Arsenal and Russo delight sold-out crowd with WSL derby win over Spurs

<span>Alessia Russo scores the winning goal four minutes into the second half.</span><span>Photograph: Tom Jenkins/The Guardian</span>
Alessia Russo scores the winning goal four minutes into the second half.Photograph: Tom Jenkins/The Guardian

The rumbling drum that signals the growth of women’s football is ­getting louder by the week. A crowd of 60,050 – the second highest in Women’s Super League history – at a sold-out Emirates Stadium watched Arsenal’s defeat of Tottenham.

It was Arsenal’s second back‑to-back full house at the club’s main stadium and the club now have the top six WSL attendances – and, of UK crowd figures across the ­weekend, bettered only by the 61,339 that watched Tottenham men’s team beat Crystal Palace on Saturday.

Related: Manchester City go clear at WSL summit as Shaw and Hemp down Everton

Jonas Eidevall, the Arsenal ­mana­ger, said: “I was ­thinking about the quote from Dennis ­Bergkamp when he said: ‘When you start ­supporting a football club, you don’t support it because of the trophies, or a player, or history, you ­support it because you found ­yourself ­somewhere there; found a place where you belong.’ That’s what makes me extremely proud, being able to say that we’ve found a place where 60,000 people feel that they belong.

“This is their home, this is where they want to come and support their football team. That is very special. That is something we need to keep very much alive and keep building on. It’s a special feeling that we have been able to create that.”

Arsenal’s steady building of an active and engaged audience for their women’s team is the envy of the league, and a desire to deliver on the pitch for these new fans is growing.

The Gunners had to beat ­Spurs here to remain within three points of the Sunday ­morning league leaders Manchester City and keep their WSL title hopes alive. They did, Alessia Russo’s second-half goal the difference, but it was far from easy.

Arsenal were dominant in the first half with 63% possession but they had nothing to show for it at half‑time, struggling to find a way through ­Tottenham’s deep block.

It was a familiar story, with ­Martha ­Thomas’s sublime breakaway goal having handed Tottenham a first win against their north London rivals at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium in December.

Despite spending much of the first 45 minutes in this match camped in the opposition half and, having had 10 corners, the Gunners had only two shots on target to ­Tottenham’s three. It took 23 minutes for the visitors to carve out their first ­meaningful chance and it fell to the dynamic England Under-23 player Jess Naz, who cut inside from the left and smashed her effort off the crossbar.

Arsenal were toothless and as the minutes ticked on Spurs grew in confidence on the break.

Their ­tactics were no secret, Robert Vilahamn had detailed the ­blueprint before kick‑off when he said: “We know we can beat them, we know how to beat them so we are very focused, very present to defend well and take the chances we get.”

Having been frustrated in the first half, it took Arsenal only four minutes of the second to score in front of the Clock End to re-energise their title challenge.

The mercurial Kim Little found the pass to stretch the organised Spurs backline, pinging the ball to Beth Mead at the far post. The ­forward was brought down by Amanda Nildén and perhaps should have been given a penalty, but it ­mattered little as Russo was on hand to pop in the loose ball. With 15 minutes left it was still Arsenal’s only shot of the half, though, and Eidevall made a ­triple ­substitution to inject some energy and incision into his side with Stina Blackstenius, Kyra Cooney‑Cross and Leah ­Williamson, the lifelong Gunner making her first appearance in front of a sold‑out Emirates Stadium crowd, entering.

The closing period was ­increasingly tense for the home team as ­Vilahamn’s side sensed a point could be grabbed. Spurs upped their intensity but Arsenal clung on, ­sealing a seventh home win in succession.

“I see some really good ­improvements,” the Spurs head coach said. “Last year we lost 4-0 and 5-1 to Arsenal … I’m actually very happy about [how close these games now are], we also had the Conti Cup game, which was 3-3.

“One game, you never know if it’s luck or not, but that’s three games where we’re competing with them. And that makes me believe in what we’re doing very much.”

On whether Arsenal can still win the league, Little said: “I think so, we spoke about this next block, if we do what we can we can get into a final [in the Conti Cup] and maybe go level on points [with Chelsea in the WSL]. We need to turn up in those big games.”