An injury-time strike from US forward Tobin Heath salvaged a point for Arsenal against Manchester City at the Academy Stadium. The World Cup winner’s 92nd-minute goal came after controversy in the buildup to Khadija Shaw’s opener had marred Manchester City’s controlled performance against the dominant league leaders.
The Arsenal manager, Jonas Eidevall, was shown a yellow card in his second consecutive game, having also collected one during Arsenal’s midweek League Cup defeat to Manchester United, for protesting the heavy deflection off the referee that allowed winger Lauren Hemp to race free before sending in a low cross for Shaw to tap in.
Arsenal may have been top of the league, six points ahead of their opponents and had enjoyed an emphatic 5-0 win in the reverse fixture. But the context could not have been more different going into the game at the wind tunnel that is the Academy Stadium. Arsenal had only one win, against relegation battling Leicester, in their preceding six games, conceding 14 and scoring five, with four of those goals coming in that solo win and the fifth an own goal scored by Hoffenheim.
Meanwhile, Gareth Taylor’s City had overcome an injury-crippling start to go on a six-game winning run and have been boosted by the return of defensive duo Lucy Bronze and Steph Houghton. After scoring 11 goals in their first seven league games of the season, City had scored 17 times in their four games prior to the visit of Arsenal.
In the midweek game Arsenal were boosted by the return of influential centre-back Leah Williamson, who injured a hamstring in their 1-1 draw with Tottenham on 13 November, and Heath who has spent much of the season on the sidelines. Both made a huge impact off the bench and the former was deemed fit enough to start against City.
Buoyed, perhaps, by the improvement shown in the performance against United which Eidevall described as “a big step forward”, the returning players and the new faces of defenders Rafaelle Souza, Laura Wienroither and forward Stina Blackstenius, it was Arsenal that would press with greater intensity and edge control in the middle of the park. However, City threatened on the break and Arsenal struggled to handle the pace and verve of Hemp and Jess Park, playing on either side of centre-forward Shaw.
There was a nervy moment for Arsenal just past an half hour as play paused and Williamson sat on the ground. She was deemed well enough to continue but at half time was hooked in favour of debutant Souza, the first Brazilian to play for Arsenal’s women’s team.
Arsenal continued to press and ease forward but struggled to find the final pass or a clean opportunity to shoot. Both Vivianne Miedema and Beth Mead would force saves from Khiara Keating from the left but the angle was tight and the saves were routine.
It would be a characteristic Hemp run that would provide the breakthrough, the forward sending in a cross that would be tapped beyond Manuela Zinsberger by Shaw. It was not without controversy though, as the ball deflected off the referee, changing the run of the pass to Hemp. FA rules state that play should be stopped if the ball hits the referee.
City still looked the more dangerous side despite Arsenal pouring forward in the six minutes added on at the end. However a long ball into the City box bounced around the penalty area before it fell to Heath at the back post to convert.
Arsenal move two points clear of Manchester United, who have played a game more, and four of holders Chelsea, who have a game in hand over Arsenal and two over United. Meanwhile, City stay fifth, one point behind Tottenham.