Arsenal women retain Super League title with victory over Doncaster

Powered by article titled “Arsenal women retain Super League title with victory over Doncaster” was written by Tony Leighton, for The Guardian on Sunday 30th September 2012 20.08 UTC

Arsenal are once again champions of the Women’s Super League, having clinched the title with a 3-2 win against Doncaster Belles on Sunday. It means the semi-professional competition was dominated by the country’s top club team as was the top flight’s predecessor the Premier League – which the Gunners had won seven years in succession before the introduction of the eight-team summer league.

The Football Association’s hope that the WSL would provide a levelling out of competition for the top spot has not yet been achieved, but Arsenal – despite being unbeaten in the league this season – are not these days winning matches by embarrassing scorelines and other teams, for instance this year’s FA Cup winners Birmingham City, are providing stiffer opposition than was the case in the latter years of the Premier League.

The Arsenal manager, Laura Harvey, who was formerly in charge at Birmingham, said: “We’re obviously delighted to have won the league again but I honestly feel that things have been evened up through the WSL.

“The talent is more widely spread, teams are fitter and better organised and the gap is definitely closing. So we’ll just go on striving to stay ahead, and the challenge for everyone else is to catch us up.”

The FA’s WSL consultant Sally Horrox, a prime mover in the formation and development of the league, said: “Arsenal are unquestionably still the best, but competition has been much fiercer this season and the clubs below them are definitely getting stronger. Arsenal’s set-up has been years in the making but clubs like Birmingham, Bristol and Lincoln started the league with brand new squads and Birmingham in particular have become a real force.”

Arsenal beat Doncaster courtesy of two own goals and a late Kelly Smith strike after Birmingham had earlier drawn 2-2 at Bristol. The striker Rachel Williams and the midfielder Jade Moore scored their goals, to put themselves firmly in pole position to finish runners-up, as they did last year, and so once again gain entry to the Champions League alongside the Gunners.

Doncaster’s England winger and former Arsenal player Karen Carney said: “We’ve pushed Arsenal hard again this season and stepped up a level by winning the FA Cup. Arsenal weren’t in the final [Birmingham beat Chelsea] for the first time in seven years so that’s perhaps a sign that the gap is being bridged.”

The season is set to end with average attendances, helped in part by the boost in profile given to the women’s game through Team GB’s widely viewed matches at the Olympic Games, up by 10% to around the 600 mark. There was a crowd of 712 at Arsenal’s meeting with Doncaster despite the game being shown live on TV.

The FA’s faith in the WSL’s potential for further growth will be confirmed when they announce later in the year that an expansion of the League, possibly to a total of 20 clubs and with the competition split into two divisions, will take place in 2014.

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