Arsenal gunning to inflict FA Cup final upset
The SSE Women’s FA Cup final kicked off at Wembley, Saturday 14 May 2016, for the second consecutive year. Under clear and sunny skies 32,912 vocal fans, 2,202 more than previously (30,710), awaited battle between London rivals, Chelsea (“The Blues”) and Arsenal (“The Gunners”).
Arsenal (13 FA Cup victories between 1993 and 2014) won the toss and played left to right in a 4,3,3 formation; Chelsea, cup winners in 2015, adopted 4,4,2. Arsenal had Chelsea under pressure from the whistle: Jordan Nobbs attacked down the right flank in the first minute, then Danielle Carter intercepted a poor Chelsea pass before she drove into the penalty area but chipped over the crossbar of goalkeeper Hedvig Lindahl. Arsenal’s focus was to control play and ”…press Chelsea high from the start…” outlined manager, Pedro Martinez Losa.
Ana Borges, on the counter, partnered Fran Kirby who outpaced Arsenal’s defence only to be flagged offside. Chelsea endured probing runs of Carter and Asisat Oshoala but by the sixth minute failure to keep possession limited reciprocal attacks. Chelsea defended hard: by the eleventh minute Millie Bright had thwarted Kelly Smith and Karen Carney had cleared purposefully but her raised foot incurred a free kick; Fran Williams lofted the ball subsequently over Lindahl’s crossbar. Chelsea’s right flank vulnerability proved costly: Carter collected a pass, body movement and footwork assisted passage into the penalty box beyond off-balance Hannah Blundell, then delivered a right foot curling shot past Lindahl into the goal’s top right corner on seventeen minutes. Three minutes later an equaliser eluded Kirby, the effort saved by ‘keeper, Sari van Veenandaal, at her near post.
Martinez Losa enthused that Arsenal did “…impact Chelsea mentally. The girls were fantastic…” had great “…organisation…” and were “…defensively very good.” In the twenty-seventh minute luck deserted The Blues: Gemma Davison pressed Arsenal’s penalty area and passed to Ji So-Yun who trapped the ball with her left foot, struck with the outside of her right but shot over the bar. Oshoala’s attack met solid defending by Gilly Flaherty three minutes later but Chelsea lacked an effective counter. In the thirty-seventh minute Drew Spence typified Chelsea’s lack of clinical finishing; she received Carney’s pass deep in Arsenal’s half, stormed goal wards but shot over van Veenandaal’s bar. Both teams faced attacks: Borges dispossessed in the forty-second minute after a half way break; Chelsea’s right flank unlocked a minute later by Carter who shot outside the box but Lindahl held. At first half end, after a minute of added time, Arsenal led 1-0.
Arsenal maintained the offensive (when play resumed Chelsea had substituted Spence for Niahm Fahey): Oshoala struck twice in the forty-sixth minute, her second effort hit the crossbar; a minute later Vicky Losada ran onto a pass, shot over the bar, but got an offside flag. In the fiftieth minute Lindahl saved with a foot to deflect Oshoala’s shot inside the box. Five minutes later Eniola Aluko replaced Carney to offer Chelsea attacking prowess; soon Aluko broke away, got checked but won a corner. She partnered with So-Yun but unable to control her deft pass Aluko’s shot sailed skywards in the sixtieth minute. So-Yun, in her own half, then gifted possession to Arsenal; this culminated in Oshoala’s sixty-third minute surge that tested Lindahl in the box, as passionate fans sung “FC…Arsenal.”
Arsenal withstood pressure and increased physical challenges, by far the more comfortable on the ball. “We didn’t have quite as much fight as needed,” said Chelsea manager Emma Hayes. Chelsea pressed high as Aluko headed into Arsenal’s penalty area in the sixty-ninth minute and followed with a shot parried by van Veenandaal. A minute later Flaherty headed to So-Yun in the area but her strike was over the bar. Treatment given to van Veenandaal in the seventy-first minute, following committed defence against Chelsea’s onslaught, preceded Arsenal’s double substitution – Williams for Dominique Janssen and Smith for Danielle van de Donk two minutes later.
So-Yun’s lacklustre game continued as she lost possession in the seventy-sixth minute, to heap more pressure inadvertently on Chelsea’s beleaguered defence. She sought quick redemption; teed up a strike and then let loose but Arsenal’s defence held firm. Bethany England subbed Bright a minute later as Chelsea looked to amass attacking strength in numbers. In the eighty-second minute referee Sarah Garratt issued Oshoala the game’s first card, a yellow, after Eniola’s back-heel through the legs and pull-away power elicited a rash foul. Fewer than seven minutes after substitution England, frustrated at Chelsea’s impotence, received a similar Garratt reprimand.
Carter, player of the match, acknowledged fans’ applause at the honour’s announcement that, as Arsenal goal scorer, made her day. Final substitution by The Gunners was Oshoala for Leah Williamson in the eighty-eight minute.
Chelsea went for broke in the last minute of normal time: Borges hit a right-side shot but van Veenandaal was solid between the sticks. Attacks continued during four minutes of added time but Hayes acknowledged the disappointment of missed goals, particularly in the second half, as Chelsea undoubtedly “… needed rub of the green.” Davison pressed “shot-stopper” van Veenedaal’s area, then Kirby volleyed a strike but neither got rewarded for their efforts. Davison’s next effort won a corner, to no avail, and Fahey failed to convert Eniola’s cross – as Arsenal vied to raise their tally – but Chelsea’s equaliser, even a winning goal, proved elusive, and meant failure to retain the cup. At the final whistle Arsenal’s early goal had earned a well-deserved 1-0 victory – the return to winning ways.
By Ade Adeniji