Manchester City dealt major title blow after stunning Arsenal comeback

City lost 2-1 to Arsenal in the WSL
City lost 2-1 to Arsenal in the WSL -Credit:Photo by Naomi Baker/Getty Images

And so the pendulum swings again.

Just four days on from a Chelsea defeat that had seemingly put Manchester City on the cusp of Women’s Super League (WSL) glory, Gareth Taylor's side provided yet another twist in this intoxicating title race, losing 2-1 to Arsenal at the Joie Stadium.

Perhaps the biggest frustration for the league leaders when they reflect on this topsy-turvy game will be that they came so close to victory. City were leading in the 88th minute and losing in the 92nd, with two goals from substitute Stina Blackstenius cancelling out Lauren Hemp's classy first-half finish.

A win today would have put the Blues within touching distance of their first league title since 2016. Now they must hope that Chelsea fail to do the business in at least one of their final three games or else it will come down to goal difference to dictate whether the WSL trophy ends up in Manchester or London in 13 days time.

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Ahead of the match, Taylor had been bullish in his insistence that Chelsea’s midweek collapse at Liverpool had done little to alter the complexion of the title race. But, while he was understandably keen to downplay the significance of the result, it could not be denied that Chelsea’s slip had handed City a glaring advantage, with Emma Hayes even going as far to publicly relinquish her side’s WSL crown.

"I’ve had amazing memories at this football club and we won a lot of things," she told Sky Sports. "I’d love to bring titles again to Chelsea but that’s not going to be this year I’m afraid. We will never give up but the title is far from us, it’s not in our hands."

There was an undeniable logic to Hayes’ surrender. After all, her side’s latest defeat was Chelsea’s third of the season; no team has ever won the WSL having lost more than twice. The cynical viewpoint, though, was that, in waving the white flag, Hayes had heaped all of the pressure on Taylor’s side, putting the onus squarely on them to get the job done.

Still, if the Blues were feeling the heat, it didn’t show in the opening stages in east Manchester. Hemp immediately assumed the role of chief tormentor of the Arsenal defence, with Leila Ouhabi scuffing an early shot wide from the winger's clever cut-back.

The Gunners posed a threat on the counter-attack and could have taken the lead when Frida Maanum was played through on goal by Beth Mead, the Norwegian forcing a smart save from Khiara Keating in the City goal. But it didn't take long for the hosts' dominance to pay off, with Hemp opening the scoring inside 17 minutes.

The forward did well to gather Ouhabi's neat pass before spinning and burying the ball expertly in the bottom corner. It was her 10th WSL goal of the season and she wasted no time in rushing over to the touchline to celebrate with club captain Steph Houghton, who is set to retire from professional football at the end of the season after a stellar 22-year playing career.

City should have made it two when the tricky Jess Park teed up Chloe Kelly, deputising in the no. 9 role for the injured Khadija 'Bunny' Shaw. But the England international couldn't get any power behind her strike, rolling it tamely into the gloves of Manuela Zinsberger.

And the Blues almost paid the price for her profligacy early in the second half as Arsenal threatened from a well-worked set piece. The ball was played into the path of Leah Williamson, who couldn't get her shot away, before bouncing to centre-back partner Laia Codina, who sliced her effort wide from just a few yards out.

City responded well, with Mary Fowler forcing a brilliant save from Zinsberger after the Gunners failed to clear their lines. However, the hosts almost played themselves into trouble when Yui Hasegawa imperious for much of the afternoon - had her pocket picked inside her own half by Mead, whose strike from distance was claimed comfortably by Keating.

The visitors pressed for a leveller late on and nearly restored parity when Caitlin Foord fired wide from a few yards out. But it was fellow substitute Blackstenius who made herself the hero, poking home from close range to make it 1-1 before diverting Kim Little's cross past Keating to snatch the three points in stoppage time.

It is a huge blow for City, though not a fatal one. While Chelsea have two games in hand, it is Taylor's side who have the points on the board and the better goal difference.

They must ensure that this defeat does not blow them off course ahead of their final day trip to Aston Villa and have faith that they are still well-positioned to win the title this term. Although the champagne may have been put on ice for now, the Blues must still believe they have what it takes to spoil Chelsea's party.