by Andrew Crawshaw
WEMBERLEE, WEMBERLEE – WE’RE THE FAMOUS ARSENAL AND WE’RE GOING TO WEMBERLEE was the cry ringing out at Borehamwood just a few minutes before the men kicked off at the Emirates.
It hadn’t looked that way an hour and a quarter earlier when Arsenal had Emma Byrne sent off for a second bookable offence but I am still getting ahead of myself.
For Pauline, my wife, and I, the planning of our journey the night before indicated a problem. Our normal journey to Elstree and Borehamwood station involves a ten minute car journey to one of our local stations, and a single change of trains in South London to pick up the Thameslink line north to Borehamwood. This weekend there were track works and no Thameslink further south than St Pancras, so a one and a quarter journey became nearer two hours. Never mind, at least we found out before we left. Kick-off was 14:00 and so we were at our other local station in time for the 11:30, then changes at London Bridge onto the Northern line, and St Pancras where the Thameslink was starting.
No problems and into Elstree and Borehamwood station at 13:00 leaving plenty of time to walk to the ground, get a couple of jumbo sausages in rolls, portion of fries and tea and coffee before the game. Not quite a Sunday Roast but not bad at all.
There was a good crowd at the match, including a number of familiar faces and voice – yes Maria was there to lead us in our support. She is really amazing and seems to make up new chants as the game progresses. Official attendance was 902, not bad on an afternoon which clashed with a first team game.
Before the match, Danielle Carter was congratulated on her nomination for young ladies player of the year and Emma Byrne for her 125th cap for Ireland.
Pedro Losa made a number of changes from the team that beat Notts County on penalties in the previous round. With the majority of our players having been away on international duty, Alex Scott and Asisat Oshoala were both given a rest, Farah Williams sat on the bench along with Kelly Smith and Leah Williamson
Sari van Veenendaal (GK), Emma Mitchell, Casey Stoney, Vicki Losada (35), Natalia (78), Jordan Nobbs, Danielle Carter, Marta Corredera (60), Jemma Rose, Dominique Janssen and Danielle van de Donk
Emma Byrne (GK), Kelly Smith (78), Leah Williamson (35), Fara Williams (60), Katy McCabe
Rachael Laws (gk), Abby Holmes, Rachel Furness (82), Stephanie Bannon, Beth Mead, Krystle Johnston (64), Brooke Chaplen, , Abbey Joice (56), Victoria Williams, Kylla Sjoman, Lucy Staniforth.
Hayley Sharp, Hilde Gunn Olsen, Emma Kelly (56), Keira Ramshaw (64) and Kelly McDougal (82).
Arsenal won the toss and kicked off. In truth nothing much happened in the first half hour, neither team being very fluent, Arsenal looking marginally the better team but Sunderland pressing well and never allowing Arsenal any time to settle into their passing rhythm.
The referee seemed to be auditioning for the PGMO, all decisions seemingly going against Arsenal, Casey Stoney picking up a booking in the opening minutes for a fairly innocuous foul. This came to a head when Emma Mitchell was (to me) harshly given a yellow card for a challenge that left an opposition player on the ground. Emma challenged for the ball with the Sunderland player coming towards her, cleanly sidefooted the ball the Sunderland player’s foot then made contact with the ball at virtually the same moment. Foot ball foot sandwich and the player went over. Yellow card given to much derision from the crowd.
A couple of minutes later a Sunderland attacker moved outside Emma and was going past her and away from goal, for some reason Emma made a little grab of her shirt and the referee eagerly siezed the opportunity to brandish a second yellow. I could see it coming and was shouting for her not to make a foul but there you are. A stupid and needless foul for such an experienced player to make.
Minute 33, score nil nil and we are down to ten players. This is going to be tricky I thought. Our Manager Pedro Losa (my outside bet to replace Arsène) decided this was the time to make a tactical substitution, Vicki Losada was sacrificed and Leah Williamson was introduced. Arsenal changed from 4, 2. 3, 1 to a 4, 4, 1 formation with Danielle Carter our lone striker.
Surprisingly Arsenal seemed to settle down and looked to have far more composure, the two banks of four denying Sunderland any space to attack. We were playing on the counter attack, Carter being supported by runners from midfield. The tactic worked with Arsenal getting the opener just before half time, Danielle van de Donk opening her tally for the season just before half time bundling the ball in from close range following a cross from the left which Sunderland failed to clear. Half time and one nil to Arsenal.
The crowd’s nerves were fully calmed within five or so minutes of the restart when a great quick counter attack saw Danielle Carter clear through the Sunderland defence to make it two nil.
The game was over as a meaningful contest in the 72nd minute when Abby Holmes could only stop another Carter break by bringing her down in the penalty area and even a PGMO referee had no choice other than to award a red card and penalty. Numbers of players even again with 18 minutes to play. Fara Williams who had replaced Marta Corredera on the hour mark stepped up and made absolutely no mistake with the spot kick. Three nil to the Arsenal and the game effectively wrapped up.
This double blow really knocked the stuffing out of Sunderland who effectively capitulated. Arsenal carving through them time and time again in the remaining part of the game. The Ladies helped themselves to goal after goal. Danielle van de Donk scored a second to make it four, minutes later Jordan Nobbs raced through for a fifth.
The crowd shouted we want six and Danielle van de Donk duly obliged in the 82nd minute. Did the Ladies rest on their laurels and just pass the ball about, well just a little but in extra time Carter was unselfishly played in by Kelly Smith and bundled the ball in for a Magnificent Seven.
To say that Pauline and I and all of the other Arsenal supporters were overjoyed was a complete understatement. I was entirely happy with my decision to support the Ladies rather than the Men.
WEMBERLEE, WEMBERLEE, We’re the famous Arsenal and we’re going to WEMBERLEE sang the crowd with gusto.
The Men may not be there this year but the Ladies are for their 15th final (13 wins and 1 loss so far). We play Chelsea who needed extra time to beat Man City two one. It will be a far tougher game but the spirit and application we showed when down to ten players will stand us in good stead.
Tickets can be bought via the main FA website www.TheFA.com/Tickets or by phone on 0844 826 2010 Adults £15, Concessions £5, Children free (up to four per adult).
The final is Saturday 14 May, the day before our last league game, and kick off is 14:00 No excuses for not being there if you are in London.
I’m still buzzing (but thenI wasn’t at the Palace game) WEMBERLEE, WEMBERLEE