Katie McCabe’s Arsenal swatted aside by Chelsea in FA Cup final

Fran Kirby and Sam Kerr star to earn Blues delayed domestic treble at a busy Wembley

Chelsea players celebrate their FA Cup win. Photograph:  Alex Pantling/Getty Images

Chelsea players celebrate their FA Cup win. Photograph: Alex Pantling/Getty Images

 

Arsenal 0 Chelsea 3

Chelsea delivered a tactical masterclass and ruthlessly ripped apart league leaders Arsenal to lift last season’s FA Cup with a 3-0 win in front of a buoyant Wembley crowd.

Fran Kirby was utterly unplayable as the Blues earned their delayed domestic treble for the 2020-21 season. The England forward gave Chelsea an early lead but the team failed to capitalise on their complete dominance until Sam Kerr delivered the fatal blow, scoring twice in the second half.

There was hope that this would be an occasion worthy of the heaving crowd of 40,942 and the poignant 100th anniversary of the crushing ban of women’s football from FA affiliated grounds. However, the meeting of the league leaders and WSL title holders provided a show that saw its curtain close almost as quickly as it was raised, with rampant Chelsea forcing an Arsenal collapse in a week that could come to define their season. They now have a visiting Barcelona at the Emirates to come on Thursday.

In fairness, the third-minute opener was staggeringly unlucky. Life-long Arsenal fan Lotte Wubben-Moy flicked her interception up and it bounced off an on-hand Frida Maanum right into the path of Kirby who raced through the middle and side-footed low past Austrian goalkeeper Manuela Zinsberger into the corner.

If there was a heavy dollop of misfortune in the manner of the concession, the Gunners, the team with the most FA Cup wins in history with 14, rode their luck for the rest of the first half with Zinsberger very much responsible for keeping the margin narrow. Time and time again the Arsenal defence wilted under the pressure of Kirby and Kerr.

With stalwart centre-back Leah Williamson absent through injury, Wubben-Moy partnered Jen Beattie, herself having returned from injury, but the pair were pulled apart with ease, with fullbacks Noelle Maritz and Steph Catley repeatedly failing to provide support for the over-run duo.

Zinsberger did well to save from Kerr, after the forward collected a flick from Kirby on seven minutes. Again, 10 minutes later, after Beattie headed the ball directly at Olympic champion Jessie Fleming who picked out Kerr, Zinsberger was in action again to push away the Australian’s effort, who was subsequently flagged offside.

With their next advance Chelsea perhaps should have had a penalty. Kerr collected a long ball over the top but was sent flying by Beattie, Kirby lashed the loose ball goalwards but Zinsberger pushed the close-range effort onto the post.

Emma Hayes’ Chelsea team lined up with the back three of Jess Carter, Magdalena Eriksson and Millie Bright that has increasingly settled into the new formation as the season has worn on. However, whenever Arsenal were in possession the versatile Erin Cuthbert, playing on the right side of the midfield, would fall in line alongside the centre-back trio, tasked with stifling the similarly terrier-like Katie McCabe. It was a hugely effective tactic, cutting off width that Arsenal had exploited in the Women’s Super League opener between the title rivals back in September and giving them the extra body in the middle when piling forward.

Zinsberger, who did well in England’s 1-0 defeat of Austria in the international break, would be needed twice more before the half was out, first pushing around the post as Kirby attempted to pop it into the bottom corner from the edge of the box, then putting off Kerr just enough for the forward to crack her effort off the bar having won a race with Wubben-Moy.

Arsenal had a penalty shout of their own waved away to level up the bad calls, with the ball deflecting off of Cuthbert’s arm as she slid in to tackle England forward Beth Mead.

The half-time whistle could not have come soon enough for the battered Gunners, with manager Jonas Eidevall’s side heavily flattered by the 1-0 scoreline. Having spent much of the season dominating, fluid and pressing high when out of possession, the Arsenal players looked like they barely knew each other.

After the break Chelsea seemed happy to let Arsenal have the ball and if the blue sign held up by Eidevall aimed to change things it was unclear what and Chelsea would double their lead just before the hour.

At what felt like the 100th time of asking, Kerr beat Wubben-Moy to a long ball from Kirby, cut inside and fired in at the near post to quell hopes of a fightback from the Reds and dampen the atmosphere, which became as tepid as Arsenal’s attempted forays forward.

Throwing caution to the wind, Eidevall swapped defensive midfielder Lia Wälti and Beattie for forwards Nikita Parris and Caitlin Foord but it only sowed confusion among the disjointed red shirts and instead Chelsea extended their lead, as Kerr clipped the ball delightfully over Zinsberger with 13 minutes remaining to deliver the final blow. - Guardian

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