Reading 0-1 Arsenal: opportunity missed as wasteful Gunners edge past resolute Royals

Arsenal weathered a late flurry of pressure to cling on to a narrow Women’s Super League win over basement side Reading at a rain-soaked Madejski Stadium on Sunday evening.

On a night where plenty of goal-scoring opportunities went begging, only Sweden international Stina Blackstenius was on the mark as her first-half strike was the difference in a frustrating game for Jonas Eidevall’s side.

After Manchester United claimed a 4-0 win earlier on Sunday, the Gunners could have reclaimed the top spot with a more convincing scoreline, but the London side stayed second with the narrow win while, despite best efforts, Reading’s wait for their first points of the season goes on.

Kelly Chambers handed first starts of the season to Emma Harries and Justine Vanhaevermaet, while injuries to first-choice centre-backs Leah Williamson and Rafaelle forced Eidevall to bring Lotte Wubben-Moy into the fold, with Steph Catley shuffling across to partner her in central defence, with Kate McCabe dropping into the full-back berth.

Days after qualifying for the 2023 World Cup with Ireland, McCabe set up a golden opportunity for the visitors to take the lead inside sixty seconds but Blackstenius, latching onto her long ball, couldn’t beat Reading ‘keeper Jackie Burns.

With Reading camped in a defensive block, the Gunners built play patiently but, finding a route in via Caitlin Foord, Laura Wienroither failed to steer the ball on target when faced with a gaping goal at the back post.

The visitors broke the deadlock on the half hour mark through Blackstenius, who caught the Royals napping by rapidly turning and firing into the bottom corner from the edge of the box.

A sumptuous crossfield pass by Mead opened up the chance for Foord to double the Gunners’ lead on the stroke of halftime but the Australian dragged her shot wide.

After the interval, Arsenal continued in a similar vein - as wastefulness in front of goal ensured the scoreline failed to reflect their dominance, with the ball twice hitting the woodwork and Miedema and Foord finding Burns’ arms and the side-netting respectively.

The pair would more likely be forgiven, though, than captain Kim Little, who was gifted a chance to double her side’s lead on the hour mark when the ball struck Lily Woodham’s hand in the area.

In a meeting between WSL veteran and WSL debutant, it was the division’s newbie Burns who came out on top as she stopped Little’s weak penalty to keep Reading in the game.

Rarely leaving their own half, the Royals found an opportunity as a long ball forward took the Gunners’ makeshift backline by surprise but Emma Harries’ effort was easily dealt with by Manuela Zinsberger.

In front of a club-record crowd of 3,611, Reading pressed hard to steal a point in the closing stages, which forced Zinsberger to take centre stage, making a crucial front-post stop as Natasha Dowie tried to poke home an equaliser from close range.

Without making life easy for themselves, Arsenal held off the hosts to secure their third win of the WSL season.

Reading XI: Burns; Mukandi (45 - Bryson), Evans, Cooper; Eikeland, Primmer (74 - Wade), Vanhaevermaet, Woodham; Harries (90 - Wellings), Dowie, Rowe.

Unused subs: Caldwell, Jane, Poulter, Meadows-Tuson.

Arsenal XI: Zinsberger; Wienroither, Wubben-Moy, Catley, McCabe (83 - Beattie); Little, Wälti (66 - Maanum); Mead, Miedema (66 - Nobbs), Foord (66 - Hurtig); Blackstenius.

Unused subs: Maritz, Marckese, Iwabuchi, Agyemang, Reid.