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The Guardian - UK
The Guardian - UK
Suzanne Wrack at the Chigwell Construction Stadium

West Ham’s comeback win dents Arsenal’s WSL title challenge

Hawa Cissoko (second right) celebrates West Ham’s winner.
Hawa Cissoko (second right) celebrates West Ham’s winner. Photograph: Andrew Boyers/Action Images/Reuters

Two shots on target, two goals and one title challenge ripped apart. ­Arsenal were made to pay for their profligacy in front of goal as West Ham pounced on two errors to come from behind and secure an ­impressive 2-1 win in front of a club-record crowd.

Alessia Russo gave the Gunners a first-half lead but Steph ­Catley gave away a penalty, which Viviane Asseyi converted, before Hawa ­Cissoko pounced on Manuela Zinsberger’s mistake to give them the lead.

“Everybody’s got to be careful of an underdog,” the West Ham mana­ger, Rehanne Skinner, said. “I’m absolutely delighted by the determination, grit and the attitude of the players from start to finish today.”

Defeat leaves Arsenal third behind Chelsea and Manchester City, who both won later yesterday against Everton and Leicester respectively. Chelsea are now six points clear of their London rivals.

Asked whether his team’s chances were over their mana­ger, Jonas Eidevall, said: “You can’t think like that. You can only think about the things that you can control … We have a lot of league games left to play with teams that are closer in our region of the table as well.”

There was a silver lining for the visiting side, with the England captain, Leah Williamson, named in the starting XI – 291 days since ­sus­taining an anterior cruciate ligament injury against Manchester United in April 2023 which led to her missing the World Cup.

One small moment during the match served as an acute reminder of what Arsenal and England have been missing. As a high ball began to drop near the touchline Asseyi and Williamson watched it fall and waited. Asseyi was closer and raised her foot but Williamson got there first, ­showing no fear, powering it forward just before the West Ham striker’s foot connected. To study Williamson’s movement and watch her eyes across the course of a match, or the 45 minutes she played here, is to see a reading of the game, a reading of ball movement, an ­understanding of the spaces that are there or will open up that is ­magical.

Eidevall said: “She was ready to start a football match. This was a great opportunity for us to do that. She couldn’t play more than a half today, so that was a planned substitution. I think she played very well.”

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Williamson was one of two changes made to the team that defeated ­Liverpool the previous week, with Catley also starting. Skinner, meanwhile, made one change to the team that beat Bristol City 2-1, with Cissoko forming part of a back three.

Arsenal dominated ­possession, as expected, but they struggled to carve out clear chances against a well‑drilled West Ham – whose ­defensive performance was ­epitomised by a stunning last-ditch tackle from Honoka Hayashi to deny Vivianne Miedema who was one‑on‑one with the goalkeeper, Mackenzie Arnold.

Their wastefulness proved costly because by the hour West Ham had carved out their first two shots on target, both from Arsenal errors, and both hit the back of the net.

First, Catley brought down Riko Ueki, ­conceding a penalty that Asseyi coollyconverted. Then ­Zinsberger punched her ­clearance down into the turf and the ball bounced up for Cissoko to loft over her and in from 18 yards out. It was sloppy from the ­Gunners but a well‑deserved lead for the home team who were clinical when it mattered and fuelled by a ­seemingly possessed Katrina Gorry in the middle.

“The only place we’re looking is up, we’re hunting down the next team above us and we’re working hard every week to get points,” ­Skinner said. “We have to approach the next game as if this hasn’t happened.”

Leah Williamson of Arsenal in action against West Ham
Leah Williamson made her first start for Arsenal since her anterior cruciate ligament injury in April 2023. Photograph: Mark Leech/Offside/Getty Images
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