Two-times World Cup winner Tobin Heath opened her Champions League account as Arsenal saw off German side Hoffenheim 4-0 and earned their first three points in Group C.
A Kim Little penalty and Heath’s strike shortly before the break, the US forward making her second start for the Gunners after joining in the summer, gave Arsenal a commanding lead despite a bright start from the visiting team. The striker Vivianne Miedema added a third and the centre-back Leah Williamson headed in a late fourth.
Hoffenheim may have been an unfamiliar team to the Arsenal players but the German side have been on the radar of the new manager Jonas Eidevall who had faced them in Champions League qualifiers while manager of Swedish side Rosengard.
“They will try and do long distance shooting and they have been successful with that,” he had warned prior to his team’s second group game. “They are very consistent in the way that they play so you need to be compact around the ball.
“It’s all about playing a central, counter pressing style. Counter pressing moments will be game deciding and how well we handle it and how they execute it.”
The Gunners were “humbled” according to Beth Mead, who was named WSL player of the month for September this week, by the manner of the team’s 4-1 defeat to the current European champions Barcelona in their Group C opener. A 3-0 victory over Everton went some way to lifting spirits but getting points on the board in the new group stage was sorely needed despite the early stage of the tournament.
The home team were certainly more cautious in the opening exchanges with Hoffenheim, who sit fifth in the Frauen Bundesliga, perhaps a little too cautious, as it was the visiting team that should have taken the lead early on at a crisp Borehamwood.
After just three minutes the Arsenal back line looked rattled when a cross from the left was nodded down towards Nicole Billa but the Austrian striker turned and fired wide.
The threat did not die too, with the tall and powerful Belgium centre-forward Tine de Caigny and Billa looking particularly dangerous when played in behind and Hoffenheim looking sharp when in possession.
Arsenal grew into the game urged on by a vocal Borehamwood crowd and, just shy of the 15 minute mark, Heath flew down the left wing before sending a neat backheel into the feet of Jordan Nobbs who forced a corner.
With the momentum temporarily swinging more firmly Arsenal’s way, the left-back Katie McCabe snuck a free-kick around the small Hoffenheim wall from the right which goalkeeper Martina Tufekovic fell on but almost fumbled.
Where Hoffenheim had struggled to capitalise on their turnovers, having done well to take advantage of too frequent wayward Arsenal passing, the hosts were more clinical.
In the 20th minute they grabbed the lead after the centre-back Michaela Specht clipped the raised foot of Mead who had wriggled in front of her and referee Stéphanie Frappart pointed to the spot. Up stepped the captain Little who fired in to the right of a diving Tufekovic to score her 40th European goal for Arsenal.
Having taken the lead Arsenal ramped up their control of the game and Eidevall’s team were rewarded for their pressure shortly before the half-time whistle. McCabe whipped the ball in from the left and Miedema rose highest to nod it to the feet of an onrushing Heath who smashed it into the net.
The two-times World Cup winner was making her first start in the Champions League since October 2013, having played in the competition during a six-month spell with Paris Saint-Germain who exited the competition at the hands of Swedish side Tyreso over two legs.
In the second half eight years on, the Hoffenheim manager Gabor Gallai swapped De Caigny, who scored twice in the previous round, for the 19-year-old Gia Corley but the game continued to run away from the German side. Not long after the restart the hosts extended their lead to three after Mead raced clear down the right before cutting back to Nobbs, the England midfielder forced an acrobatic save from Tufekovic but the goalkeeper could only force it high and Miedema pounced on the rebound.
Unperturbed by the margin Hoffenheim pressed hard to get a goal back, with the goalkeeper Manuela Zinsberger forced to save from Jule Brand and McCabe clearing Sarai Linder’s header off the line.
With the three points all but secure Eidevall swapped his front three out but it was Williamson rather than the fresh legs up front that would provide the fourth, racing to the near post to power in McCabe’s corner.
The win helped Arsenal to leapfrog their opponents into second in Group C, level on three points with the German side but three behind leaders Barcelona who surprisingly laboured to a 2-0 win over Danish side HB Koge earlier in the evening.