In a remarkable display of late-game heroics, Arsenal Women clinched a thrilling victory over Aston Villa with two stoppage-time goals. England forward Beth Mead, making her long-awaited return to the pitch after an 11-month hiatus due to a serious knee injury, played a pivotal role in the Gunners’ dramatic triumph.

Mead entered the game in the 88th minute and promptly orchestrated the winning goal, expertly converted by her Lionesses compatriot Alessia Russo, setting off jubilant scenes among the 35,000-plus spectators at Emirates Stadium.

The outcome had seemed bleak for Arsenal, who were on the verge of suffering their second consecutive home defeat, until the 92nd minute when Katie McCabe unleashed a blistering shot that found the top corner of the net, igniting a breathtaking conclusion to the match.

Aston Villa had initially seized the lead against the run of play in the 25th minute when Maz Pacheco, unmarked, connected with a powerful header from Lucy Staniforth’s exquisite corner delivery. Nonetheless, in a frenetic closing chapter that witnessed Stina Blackstenius of Arsenal hitting the post and a Villa shot cleared off the line, the visitors couldn’t maintain their lead and secure what would have been their maiden victory of the season.

Beth Mead, whose absence was keenly felt by Arsenal, emerged as the catalyst her team sorely needed. Her entry provided a tremendous lift to the crowd of 35,829, marking the fifth-highest attendance ever recorded for an Arsenal Women’s match at the Emirates. Subsequently, Arsenal mounted a stirring comeback, notching two goals in a dramatic period of injury time.

The 28-year-old forward, who played an instrumental role in England’s triumph at Euro 2022, claiming both the Golden Boot as the top goal scorer and the Player of the Tournament award, had been sidelined since suffering a ruptured anterior cruciate ligament injury in November of the previous year. Her absence also meant missing out on the Women’s World Cup this summer, where England reached the final but ultimately fell to Spain.

Mead’s return to full training only occurred earlier in the week, and her introduction was greeted with an enthusiastic reception from the crowd. She then went on to make a critical contribution by initiating the play that led to Russo’s match-winning goal following McCabe’s equalizer.

However, it was not only the game’s dramatic conclusion that stirred controversy. Aston Villa’s manager, Carla Ward, expressed her vehement displeasure regarding the substantial amount of added time. She argued, “Someone tell me where 12 minutes comes from, please; I have no idea. There were a few stoppages, but 12 minutes is ludicrous, and that, sadly, is where the game is going. It’s a tough one to take. We defended unbelievably for 92 minutes, but I’m proud of the players.”