“I don’t think we have any complaints. Congratulations to Arsenal, it was a fantastic performance. This is a reminder that it is a single game- it’s not even about recent form, it’s about showing up and putting in a performance. Arsenal did that today.”– Chelsea Ladies Manager Emma Hayes
“It’s absolutely a dream come true to beat Chelsea at Wembley in front of our fans. I don’t think it can get better but we will have to see what we can do!”– Arsenal Ladies Manager Pedro Martinez Losa
Normal service was resumed on Saturday afternoon, as Arsenal Ladies secured their fourteenth FA Cup title at Wembley. Dan Carter’s stunning first-half goal was enough to secure the win against a strong Chelsea Ladies team in front of a record final crowd of 32,912.
While the scoreline was narrow, it does not really tell the tale of the game. Chelsea will be disappointed by their performance as they were well marshalled by their opponents and subsequently struggled to make an impact throughout the game. Arsenal too will be disappointed, but only by the fact that they were unable to convert more of their chances despite a dominant performance.
Pedro Martinez Losa made five changes going into Saturday’s match, one of which was the inclusion of a certain Kelly Smith in the starting line-up. Fara Williams, Jordan Nobbs, Asisat Oshoala and Emma Mitchell were also brought in. Emma Hayes, meanwhile, made two changes from Chelsea’s 6-3 victory against Liverpool with Gemma Davison and Ana Borges starting in place of Eni Aluko and Claire Rafferty.
As the winners of the double last season, Chelsea Ladies were arguably the favourites going into the game. It was Arsenal, however, that took control of the game from the off and remained on top for almost the duration of the game.
Dan Carter, in particular, would have been earmarked as a key player for Arsenal going into the game and the England international proved why early on. The striker, playing on the left side of a front three, lobbed narrowly over in the opening minute and set the tone for the match.
The trio of Dan Carter, Kelly Smith and Asisat Oshoala looked like the perfect combination for the Gunners, with the experience and technical ability of England legend Smith being perfectly complimented by the speed and natural ability of Carter and Oshoala out wide. Despite the Chelsea defence being one of the best outfits in the league, they struggled to deal with the attacking threat that Arsenal possessed.
While the overall team performance deserved the plaudits it received, it was a piece of individual brilliance that opened the scoring. After taking down a pinged long ball from Casey Stoney out on the left wing, Carter baffled Hannah Blundell with some neat footwork before dribbling the ball expertly into the area. The striker then curled a beautiful shot into the top right corner and past Hedvig Lindahl in the Chelsea goal. It was a goal that was worthy of the occasion and one that Carter will certainly remember for the rest of her career.
Chelsea had the opportunity to even the score but their chances were few and far between. The first fell to Fran Kirby who, after beating the offside trap, raced through on goal. The striker took too long to pick her spot, however, and saw her shot saved by Sari Van Veenendaal in the Arsenal goal. The usually influential Ji So-Yun also had an opportunity on the half-hour mark after being picked out by Gemma Davison, but she could only fire over.
While Carter will get the headlines due to her impressive performance, the Arsenal midfield and defence also deserves a huge amount of credit. The likes of Fran Kirby, Ji So-Yun, Karen Carney and Gemma Davison all struggled to make any impact on the game and that was thanks to the work rate of the Arsenal players.
With Chelsea struggling to get any time on the ball, it was Arsenal that continued to threaten. Carter was a particularly effective outlet on one wing, while Oshoala was as effective on the opposite flank. Had Oshoala’s end product been better, she could have scored a couple of goals herself in either half.
Hayes made a change to her Chelsea side at half-time, bringing on Niamh Fahey in place of Drew Spence. With Fahey playing at centre-back and Millie Bright now pushed into midfield, Hayes will have hoped to secure things up defensively. Arsenal continued to threaten, however, and Chelsea were still struggling.
It was an individual moment of skill from Oshoala in the second half that nearly doubled Arsenal’s lead. The striker, signed earlier in the season from Liverpool, flicked the ball over the head of Ana Borges before picking out Smith in the box. The experienced striker could only head the ball onto the crossbar from six yards out and Arsenal were unlucky not to be two goals ahead.
At times, Lindahl was the only person standing in Arsenal’s way as she almost single handedly kept Chelsea in the game. The goalkeeper firstly prevented Carter from doubling her tally and then bravely slid at Oshoala to prevent her from tapping in after being seen through on goal by a clever pass from Smith.
With twenty minutes of the game left, Chelsea arguably had their best opportunity of the game. A Borges corner was flicked on by Gilly Flaherty before falling at the feet of Ji at the back post. Despite finding herself in the most space she had been in all game, she could only fire wide.
As the game approached the finale, Chelsea began to commit more players forward. Hayes introduced the likes of Eni Aluko and Bethany England in the hope of grabbing a much needed goal but Arsenal stood firm. With the speed of Carter and available to them, Arsenal were always a threat on the counter and subsequently were to have another effort blocked.
Chelsea had a couple of chances to grab a goal in extra time, but with Arsenal defenders putting their bodies on the line to block none of them hit the target. Ultimately, therefore, the Blues could not find a way back into the game and Arsenal secured a deserved victory.
Despite not being up to their own high standards in recent years, Arsenal will be ecstatic to be back to winning ways in one of the sport’s biggest competitions. The team controlled the game from start to finish and tactically it was spot on.
Chelsea will be disappointed by their performance, especially as they never really got going. Despite having the likes of Fran Kirby, Gemma Davison, Karen Carney, Ji So-Yun, Eni Aluko and Bethany England all featuring in the game, Chelsea’s attackers were allowed very little time on the ball in threatening positions. Lindahl should be given some credit for keeping her side in the game, but she had little chance of saving Carter’s spectacular effort in the first-half.
It also appeared that the Chelsea players suffered simply from being the smaller team in stature. With many tall, strong players in their ranks, Arsenal were first to any ball in the air and used that to their advantage in order to retain possession. Kirby was also consistently edged off the ball, admittedly sometimes illegally, and subsequently was an anonymous figure at the spearhead of the Chelsea attack for the majority of the game.
While Arsenal will enjoy this victory for a long time, attention will now return to the FA WSL1. Chelsea will be hoping to put this defeat behind them and secure a consecutive league title. Arsenal, meanwhile, will be spurred on by their first Wembley triumph for the rest of the season as they try to close the gap to Manchester City and Chelsea above them in the league.