It wasn’t a completely abject day for Arsenal Football Club. Arsene Wenger’s men may have been treated to a humiliating 8-2 demolition job at the hands of Manchester United, but Arsenal Ladies capped off the inaugural FA WSL season with a league title.
Arsenal today defeated Liverpool 3-1 to claim their thirteenth domestic honor. Veteran winger Rachel Yankey vanquished Liverpool’s hopes for an upset early on with a first half brace. Kim Little’s penalty kick goal in the 75th minute made Liverpool’s 62nd minute strike inconsequential.
The men’s side hasn’t won a trophy in six years, which presumably leaves plenty of room in the trophy cabinet for the women’s raft of honors. This is the 35th piece of hardware for Arsenal Ladies. The team collected nine league titles in the 2000s, and might well be looking to dominate English women’s football in this decade, too.
Unlike previous campaigns in the FA Women’s Premier League, however, it was never a one-horse race. Laura Harvey’s team came from behind to eclipse surprise packages Birmingham City in the standings. The World Cup pilfered some of Arsenal’s squad and the club had to make do without the likes of Rachel Yankey, Ellen White, Faye White, and Steph Houghton. Birmingham City took full advantage of the depletion. Rachel Williams was responsible for nearly half of the club’s goals and helped the team stay atop the league standings for the bulk of the season. The Midlands side looked set to complete their dream title run, but it wasn’t to be.
Birmingham City and Arsenal exchanged momentum once the FA WSL resumed after a World Cup-induced break. Birmingham City dropped two precious points against Lincoln Ladies in their first game back. A subsequent 3-2 loss against Everton saw them drop even further from their perch. A 1-1 draw on August 7 between the two sides pulled the Lady Gunners within touching distance of Birmingham City’s lead. A week later, Arsenal pulled ahead.
The reigning domestic champions hardly missed a beat. The club had taken 19 points from a maximum of 24 since the break and conceded just four goals in eight games during that span.
Scottish striker Kim Little found the net in each of her last five appearances for the club. Her brace today topped off her total goal amount at 13 – second-most in the league behind Williams.
Despite Birmingham City’s second half drop-off, the club will compete in the UEFA Women’s Champions League next season. 2009-10 Champions League participants Everton were unable to clinch a return to Europe as they finished four points off second place. Lincoln finished in a highly respectable fourth place, thanks in part to a late surge in form that saw them win their final four games. FA Cup runners-up Bristol Academy placed fifth while Chelsea ended their season in a disappointing sixth. Doncaster Belles and Liverpool each finished the season in single digits. They closed out the season in seventh and eighth place respectively.
The FA WSL is the product of a rebranding and re-launch of the former FA Women’s Premier League. The semi-pro national league was formed in hopes of attracting more spectators in the summer months with closer, more condensed competition. The World Cup led to an anticipated bump in attendance and, just as everywhere else, it will be curious to see if there’s any spillover in the 2012 season. Arsenal, Birmingham City, Everton all challenged for the league title so perhaps the women’s game in England truly is inching closer to parity.
The league may have just come into being, but it closes its premiere season with a familiar champion.