by Jon Preston
A word of introduction – These are the thoughts of my Son, Jon who accompanied me (Andrew Crawshaw) to the game.
As FA Cup finals go, today’s was unusual. Carried over from last season, I found myself at Wembley in December to watch Arsenal against Chelsea, a traditionalist’s tie if ever there was one. I remember ‘blue versus red’ from my childhood, but this was a very modern affair. Twenty-two women on the hallowed turf under the Wembley Arch, 50 years on from the first Ladies’ FA Cup Final. And Arsenal fielding one of the best female players in the world. What could possibly go wrong?
After the obligatory fire-jets and the national anthem from the military band, Chelsea came flying out of the blocks. Rugged and resolute, they pressed immediately and within a couple of minutes the impressive Fran Kirby had scored for them. Arsenal were rattled and Chelsea took full advantage. Leading the attack was Sam Kerr. She gave the Arsenal defence a torrid time, bearing down on them with disturbing regularity, and distributing the ball left or right as she wished. It was looking like the Arsenal men’s team in our Champions’ League heyday, attackers fanning out like the Red Arrows, only here they were Blue. It was only due to the mastery of Gunners’ keeper Zinsberger that we went in just one down for half-time. I, for one, was wishing for an unusually robust team talk from manager Jonas Eidevall.
Arsenal had more purpose and more shape after the break. The defence seemed more coherent, marshalled by Lottie Wubben-Moy, and we started to use the wings more effectively. Katie McCabe made a number of promising runs and got the ball into the box a few times but, in truth, there was something missing in the execution. That would be Vivianne Miedema. Her reputation preceding, I expected much from this Arsenal Women’s talisman. However, Chelsea clearly had other ideas for her today. She was tightly marked throughout, only managing to free herself occasionally. There were signs of what she does in the odd flick and the odd turn, but this was an unusually quiet day for this striking playmaker, courtesy of her Blue shackles.
Meantime, every Chelsea attack made me nervous. They were actually playing on the break, but oh so effectively. And they were still being led by Sam Kerr. Her first goal was a low drive past the keeper. Her second an exquisite chip, leaving Zinsberger staring at the open roof of the New Wembley. It was a goal to grace all this stadium has seen. And it was no more than this industrious, well-drilled Chelsea side deserved. There were whispers that Arsenal might manage a consolation goal but to no avail. A slew of substitutes from either side towards the end changed nothing and the final whistle blew to a Chelsea victory. Of the 40,000 present the Blue end went crazy, the Red end didn’t.
It was unusual for me to watch the Arsenal Women. Indeed, it was my first live match. I am slightly late to this particular party. We’re clearly a very good side, even on today’s evidence. We seem to play a silky style of football compared to Chelsea’s more combative approach, and today they were just too strong for us. We play Barcelona next Thursday. Apparently, they are the best Women’s team in the world. Arsenal have history with Barcelona. I think our Women will be smarting from today. They’ve got something to prove. Beat Barcelona? Unusual perhaps, but not impossible.
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