“ I suppose that if the Arsenal team have a sports psychologist in the dressing room they’ll be able to explain why the players’ technique seems to all but have deserted them,” says Charles Antaki. “Has this team ever had a half hour filled with so many mis-controls, bad passes, futile lunges and general confusion? It got a bit better, but from an alarmingly low base. Credit to Chelsea’s harrying, I suppose, but it seems somehow that the Arsenal players just managed to spook themselves into incompetence.”
I don’t think the pitch is helping. Chelsea have dealt with it a lot better, mainly by being more direct at times.
Peep peep! Chelsea lead at Wembley thanks to Fran Kirby’s early goal. They should already be out of sight: Kirby hit the post*, Sam Kerr hit the crossbar and Manuela Zinsberger made a number of vital saves. The good news for Arsenal is that they were much better in the last 10 minutes of the first half, and that it’s only 1-0.
* I didn’t realise at the time, but her shot inthe 19th minute was pushed onto the outside of the post by Zinsberger. At the time I thought she’d palmed it straight behind for a corner.
45+2 min Chelsea break three-on-three, only for Kirby to overhit her through pass to Kerr. That was yet another chance, and an unusually sloppy ball from Kirby.
45 min Cuthbert fouls Mead and hurts herself in the process. I think she’s okay but there’s a break in play while she receives treatment.
42 min McCabe is fouled by Leupolz 25 yards out. It might have been a dive actually, I’ll like to see it again. Either way, Arsenal are having their first good spell of the match, and this is a good opportunity…
40 min: Big penalty appeal from Arsenal! Mead runs at Cuthbert in the area, then twists back inside onto her right foot. Cuthbert, who is already committed to the tackle, slides into the ball and makes contact with her arm. The referee must have been unsighted because that was a clear penalty. Chelsea should have had one earlier as well.
39 min “Hi Rob,” says Dan in Kennington. “What time do Arsenal kick off? Chelsea are playing by themselves at the moment. Awesome stuff from them.”
The daft thing is, if it’s 1-0 to Chelsea at half-time, Jonas Eidevall will be the happier manager.
38 min Arsenal have finally switched their wingers; I’m surprised they didn’t do it 20 minutes ago. Mead, on the left now, runs at Cuthbert and wins a corner.
36 min: Kerr hits the bar! This is getting silly. Kerr runs onto a long punt forward, muscles Wubben-Moy off the ball – Arsenal thought it was a foul – and lifts a shot onto the crossbar from eight yards. That was another brilliant opportunity for Kerr, whose finishing today has been strangely indecisive.
33 min Bright, up for a set piece, volleys off target from 20 yards. It was well struck, with excellent technique, but drifted a few yards wide.
29 min Now Leupolz tees up Kirby, whose shot from the edge of the area is deflected behind. Arsenal are being thrashed 1-0.
28 min Yet another chance for Chelsea! Kirby, who is having a stormer, breaks forward and plays in Reiten to her left. She moves into the area but then the ball gets stuck under her feet and Arsenal’s defenders are able to get across. The pitch saved Arsenal there.
27 min McCabe is lucky not to be booked after leaving one on the Chelsea keeper Ann-Katrin Berger. That was a bit snide.
26 min Cuthbert’s corner is headed wide of the far post by Eriksson, another excellent chance for Chelsea! This could, no exaggeration, be 5-0 to Chelsea.
25 min: Another fine save from Zinsberger! Reiten moves down the left and slides the ball infield to Kerr on the edge of the area. She lets it run to Kirby, who opens her body and shapes a curler towards the bottom corner. Zinsberger gets down smartly to her left to push it behind, and then thumps in the post in frustration at how much work she is having to do.
21 min Emma Hayes is understandably fuming about that penalty decision. I suspect she’s as angry about the lack of VAR in such a big game as she is about the specific incident.
19 min: Fine save from Zinsberger! Kerr runs onto a long pass down the right from Cuthbert and moves into the area. She cuts the ball back to Kirby and is taken out, a split-second later, by the sliding Beattie. Play continues and Kirby hits a rising drive that is pushed onto the outside of the near post by Zinsberger. That should have been a penalty to Chelsea, but there’s no VAR today. Not like it’s a big game or anything.
17 min Zinsberger makes another point-blank save from Kerr, though this one wouldn’t have counted as she was fractionally offside.
15 min Arsenal are starting to find their feet. An intricate move involving McCabe, Miedema and Little leads to their first corner…
13 min A half-chance for Kerr, who wriggles away from Beattie on the right side of the box but can’t find Kirby in the middle. I’m surprised she didn’t have a shot – the angle was tight, but not prohibitively so, and the ball fell nicely for her.
11 min Chelsea are playing a 4-2-3-1, with Cuthbert aand Eriksson as orthodox full-backs. That’s a bit of a surprise, but it has worked well so far – Kirby, playing as a No10, scored the goal and almost made a second for Kerr.
10 min Arsenal haven’t got going as an attacking force. The pitch isn’t helping either side; it’s so slow.
8 min The pitch isn’t in great condition, by the way. The ball is moving pretty slowly, presumably because of all the rain in the last 24 hours.
7 min: Big save from Zinsberger! Kerr, back on the field, plays a slick one-two with Kirby, moves through on goal but then puts her shot too close to Zinsberger. That was such a good chance for Sam Kerr.
6 min There’s a break in play while Sam Kerr receives treatment. She’s limping quite heavily, though it looks like an impact injury so she might be able to run it off. I think she was injured during the build up to the goal.
4 min There was so much space for Kirby to run into. Wubben-Moy was drawn across to challenge Fleming (I think), and Maritz didn’t have time to cover from right-back.
Out of nothing, Fran Kirby has given Chelsea the lead. The ball ricocheted off a couple of players, 35 yards from the Arsenal goal, and bounced favourably for Kirby. She scampered straight through the middle, drew Zinsberger and clipped the ball calmly into the corner. Whatever the stage, she is a nerveless finisher.
The players of both sides are introduced to Lesley Lloyd, captain of Southampton’s cup-winning side of 1971. Then it’s time for the national anthem. It’s a cold, drizzly day, not exactly cup final weather, and the players look keen to get down to business.
“Both teams were indeed rusty for the league game, but Arsenal had had a couple of European matches to warm up with; things will be more balanced now,” says Charles Antaki. “Arsenal fans will still be fretting over the unavailability of Leah Williamson, though Lotte Wubben-Moy has stepped up impressively. And the bench looks terrific – Iwabuchi, Nobbs, Foord – so, Arsenal-style heavily-qualified sort-of positive anticipation…”
This is a fine piece on that 1971 final, including some striking details about the state of the pitch and the nutrition.
These teams have met once in the 2021-22 season, a 3-2 win for Arsenal on the opening weekend. Both teams were rusty, though, so I’m not sure how much we should read into it.
“What an array of talent in front of us today,” says Bill Hargreaves. “I saw Beth Mead talking through the goals of the season so far: some belters. Play up!”
Indeed, six of the top 11 in this year’s Ballon d’Or are involved today: Sam Kerr, Vivianne Miedema, Pernille Harder, Jessie Fleming, Fran Kirby and Magda Eriksson.
Arsenal (4-3-3) Zinsberger; Maritz, Wubben-Moy, Beattie, Catley; Walti, Maanum, Little; Mead, Miedema, McCabe.
Substitutes: Williams, Goldie, Boye, Patten, Schnaderbeck, Nobbs, Parris, Iwabuchi, Foord.
Chelsea (3-4-3) Berger; Bright, Carter, Eriksson; Cuthbert, Ingle, Leupolz, Reiten; Fleming, Kerr, Kirby.
Substitutes: Musovic, Nouwen, England, Ji, Charles, Harder, Spence, Andersson, Fox.
Arsenal might play a 4-2-3-1, with Kim Little as a No10. Expect the wide forwards on both sides, especially Arsenal’s, to switch wings at some stage.
No surprises in the Arsenal team, which is unchanged from the 2-0 win over Manchester United a fortnight ago. The outstanding front three of Katie McCabe, Vivianne Miedema and Beth Mead – who literally weren’t born when the Crash Test Dummies wrote a song about them – will be their main threat.
Emma Hayes makes one change from Chelsea’s lsat game, a 5-0 WSL win over Birmingham before the international break. Sophie Ingle is preferred in midfield to Drew Spence. That means Pernille Harder, who is still feeling her way back from injury, is on the bench.
Sunday 9 May 1971 was a big day in the Bolton and District Cricket Association League. Atherton CC were skittled for 68 by Astley and Tyldesley Collieries, who sneaked to victory by one wicket. I know this because the scores from that league were printed in the Guardian the following day. So were results from the Cross Cup, and the Glossop League, and the Shettleston Marathon, and the North of England Lacrosse League, and the Longwood 10-mile Road Race, and I’m genuinely not making any of this up.
One sporting event was, or rather is, conspicuous by its absence: the inaugural Women’s FA Cup final. Nada. Zilch. Sweet bugger all. Not even the scoreline. (Southampton beat Stewarton Thistle 4-1, with Pat Davies scoring a hat-trick.) The world has changed since the heyday of DCI Gene Hunt, and it’s not just the Guardian that has embraced women’s football. Today’s final between Arsenal and Chelsea will be a celebration of 50 years of the FA Cup, and of how good the sport has become.
The sheer quality of both teams makes this the perfect final. It’s also a riddle of the future: in which season did the two best teams in the country meet in the FA Cup final, having finished first and third in the league?
The answer, obviously, is 2020-21. This match belongs to last season, when Arsenal finished behind Chelsea and Manchester City, and is being played now because of the backlog caused by Covid. Arsenal have replaced City as Chelsea’s main rivals this season, whatever Emma Hayes says publicly, and the two are involved in a cracking race for the title.
One of them will make history today. Either Arsenal will win the FA Cup for a record-extending 15th time, or Chelsea will do so for the third – and, more significantly, complete their first domestic treble.
Most importantly of all, the result will be in every newspaper tomorrow.
Kick off 2pm.