Jonas Eidevall must be sick of the sight of Emma Hayes by now. The pair will exchange pleasantries on the touchline again this weekend ahead of the Continental Cup final, and the Swede will be desperate to finally get one over on the London rivals that have caused him so much anguish over the last 18 months.
Unfortunately, Chelsea come into this final holding a magisterial aura over the Gunners. Hayes has a side full of winners at her disposal and no matter what the north Londoners do, they just can’t seem to beat the Blues. The latest example of this came just a few days ago, in the FA Cup Fifth Round.
Arsenal were, by every stretch of the imagination, the better side. They outplayed the WSL champions, had more of the ball and had 20 shots in comparison to the hosts’ seven. But they lacked the cutting edge, and thanks to goals from Sophie Ingle and Sam Kerr, Chelsea ran out 2-0 winners.
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The bluntness in front of goal is partially to be expected when you consider both Beth Mead and Vivianne Miedema are out with ACL injuries and the Gunners have scored just twice in their last four outings. It’s a problem Eidevall has to solve, as Stina Blackstenius and Caitlin Foord attempt to fill the void the two stars have left behind.
Unfortunately, there’s not much the boss can do than sit and watch. His team are well-drilled and are creating chances, but they aren’t taking them in key moments. Meanwhile, Chelsea are as ruthless as ever, with Kerr stepping up to the plate again, and Lauren James emerging as a real superstar this season. It just seems as though Chelsea have worked out a way to get the better of Arsenal - even if that doesn’t necessarily mean beating them.
In their only WSL meeting of the season, in front of over 35,000 fans at the Emirates, it looked for all the world like the Gunners would secure a vital three points in the title race. They were 1-0 up and playing superbly, as Hayes’ side struggled to get to grips with the occasion. However, when all looked lost, Kerr popped up with a last minute header to salvage a point, and give Chelsea the momentum in the title race. As it turns out, the threat for Chelsea is coming from elsewhere as Marc Skinner’s table-topping Manchester United side are in with a genuine chance of winning the league.
A team goal befitting of a #ContiCup semi-final! 👏
But this never-say-die spirit has remained at Chelsea. Since losing on the opening day in shocking circumstances to Liverpool, that draw at Arsenal has been the only time they have dropped points this term. They’ve won the other ten matches they’ve played, including an away win over Manchester United, which could prove key come the end of the season.
There’s also the small matter of the ‘Q’ word to mention. The FA Cup win kept their hopes of a quadruple alive and this weekend they try to add the first piece of that trophy quartet to their collection. They face a battle in the WSL, can win the FA Cup and face European Championship Lyon over two legs in the last eight of the Champions League. It’ll be tough, but Hayes’ side have to succeed in Europe to truly dominate the women’s game.
“For the first seven years of my time at Chelsea, this was the trophy we simply could not win,” Hayes said. “It didn’t matter how many FA Cups or BWSL titles we lifted, we couldn’t get our hands on the Continental Tyres Cup.
“Now we find ourselves in a fourth successive Final, looking to win it for a third time. In many ways, that record sums up what we’ve become as a football club. The mentality in this group is that we want to win everything. I’m not just talking about silverware, nor each game we play; it’s every single moment of every match. We want to win everything.
“Any cup final you reach is a really special day, but the most important thing to remember is that you’re playing the opponent, not the occasion.
“For us, that’s an Arsenal side who we’ve come up against on the big stage numerous times. I just have to take a look at the leaders in our group – and there are a lot of them – to know that we will approach the game in the right way.
“Chelsea versus Arsenal is always one of the biggest games in the calendar, regardless of whether there’s silverware at stake, and there’s a huge amount of respect between both sets of players and the coaching staff.”
Meanwhile Eidevall commented: “We face a very strong opponent in Chelsea. We saw how clinical they are in our FA Cup game last Sunday and though that result left us bitterly disappointed, the nature of football means there is always another game to play.
“We’re determined to bounce back strongly from that result and we come into this Final feeling ready and prepared. These games are decided by fine margins and our job is to make sure we come out on the right side of them.”
These two will go toe to toe again this weekend on the touchline, and you can’t help but feel that Chelsea may come out with silverware yet again. As things stands, they’ve cast a magic spell over Arsenal that the Gunners just cannot seem to break.