal seemed to shake Chelsea’s confidence once again, with the Gunners looking the more likely to add another before full-time. However, some alert defending kept them at bay as Arsenal blew the WSL title race wide open.

What’s next?

Arsenal host the first of two North London Derbies against Tottenham in the Women’s League Cup on Wednesday December 13. Kick-off 7pm.

The pair then face each other three days later, this time at Spurs in the WSL, on Saturday December 16, live on Sky Sports. Kick-off 12pm.

Chelsea host Group D leaders BK Hacken in the Champions League on Thursday December 14, kick-off 8pm. The Blues then head to Bristol City in the WSL on Sunday December 17. Kick-off 2pm.

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