Women's FA Cup - 2018
Chelsea Ladies lifted the Women's FA Cup for the second time after a brace from Ramona Bachmann and a wonderful finish from Fran Kirby secured a convincing win over Arsenal at Wembley.
There was little to separate the sides in the first half as London’s top two clubs met in front of a competition record crowd of more than 45,000 supporters at the national stadium, but Chelsea’s two frontwomen shone after the interval as Bachmann scored twice in quick succession before Kirby sealed the deal in the 76th minute.
The first goal from Bachmann was simply sensational, as she smashed home a wonderful finish to beat Sari Van Veenendaal at the near post, and that was followed up by a deflected strike on the hour mark to put us in the ascendancy.
Although the Gunners pulled a goal back soon after, there was no stopping us; Kirby magnificently curling home a brilliant third to ensure we left Wembley with the trophy.
For the second time in two seasons, Chelsea and Arsenal met at the promised land of football for the biggest game in the English domestic season, and some sensational attacking meant on this occasion the Blues led from the front to avenge our defeat to the 14-time winners two years ago and win the cup for the second time, following on from our 2015 triumph over Notts County.
Emma Hayes named an attacking line-up for the trip to her local stadium; Jonna Andersson and Drew Spence re-joined the midfield in the only changes to the side who fought so hard in our Champions League semi-final defeat to Wolfsburg last weekend.
Spence bridged the gap between our box-to-box players and the familiar Kirby-Bachmann powerhouse up front, while Katie Chapman operated just ahead of the back three in what was her 11th FA Cup final, with Maria Thorisdottir and Eni Aluko dropping to the bench.
The advanced areas were where Arsenal manager Joe Montemurro had the toughest decisions to make. The Australian opted for Vivianne Miedema, one of four Dutch players who won Euro 2017 in the Gunners starting XI, alongside Beth Mead going forward.
Our highly-regarded assistant manager Paul Green had the honour of leading Chelsea out onto the hallowed Wembley turf, approaching the end of his fifth season with the club. It was an emotional occasion for the 41-year-old, as he was following in the footsteps of his father, the late Bill Green, who led Scunthorpe United to the Fourth Division play-off final in 1992.
Hayes, who is in the late stages of her pregnancy, watched on from the dugout, and there was little to agitate our manager during an enjoyable yet controlled start to the encounter. Bachmann came closest to an opening goal inside the first quarter of an hour, executing an outrageous turn on the edge of the penalty area and managing to nutmeg the last defender in the process, but her forceful strike flew narrowly wide of the far post.
Chelsea appeared to have the lion’s share of possession in important areas, with Hannah Blundell and Andersson given the license to charge into the rival half and practically skimming the touchline as Arsenal looked to catch us out on the counter-attack. Maren Mjelde was there to save our skin at one point with a key interception after Mead judged the bounce of a long ball just right and nearly got a clear run at Hedvig Lindahl in goal.
Chapman was chomping at the bit to press at all opportunities as the Blues looked to get on the front foot after half an hour, pushing her side much higher up the pitch. Mexican waves swirled around the ground for what would have felt like ages for the Blues defenders as the north Londoners piled on the pressure midway through the half, culminating in a great chance for Miedema in dangerous territory.
Ji So-Yun, our goalscoring hero against Notts County in 2015, pulled the strings in a deeper role than previous cup finals, regularly receiving the ball inside the centre circle and predominantly holding up play for her team-mates. She did have a great chance inside the box, though, perhaps with more power than accuracy, and was kicking herself that she didn’t hit the target.
The half-time break came and went with the two sides locked at 0-0, but we didn't have to wait until long after the break for the opener to arrive. It was Ji who set the breakthrough move in motion three minutes after the restart. The diminutive playmaker set up Bachmann for a one-two with Kirby before our Swiss superstar found a yard of space and pulled off an unstoppable finish into the top right corner. What composure from our centre-forward on the biggest stage! The 27-year-old had never even visited Wembley until this week but her whole family were in the crowd to relish this occasion.
Jubilant chants of ‘Chelsea, Chelsea’ were still ringing through the West Stand celebrating the first goal when Bachmann was back to double our lead on the hour mark. Our No23 once again created an opening out of nothing when she picked up the ball on the right touchline, cutting inside and firing a left-footed shot which was deflected into the back of the net. On the Blues bench, even Hayes could not help jumping up to her feet in joy.
However, any thoughts of a straightforward stroll to the title quickly went out the window, as Arsenal quickly, albeit briefly, got back in the game after pulling a goal back through Miedema. Mead, the standout attacker for the north Londoners, freed herself on the left flank and headed for the byline, then flicked the ball back to the Dutchwoman, who tucked home a left-footed strike which left Lindahl with no chance. It seemed as though more work would be required from Mjelde, Millie Bright, Magdalena Eriksson and the rest of the Blues defence as the game headed towards a thrilling finale.
It was the first goal Chelsea had conceded in the Women's FA Cup this term, scoring 21 goals over our first four ties as we produced rip-roaring displays to see off London Bees and Doncaster Rovers Belles before we beat two of our biggest WSL1 rivals, Liverpool and Man City. And the concession simply spurred us back into action in the attacking third.
As always, Super Fran Kirby was on hand with a fabulous finish less than three minutes later to restore our two-goal advantage. The Blues top scorer collected a pass from Blundell inside the box, shifted the ball onto her feet and curled a perfect left-footed shot past Sari van Veenendaal, bagging her 23rd goal of the campaign and by far the most decisive yet!
Although her strike partner did more than enough to deserve the Player of the Match prize for the final, our fleet-footed forward showed exactly why she has been named the PFA and Football Writers’ Women’s Player of the Year. The trophy-clinching goal took her FA Cup tally to six goals, including a crucial brace against Man City in the semi-final in Kingston.
The Blues showed superb know-how in closing out the cup tie as the Gunners had a couple of last rolls of the dice, but Erin Cuthbert and Eniola Aluko, who had combined so well to see us through earlier rounds, came on and did a brilliant job to ensure we brought home the cup, which Chapman proudly went up to lift for the 10th time in her 21-year career.
Having reached the semi-final stage in the Champions League and Continental Tyres Cup this campaign before getting our hands on the Wembley silverware, Chelsea are still hoping to make it a Double with four games to go in the WSL 1. The FA Cup party will be put on hold when we welcome Birmingham City to Kingsmeadow on Wednesday night (7pm KO), with our closest title challengers Manchester City travelling to Liverpool the night before. Our final home game of the season is against Sunderland next Saturday (7.45pm KO).
In the meantime, though, what better way to begin the Bank Holiday weekend! Chelsea Ladies are Women's FA Cup winners again. How good does that sound?
Arsenal (4-1-2-3) Van Veenendaal; Evans (Carter 84), Williamson, Quinn, Mitchell (McCabe 84); Janssen (O’Reilly 63); Van de Donk, Little (c); Nobbs, Miedema, Mead
Unused subs Moorhouse, Samuelsson
Scorer Miedema 73
Booked Jannssen 39
Chelsea (3-4-1-2) Lindahl; Bright, Mjelde, Eriksson; Blundell, Ji, Chapman (c), Andersson (Thorisdottir 69); Spence (Cuthbert 75); Kirby, Bachmann (Aluko 85)
Unused subs Telford, Flaherty
Scorers Bachmann 48, 60, Kirby 76
Referee Lindsey Robinson