League, League Cup, Community Shield, and now the FA Cup. Emma Hayes’ Chelsea hold every single domestic trophy after dominating Arsenal, 3-0, in Sunday’s Women’s FA Cup final (which was technically last season’s FA Cup final).
What a team!
The temptation to stick to what is working is irresistible for any manager. Barring a few exceptions, managers tend to stick to what is working, even at the detriment of the long term or accounting for the opposition.
Given that context, the confidence shown by Hayes, in her own skills as a tactician and in her players’ ability to execute, to roll out a never before seen back line against an in-form Arsenal in one of the biggest games of the season, is simply amazing.
Chelsea thus surprised Arsenal by lining up in a 4-4-2 formation as opposed to the usual 3-4-3 — but without any significant change in the personnel involved.
Chelsea’s back line had not one, not two, but three players playing in unfamiliar positions: Cuthbert at right-back, Carter as the left sided center-back and Eriksson as the left-back. Only Bright was played in a position familiar to her. Despite that, Chelsea marshaled the likes of Mead and Miedema with aplomb. Key to that was to completely disrupt Arsenal in the buildup phase.
Chelsea decided not to press Arsenal as high as we did last time, but we compressed the pitch effectively by squeezing up and not allowing Arsenal any time on the ball in the middle third. This early pressure coupled with uncharacteristically poor touches from the Arsenal midfield and defense rattled the inexperienced Wubben-Moy in defense. Any time the ball reached her, she tended to give it away. The absence of the experienced Leah Williamson and Jordan Nobbs showed. While the former was unavoidable due to injury, the Arsenal coach may regret not starting Nobbs.
Chelsea capitalized on this shaky start with an early goal from none other than Super Fran Kirby. During an extended period of pressure where every other Arsenal touch led to a Chelsea recovery, Fleming picked up a loose ball and tried to play Kirby in. After a bit of pinball, the ball fell kindly to Kirby, and as usual made no mistake. She took a small touch to shift the ball right, drew the goalkeeper in an slotted in calmly at the far post. I find it amazing how unerringly good Kirby is at hitting the corners with her finishes.
With an early lead achieved and the opposition thoroughly rattled, Chelsea continued to pile on intense pressure in the middle third coupled with excellent covering of passing lanes. Arsenal lacked the quality and composure to overcome the pressure and Chelsea were often able to get straight into the Arsenal box with just a couple of passes. With such easy access came some gilt-edged chances that were wasted, primarily by Sam Kerr. At half time, the score was still 1-0, with goalkeeper Manuela Zinsberger also making some key stops to give Arsenal an opportunity to adapt and take the game to Chelsea in the second half.
Thankfully, nothing changed after the break.
Arsenal switched Mead to the left flank to try and take on Cuthbert as Eriksson gave her no change, but Cuthbert was just as unaccommodating. In fact, Arsenal managed to not get a single shot on target all game, a testament to Chelsea organization and commitment.
Meanwhile the Gunners continued to look vulnerable on the counter attack. Fran Kirby hit the post and Kerr headed the ball straight into Zinsberger’s arms. Eventually Sam Kerr found her finishing boots and put the game to bed with two memorable goals. The first of them was reminiscent of the goal Miedema scored in the season opener: through the defender’s legs and wrong-footing the goalkeeper at the near post.
The second of the goals left the manager “purring”, no doubt a response to the Arsenal manager’s tongue in cheek remarks about being superstitious about black cats.
During another period of play where Arsenal kept giving the ball away, Chelsea consolidated possession and found Kerr free down the right wing. She ran into the box under no pressure and then exquisitely chipped Zinsberger. It says something that Sam Kerr decided to spurn all the easy chances and still ended up with two goals, each better than the other. A truly dominant performance from the best team in England.
“London is blue, and when the third goal went in, we were purring. To win a Treble — quadruple including the Community Shield — is the biggest achievement [I’ve had at Chelsea].”
-Emma Hayes; source: ESPN
Hopefully this trophy will serve as a further confidence boost to go on better last season’s wonderful highs. Emma Hayes and her players are displaying the mentality, adaptability and skill required to achieve greatness. It’s good to be able to wax lyrical every week about a thoroughly entertaining Chelsea team.