Continental Cup final analysis: Victory over dominant Chelsea would not be cure-all for Arsenal – but just the first step in their journey back to top

Cup glory can give the Gunners a much-needed confidence boost but Eidevall’s side still have a long way to go to catch up with the WSL champions, writes Jessy Parker Humphreys.

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When Jonas Eidevall fell to his knees in relief and delight on the Emirates turf having beaten Chelsea in his first WSL game in charge, he surely could not have imagined that 546 days later he would still be waiting for his second win over Emma Hayes’ side.

Last weekend’s FA Cup loss extended his run to five games without a win against Chelsea. It has not quite reached the seven-match streak without a win for Arsenal that ran from the start of 2019 until that 3-2 WSL win, but there is a sense that Hayes well and truly has Arsenal’s number at this point, whoever their manager is. After all, it is only one win in 13 matches in all competitions for the Gunners.

It has also been three seasons since they won a trophy – the 2018/19 Women’s Super League. Realistically, the cup final on Sunday probably represents their last chance to make sure that run does not extend to four seasons. They are out of the FA Cup, 5 points behind Chelsea in the league, and a push for the Champions League seems unfeasible given current form.

To be fair, Hayes is still yet to beat Eidevall’s Arsenal in the league. But when it comes to cup competitions, she is now three from three. Maybe that is not so much an Eidevall problem as it is testament to the extraordinary dominance Chelsea have managed to find domestically over the past couple of seasons. Since the start of 2019/20, Chelsea have only lost twice in the domestic cups – being knocked out of the FA Cup by Everton in 2019/20 and losing last year’s Continental Cup final to Manchester City.

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Even in the league, the only direct rival they have lost to has been Arsenal in that match last September. Simply put, when it comes to domestic fixtures that truly matter, Chelsea rarely lose.

Hayes regularly refers to things like ‘winning mentality’ as part of what she inculcates within her Chelsea team. It would be churlish to ignore the tactical elements of Chelsea’s success, but it is undeniable that her side finds ways of hanging on in games where they are outplayed, or scoring from the few chances they have. In their two matches against Arsenal in 2023, Chelsea have scored three times from five shots on target. They find ways of carving teams open – and when it comes to Arsenal, rattling them.

The margins in football are incredibly small, and Chelsea’s dominance can look more impressive than perhaps it really is. After all, they only pipped Arsenal to the title by a point last season, and Manchester City by two points the season before. But when you lay it all out together, you have to ask how one team can keep coming out on top when it comes to those fine margins.

Despite Chelsea being favourites, this match is not an easy fixture for them by any stretch of the imagination. Hayes will remember all too clearly how they went into last season’s final against Manchester City expected to win and gave up a 1-0 lead to lose 3-1. With an incredibly busy March ahead of them, including WSL fixtures against both Manchester clubs, and a Champions League quarter-final, winning will take on an extra resonance.

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But Manchester City themselves might advise Arsenal that beating Chelsea in a cup final is not the panacea some might think. Whilst a victory on Sunday would undoubtedly give Arsenal a much-needed confidence boost, both with regards to playing Chelsea and with their own season, it would only be a first step to building back up to the titans of English football that they once were.

The reality is that even though every season title races and cup competitions go close, when you take a step back Chelsea have steadily amassed more than enough wins to be comfortably atop of the pile when it comes to domestic football. If Arsenal were to win the Continental Cup this season, it would not yet put them back on a level with Chelsea. They would have to prove in the future months and years that it was only just the start.

Follow Jessy on Twitter @jessyjph

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