First-half goals from Steph Houghton, Ellen White and Gemma Davison put the visitors in the ascendancy at half-time. A Jo Potter strike gave Blues hope of a comeback, but they couldn’t peg back Shelley Kerr’s side.
The hosts started the game well with Chelsea Weston getting in to two good early crossing positions, but the Arsenal centre-back pairing of captain Houghton and Gilly Flaherty ensured the pressure amounted to nothing more. The aerial prowess of Houghton was soon on display again as Arsenal took the lead.
A mix-up from a goal kick between goalkeeper Becky Spencer and Potter resulted in a corner for the away side and when Kim Little hung up her delivery, Houghton rose highest to head the Gunners in front after just seven minutes.
That goal gave Arsenal an increased confidence and they should have doubled the lead soon afterwards. White’s trickery and pace down the right flank saw her get beyond Hannah George, but when she pulled the ball back from the byline Danielle Carter blazed over from a good position.
White was then guilty of a miss of her own after latching on to a loose ball in the box, but her shot on the turn trickled wide of the Blues goal.
In what would become a running theme, Blues’ best chance of a goal appeared to be from a corner or free-kick. Potter’s first delivery into the box found midfield partner Jade Moore whose header was blocked before Weston’s volley was deflected to safety.
Just as Blues were looking to be getting a hold on the game they conceded a second. After Emily Westwood had bundled over Carter, Houghton’s vicious 25-yard free-kick rattled the inside of the post. The rebound eventually fell to centre-half partner Flaherty who struck the crossbar with a half-volleyed effort and when that loose ball was lofted back into the box it found White, who headed across Spencer and in to double the lead with less than 20 minutes played.
Another Blues corner was fumbled by Byrne before Carney’s 30-yard effort flew just over Byrne’s goal. In a bout of déjà vu, Moore then rose highest from another corner before seeing an effort again blocked before Christiansen’s drilled effort was deflected away to safety. Soon after, Houghton bailed out Byrne after the ‘keeper missed a Weston cross as Linnett waited to pounce.
It should have been three for Arsenal when Jordan Nobbs robbed Kerys Harrop on the halfway line, but after running through on Spencer’s goal she dragged her effort wide.
After solid defending of two further set-pieces, Arsenal scored once again. Davison stole in at the back post to sidefoot volley Emma Mitchell’s deep left-wing cross into the far corner.
Byrne was caught out again by a Potter delivery with three minutes remaining of the half, but she was this time rescued by Little who blocked Weston’s strike on the line.
Coral Haines replaced George at half-time as Blues looked to find a way back in to the game and within two minutes the substitute hit the bar as her 20-yard curling effort looped over Byrne before striking the woodwork.
Kirsty Linnett, Carney and Haines all saw efforts denied before Potter’s deflected 25-yard strike left Byrne flat-footed and gave Blues a lifeline with 54 minutes on the clock.
Potter audaciously attempted to chip Byrne after winning the ball in the centre-circle but her effort drifted just wide. On the hour mark, Blues were again denied on the line. Potter’s floated delivery was attacked with force by Westwood, but her header was prevented from crossing the line once more by Little.
As Blues pushed, Arsenal became more dangerous on the break and could have restored their three-goal advantage when Little slipped Davison in down the right flank, only for her to skew an effort horribly wide.
With 23 minutes left, Blues boss David Parker sent Rachel Williams on and when she charged down a Byrne clearance, Potter received the ball 35 yards out but couldn’t quite float an effort over the Arsenal stopper.
England winger Rachel Yankey was sent on by Arsenal and within minutes the former Blues star dragged an effort wide from range.
Blues piled on the late pressure and, with three minutes left, Byrne was at full stretch to tip Williams’ left-footed half-volley around the post from 25 yards out.
As three minutes of added time were announced, Arsenal should have added even more gloss to the scoreline when Little broke through the home defence and rolled the ball square to Carter, but Spencer was quickly off her line to block the England under-20 international’s effort to ensure that the scoreline didn’t become a poor reflection of the game.
Blues: Spencer; Weston, Harrop, Bassett (c), George (Haines, 45); Westwood, Moore, Potter; Christiansen (Wilkinson, 84), Carney (Williams, 67); Linnett.
Unused subs: Simpkins, Torkildsen, Earps, Myers.
Goal: Potter (54)
Bookings: Moore (69)
Arsenal: Byrne, Houghton, Flaherty, Nobbs, White, Davison (Yankey, 78), Carter, Little, Mitchell (Grant, 90), Weir, Scott.
Unused subs: Tracy, Chapman, Ayisi.
Goals: Houghton (7), White (19), Davison (39)
Bookings: Flaherty (66).
Player of the Match: Kerys Harrop
Referee: Shaun Barry