Having beaten Arsenal 2-0 in the FA Cup last weekend, many thought the Continental Cup would be another straightforward affair for Chelsea and Emma Hayes. The club were in contention to win the unprecedented quadruple, but that ambitious dream has now come to an end after Arsenal deservedly secured a 3-1 win in the final.
Over 19,000 were in attendance at Selhurst Park to watch the entertaining showpiece, in which Sam Kerr’s early opener became a mere footnote after goals from Stina Blackstenius, Kim Little and an own goal from Niamh Charles. It marked Arsenal’s sixth triumph in the competition against a side who have won two and appeared in the last four finals.
Emma Hayes and Chelsea have also won the last three Women's Super League titles, pipping the Gunners to the league crown by just one point last season. Perhaps it is slight jealousy from fans of Jonas Eidevall’s side, but the Chelsea manager’s post-match comments were not taken in the best light from those of a red persuasion.
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"We've won so much in recent years and they've won very little,” Hayes said after the defeat. “Today was a reminder of all the work you have to do to stay on top. I thought their hunger and desire in the duels was at a much better intensity than ours. The best team won, there is no doubt about that whatsoever.
"I'm disappointed with us. At the end of the day you have to win your battles and we didn't do that. "I think there was complacency in the performance. They wanted it more than we did. But congratulations to Arsenal. I thought they were by far and away the better side."
It is the first sentence of this comment that has irked Arsenal fans. So much so that social media was awash with people calling out Hayes for being ‘bitter’ or ‘a sore loser’. The official Arsenal Twitter account even posted a picture of the trophy lift with the image description ‘The Arsenal, we’ve won a lot’. A clear and direct retort to the Chelsea manager.
But what Hayes said was correct. In the last three-and-a-half seasons, Chelsea have won eight trophies in comparison to Arsenal’s recently-acquired one. In the last few years, the Gunners have won very little. In their history, they’ve won the league 15 times and the FA Cup 14 times - far clear of any other side, but the majority of that success came before the women’s game turned professional.
On a day when they can truly celebrate their first trophy since 2019, instead a section of fans chose to take a pop at Hayes, despite her clearly gracious comments. She gave credit to Arsenal by congratulating them and stating they were the better team in the final, although that praise seems to have disappeared off the radar for some.
These comments in isolation seem perfectly passable, but there has been a bit of needle and rivalry developing, not just between the two teams, but the two elite level managers in recent years. Eidevall has made a big impact on the WSL in his short time here, and after the WSL title win last term Hayes couldn’t resist a slight gloat.
“I think any rivalry is healthy, I welcome it, I like the competition, it improves me as a coach and I think Jonas has been an amazing addition to the league this year. But I’m absolutely delighted he’s sitting at home empty-handed today!”
Hayes and Eidevall are both brilliant for the game. Football needs rivalries not just between players and teams, but on the touchline as well. The women’s game has come on leaps and bounds over the last decade - but it has always been a bit too nice. Now there’s genuine needle developing between two of the giants, the storyline becomes ever richer.