Two goals from Ramona Bachmann and an unerring strike from the PFA Women’s Player of The Year, Fran Kirby, sealed Chelsea’s first silverware of the season – their second ever FA Cup trophy – and, significantly, exorcised the demons of 2016. That day Chelsea were beaten by a Danielle Carter goal in this very arena, to concede the trophy to rivals Arsenal in an encounter manager Emma Hayes had admitted her side “had not turned up for”.
Hayes, who is currently 33-weeks pregnant with twins, was determined to not oversee a repeat of such a disappointment. She was not let down by her gallant stars in the second-half, who took the game to Arsenal in a dominant 45-minute spell where there only appeared to be one likely winner of the 2018 Women’s FA Cup trophy.
This trophy is the first of a potential double for Hayes’ Chelsea before the season end, with just four games remaining of the Women’s Super League campaign the West Londoners trail Man City on goal difference.
Conversely, for Arsenal, the defeat is a blot on their outstanding FA Cup record of 14 wins from 16 finals.
The first half had a somewhat untidy and subdued pattern to the occasion, with both sides showing evident signs of fatigue. Arsenal had suffered their first defeat in 14 games at Birmingham last Sunday, whilst Chelsea, still unbeaten in the league, had missed out on a Champions League final place after a 5-1 defeat on aggregate by Wolfsburg on the same day.
Arsenal were, at least, able to boast a couple of openings in a fairly uneventful first quarter of the game. Both Beth Mead and Jordan Nobbs had threaded teasing balls into the Chelsea box within minutes of each other, but both were swiftly dealt with by a Blues defender before they could fall to a Gunners shirt.
Chelsea responded via their star in the spotlight, Kirby twice in succession collecting the ball on the left and slaloming with intent into Arsenal’s box only for her final ball to disappoint on both occasions.
The 2015 champions began to assert their dominance shortly before half-time, showing the greater potency in possession, despite a recurrent lack of a quality final ball. Kirby unleashed a tame shot at Arsenal goalkeeper Sari van Veenendaal whilst midfielders Ji So-Yun and Bachmann exchanged promising combinations on multiple occasions- indeed, just a minute before the half-time whistle, Swiss midfielder Bachmann played through Ji, only for the South Korean to blast over the bar.
Chelsea emerged emboldened after the interval and opened the scoring only three minutes into the second half. Bachmann and Ji once again exchanged passes via Kirby, who in return laid the ball off to the 27-year old Swiss midfielder, who made no mistake in larruping a strike in the top corner.
Bachmann was once again at the heart of things on the hour mark, to put Chelsea in firm control of the Cup final, bamboozling the Gunners’ defence with assured close control on a jinking run into the corner of Arsenal’s penalty area, only to then unleash a left-footed shot that deflected off Leah Williamson and over Van Veenendaal.
However, any hope Arsenal had of mounting a comeback were swept away only minutes later. The mesmeric Kirby, who was growing in confidence throughout the game with considerable élan, showed her worth as she quickly swivelled on the edge of Arsenal’s box, displaying a turn of pace as she moved past Louise Quinn to fire an exquisite effort into the far corner to notch her sixth FA Cup goal and to seal the trophy for the Blues.
Emma Hayes expressed her sincere satisfaction with her players’ performance after the game.
“This is more enjoyable than the first time around [2015’s victory] because that was such a dominant performance from us. The quality of the goals showed the difference between the two sides. The last thing I needed was something too nervy and that was the most relaxed I’ve felt in a final in my entire career”.
Given that Hayes stayed in the dugout, seated, upon health advice for the entirety of the match, she can indeed be grateful her players delivered a first-class performance to render her unneeded in the technical area.
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