Finals do weird things to players. Even players who easily corral the pressures of every match week to week can be affected by the sudden appearance of a shiny metal one the sideline. Lucky for us, Bethany England is no such player.
Seven minutes into the final, she pounced from a ball headed aimlessly back into play by Maren Mjelde. Sam Kerr was there too, but in the form Bethany England has been in since early mid-November, even she instinctually knew to stay out of the way. [1-0, ‘7]
After the goal Arsenal woke up. The Gunners never looked like themselves in our January meeting, which Chelsea won 4-1. But though it too over one-hundred minutes of match time, the Arsenal everyone expected has, finally though unfortunately, shown up.
The Blues were pinned in their own area for much of the rest of the half. When they managed to squeeze the ball through midfield, or punt it over, it was a case of hoping the final pass and shot would be quality enough to bag a second. But it never happened. Some of it was due to desperate defending by Arsenal, choosing to fling their bodies at feet to stop shots, other times it was due to uncharacteristic misses.
Beth England was running into the box without a marker and her head was picked out beautifully by Guro Reiten, but the English international nodded her header wide as Arsenal’s keeper Manuela Zinsberger was stuck frozen to her line, praying for fate to intervene.
The Blues went into halftime with the lead but knew they would need to do more to stop Arsenal from playing their game. Another 45 minutes like the 38 they played after the goal and they’ll be luck to make it to extra time or penalties.
The second half began as it ended. Arsenal’s shape and pressing intensity is really impressive. There was always seemingly one more player in an area they needed to be and Chelsea was left relying on Ann-Katrin Berger far more than they would have ever wanted.
Still, goals are the only things that matter in a final, and Chelsea had one to protect. But here’s a brief rundown of events to show how flimsy that goal seemed:
- ’61 Vivianne Miedema shoots wide.
- ’68 Jordan Nobbs shoots wide.
- ’71 Miedema heads across goal from a Caitlin Foord cross, but just beyond the post.
- Chelsea not hanging onto the ball well. When they win it they rush and misplace their passes. Gifting Arsenal even more possession than they’re taking is not ideal.
- ’82 Ann-Katrin Berger makes a sprawling save a yard from her goal from a Miedema volley.
- ’85 Leah Williamson finally gets Arsenal’s goal. She fires the ball in after a bit of pinball from a corner. [1-1]
It was always unlikely that Chelsea were going to ride out a 1-0 while giving up so much of the ball and so, so many chances. Nonetheless, Millie Bright was annoyed and shouted “WAKE UP!” at her shell-shocked teammates.
The next few minutes saw at least two or three gaspy moments as Arsenal pressed hard to ride their momentum into a winner. However, and quite crucially, they do not have Bethany England.
BUT WE DO AND IN THE NINETY-SECOND MINUTE BETH ENGLAND SCORES HER TWENTY-FIRST GOAL IN ALL COMPETITIONS TO GIVE CHELSEA THEIR FIRST LEAGUE CUP TROPHY!!!!!!
The goal was created by the kind of scrappiness needed against a team that is outclassing you in midfield. Erin Cuthbert, with no other option and running toward the far touchline, punted the ball long to Sam Kerr. Arsenal defender Viktoria Schnaderbeck tried to shield the ball out of play but Kerr’s pace and athleticism allowed her to get a touch, round her, and collect possession. Kerr slipped the ball to Maren Mjelde who made a sweet move to glide by a defender and send a cross toward Beth England waiting at the back post.
Our fifth consecutive win over Arsenal gives us a trophy we’ve never won. It was the first opportunity to earn silverware to make their dominant season tell, but, as Ann-Katrin Berger will now illustrate, this team isn’t done:
We’re hungry for more, and that was just the start.”