Arsenal Women won a historic fifth Continental Tyres Cup thanks to Vivianne Miedema’s first half strike in a close contest that saw Manchester City lose a cup final for the first time.
Miedema’s effort from close range was one of few chances during a game where defences very much came out on top over attack.
Despite Nick Cushing’s side sitting six points clear of their opponents in the FA Women’s Super League, form told a different story about who the favourites were coming into the game. Arsenal were unbeaten in six under Joe Montemurro and hadn’t conceded a goal in that time whilst City hadn’t won either of their last two games.
Arsenal started the game on the front foot but struggled to create any meaningful chances to test Ellie Roebuck – the 18-year-old preferred in goal to Karen Bardsley – until Dominique Janssen struck the bar from all of 30 yards with a speculative effort.
Man City just couldn’t make anything stick, Nadia Nadim struggled to hold the ball up to bring others into play and whilst Nikita Parris tried to provide the spark City only tested Sari van Veenendaal with two relatively comfortable efforts from distance by Georgia Stanway and Izzy Christiansen.
The winner came after 33 minutes when Janssen broke down the left, her cross was flicked on by City defender Jennifer Beattie into a position which allowed Miedema to chest the ball down and fire through the legs of Roebuck.
Cushing’s side needed a response after the break similar to the one against Chelsea in their league game and it’s pretty much what the travelling supporters got, but this time they couldn’t find the goal the needed.
Jane Ross was introduced for the ineffectual Nadim at half-time and the game swung even more in City’s favour when flying winger Claire Emslie was introduced for the final half an hour.
Despite a second half of constant pressure from the cup holders there was rarely a time where they massively troubled Netherlands no.1 van Veenendaal. Jill Scott’s tame header was never an issue but the best chance came in the form of a header of her own from Parris, the winger’s powerful effort straight at the goalkeeper unfortunately for City.
Georgia Stanway several times looked to recreate her stunning strike against Chelsea but once again everything City tried seemed to go straight into the arms of Arsenal’s goalkeeper.
The Gunners found themselves sitting deeper and deeper and had another great chance to equalise when Demi Stokes flashed a ball across the six-yard box, only to find none of her team mates on the end of it.
The barrage of pressure continued into four minutes of stoppage time but some resolute defending from Arsenal saw them hold on to clinch their fifth Continental Cup trophy in seven years.
“There was a lot of emotions and ups and downs. The first half we played well and in the second we had to defend strongly. There’s always a lot of emotion in cup finals and the team that deals with that wins.
“That’s seven games for us now without conceding, we’ve worked a lot on that and not just in defence but the midfield and the attack too. It’s a good base to work off and I was very happy today with our pro-active attitude in the first half.
“We just tried to cause some problems by dragging their back four into midfield and give space to our attackers, it’s what we tried to achieve and in the first half we caused them a lot of problems.
“I’ve probably held onto my job for a couple more weeks, which is great! It’s still a little bit surreal to be honest, I love Arsenal and I love football and I love being in England. At Arsenal they want to win, we went into this game as a benchmark game and tonight was a benchmark and we passed the test.”
“I don’t think we were good enough in the first half, we were too passive. We gave Arsenal too much respect and we didn’t apply the game plan. I said before the game the team which got the momentum and got hold of the game quickest would win the game.
“I’m proud of how we responded in the second half, I’m proud of how much we fought to win the cup but we just left ourselves a little bit too much to do. It’s a cliche but you have to learn from every defeat, when we’re on the front foot we normally get control of the game but we gave them too much space and time today.
“My first meeting in pre-season I said to the players it’s getting harder and harder to win every year. Clubs are going into Europe and buying the best players, we’re always going to stick to our strategy because we want the young players from England because we want to develop them and we think we can win with them.”
Arsenal (4-2-3-1): Sari van Veenendaal; Lisa Evans, Leah Williamson, Louise Quinn, Emma Mitchell; Dominique Janssen, Danielle van de Donk; Beth Mead (Heather O’Reilly, 81), Jordan Nobbs, Kim Little (Katie McCabe 89); Vivianne Miedema (Danielle Carter, 73)
Unused subs: Anna Moorhouse, Alex Scott, Lauren James, Ava Kuyken
Manchester City (4-3-3): Karen Bardsley; Abbie McManus, Steph Houghton, Jennifer Beattie, Demi Stokes; Keira Walsh, Jill Scott (Melissa Lawley 82), Izzy Christiansen (Claire Emslie, 62); Nikita Parris, Nadia Nadim (Jane Ross, 46), Georgia Stanway
Unused subs: Karen Bardsley, Mie Jans, Esme Morgan, Ella Toone
Referee: Amy Fearn