Shelley Kerr will look back on her first match in charge of Arsenal Ladies with a mixture of pride and regret.
Arsenal's new manager could take great satisfaction from the way her side played, at times carving ASD Torres open at will in the first leg of this Champions League quarter-final, but frustration lingered at the failure to put the tie to bed and the needless concession of a late away goal to the Italian champions makes Wednesday's second leg in Sardinia rather more daunting than it should have been.
Whether Kelly Smith will be able to take part remains to be seen. Arsenal's most influential player limped off with what appeared to be an injury to her left knee in the first half after a collision with Patrizia Panico, and the worrying sight of Smith grimacing as she left the pitch did not offer too many reasons to be positive.
"Kelly's with the medics at the moment, so that's about as much as we know," Kerr, the former Scotland Under-19 manager, said. "It's too early to tell." Arsenal can only pray that Smith recovers. During her time on the pitch, she was the game's outstanding player and it was her deft improvisation that had set Arsenal on their way after 23 minutes. Kim Little sent a deep free-kick to the far post, Steph Houghton headed the ball on and Smith got ahead of her marker to flick a gorgeous effort over the Torres goalkeeper, Gaëlle Thalmann, with the outside of her left foot.
Before kick-off, Arsenal's director of football, Vic Akers, presented flowers to Faye White, who had announced her retirement from football in the morning, but the hospitality ended there, although a line was crossed when Ciara Grant's push on Panico ended with the Torres striker hitting her head against the dugout. She emerged with a plaster on her nose and a bump on her forehead, and perhaps that explained why the tournament's top scorer scuffed her shot so badly when clean through on goal just before half-time.
Arsenal's dominance was total, and by the 63rd minute they led 3-0. First Rachel Yankey's cross from the left was brilliantly plucked out of the sky by Jordan Nobbs, who turned and drilleda low finish past Thalmann. "Jordan's that good," Yankey said.
Yankey isn't bad either and 14 minutes later she was the provider again, as she found Little in the box. She shifted the ball on to her left foot and crashed a shot high past the helpless Thalmann. "The team showed at spells in the game that they're fantastically talented," Kerr said.
Yet Kerr would also find herself stressing the need to remain focused when competing at the highest level. With 18 minutes left, Torres snatched what could prove to be a crucial away goal, as Sandy Maendly gave Emma Byrne no chance with a low shot from the edge of the area. "Without that goal we would have our heads down but the game is open and anything can happen," said Torres's relieved manager, Manuela Tesse.
Ultimately, though, Arsenal are well aware that their fate is in their own hands. "The girls were disappointed because it could have easily been avoided," Kerr said. "But we're more than capable of scoring away from home."
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