Arsenal Women 2-2 Ajax: Jonas Eidevall’s side are held at home in qualifying first leg
Arsenal’s place in the Champions League group stage remains in the balance after Ajax claimed an unlikely 2-2 draw in the first leg of their second-round qualifier.
The Gunners had come from behind to lead 2-1 after a Stina Blackstenius strike and Kim Little penalty canceled out Romee Leuchter’s early goal. But Leuchter drew the Dutch side level in the 83rd minute to swing the score back in their favour.
Although away goals don’t count, Arsenal have it all to do in the second leg in Amsterdam next week. Ajax were underdogs going into this tie but caused the Gunners numerous problems in defense and showed they are more than capable of coming out on top on their own turf.
Jonas Eidevall was left frustrated as he saw his side hit back late on to leave their chances of qualification hanging in the balance.
Jonas Eidevall called 15-year-olds Madison Earl and Katie Reid on the bench, but a close affair meant neither youngster was able to follow in the footsteps of Ethan Nwaneri by making their professional debuts.
Ajax were not here to roll over and despite being the underdogs, they were the stronger team in the opening stages. A fierce Victoria Pelova shot from the edge of the box forced Arsenal goalkeeper Manuela Zinsberger into an early save.
Ajax continued to have the better chances, and in the 17th minute they took the lead. The Dutch side got in on Arsenal’s left and Chasity Grant’s cross was headed into the net by Leuchter.
Kim Little gave Arsenal the lead from the penalty spot with a well-taken effort in the second half
Arsenal were frustrated for most of the game and perhaps felt after a nervous start that they should have seen it out
Arsenal almost found an immediate reply through a Beth Mead free-kick which was wasted by Ajax goalkeeper Lize Kop, but Stina Blackstenius could only send a rebound effort wide. But the striker was not going to make the same mistake twice and two minutes later she burned her side level. Rafaelle’s header came back off the crossbar and Blackstenius slammed home from two yards out.
Each team had chances to go ahead before the break, but neither could capitalize. First, Vivianne Miedema sent a shot past from inside the box, before Zinsberger parried a fierce long-range effort from Leuchter.
The Gunners came inches from taking the lead just after half-time when Steph Catley rattled a shot against the crossbar. The woodwork was in Arsenal’s way again as Rafaelle drilled a low effort against the post.
Romee Leuchter gave Ajax the lead and then equalized late in the second half in controversial circumstances
The match was fiercely contested throughout and both seemed a little uncomfortable being pressured by their opposite number
But the hosts’ pressure finally told when Isa Kardinaal brought down Mead in the box and referee Frida Nielsen awarded a penalty. Kim Little stepped up to send the Kop the wrong way and give her side a 2-1 lead.
Catley almost grabbed what would have been a huge third goal when she found herself 1 v 1 with Kop, but the keeper spread well to make a vital save.
The Gunners were made to pay for their missed chances as a sloppy piece of defending gifted Ajax an equaliser. Arsenal failed to clear their lines and a run towards goal ensued, with Leuchter poking the ball home at the back post.
Katie McCabe thought she had restored Arsenal’s lead when she fired a shot into the top corner, but the winger was flagged for offside.
Ajax held on for six minutes of injury time to earn a well-deserved draw which will no doubt give them huge confidence going into next week’s game.
Stina Blackstenius gave Arsenal a timely equalizer when it looked like Ajax were in control
Arsenal (4-2-3-1): Zinsberger, Maritz, Williamson, Rafaelle, Catley, Walti, Little, Miedema, Hurtig (Foord 57), Blackstenius (McCabe 75), Mead
Unused subs: Marckese, Wubben-Moy, Beattie, Nobbs, Maanum, Wienroither, Agyemang, Earl, Reid
Goals: Blackstenius 23, Lille 57
Manager: Jonas Eidevall
Ajax (4-3-3): Kop, Van der Most, Kardinaal, Doorn, Verhoeve, Noordam, Spitse, Pelova, Grant (Bakker 92), Weerden (Hoekstra 62), Leuchter
Unused substitutes: Bussman, Van der Wal, Munsterman, Tromp, Kruize, Keijzer, Van Gool, Sabajo
Reserved: Verhoeve, Van der Most, Doorn
Goal: Leuchter 17, 83
Manager: Suzanne Bakker
Judge: Frida Nielsen