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Arsenal bowed out of the UEFA Women's Champions League to FCR 2001 Duisburg on a 4-1 aggregate score after a 2-0 defeat in the second leg at Bishop's Stortford on Sunday.
The English champions battled hard but were well beaten by a hugely impressive Duisburg, holders of the UEFA Women's Cup, forerunner of this year's new look competition. The visitors, backed by 150 travelling fans who supported their team with non stop chanting, drums and air raid siren, were rarely troubled by the Gunners who sorely missed Julie Fleeting and the suspended Kim Little.
Ursula Holl in the visitors goal did not have a difficult save to make until late in the second half when she blocked a close range effort from substitute Lauren Bruton, who was deemed offside in any case.
After a 2-1 defeat in the first leg, Arsenal were in a good position as long as they did not concede and Duisburg sought to put the tie beyond the Gunners straight away. Emma Byrne had to be at her best on four occasions in the first fifteen minutes to keep the scoresheet blank as Simone Laudehr and Inke Grings cut through the Arsenal defence with pace and quick interpassing, fed by the impressive midfield of Dutch international and ex-Bristol Rovers midfielder Annemeike Kiesel-Griffioen, Belgian international Femke Maes and Jennifer Oster on the right.
Byrne's best save was an athletic leap to claw away a goalbound header from Grings on 13 minutes but she also needed to be quick off her line on three occasions to foil German attackers who had outpaced the Gunners defence.
With Danielle Carter isolated up front in the early exchanges, Arsenal were unable to disturb the Duisburg central defence at all and, hard as Rachel Yankey and Gemma Davison were working, they could not break free of the impressive Alexandra Popp and Luisa Wensing at full back.
However the Gunners shackled the German attack more effectively as the half wore on, with only a Grings miss from a Linda Bresonik free kick worrying Byrne. Davison beat two defenders to fire a shot straight at Holl on 38 minutes which was Arsenal's first effort on goal.
Duisburg were again quickly out of the blocks on the restart and this time they made it count. After Gilly Flaherty had been booked for fouling Grings as she went through on goal, the German World Player of the Year finalist took her revenge a minute later by feeding the unmarked Oster on the right, who fired low across the diving Byrne on 49 minutes.
Arsenal now needed two goals to force extra time and they pushed forward with Jennifer Beattie coming more into the game as support for Carter and Davison making several trademark runs into dangerous areas. Duisburg were always threatening due to their pace up front and the Gunners back four had to be alert throughout and Byrne making another fine save from a Laudehr shot on 70 minutes.
Lauren Bruton replaced Yankey and impressed with her pace and control, being foiled only by a Bresonik tackle when five yards out and a brave Holl save as Arsenal pressed for a way back into the tie. However, Duisburg wrapped up the match when a back pass put Emma Byrne in trouble on 89 minutes and her half clearance was turned in by substitute Marina Himmighofen despite Faye White's brave attempt to clear off the line, which forced her to leave the field injured.
Duisburg were good value for their win, with their greater experience and firepower proving decisive against an Arsenal who gave a brave showing in both legs and were always competitive against arguably the best club side in Europe at the moment.
Arsenal: Emma Byrne, Corinne Yorston, Gilly Flaherty, Faye White, Niamh Fahey, Jayne Ludlow, Jennifer Beattie, Ciara Grant, Gemma Davison, Rachel Yankey, Danielle Carter. Subs: Becky Spencer, Naomi Cole, Lauren Bruton, Yvonne Tracy, Helen Lander, Abbie Prosser.
FCR 2001 Duisburg: Ursula Holl, Luisa Wensing, Annike Krahn, Linda Bresonik, Alexandra Popp, Maria Hegering, Annemeike Kiesel-Griffioen, Jennifer Oster, Femke Maes, Inke Grings, Simone Laudehr. Subs: Christina Bellinghoven, Anne van Bonn. Marith Priessen. Turid Knaak, Hasret Kayikci, Marina Himmighofen, Irini Ioannidou.
(Report by Patrick Higgins)
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