Emma Hayes believes Arsenal will put up a real fight to defend their Continental Tyres League Cup title when the two London sides meet in Nottingham in this year’s final on Saturday.
The Chelsea Women manager was speaking at a press conference at Cobham to preview the first final of the season, where victory would secure the one domestic trophy the Blues have yet to lift. However, despite beating the Gunners twice already this campaign, Hayes expects Arsenal to up their game for this showpiece occasion at the City Ground.
‘This is Arsenal’s trophy,’ she said. ‘It’s the one they’ve won the most in recent years, the one they’ve dominated, the one they won’t let go of easily so I expect a fight.
‘It will be an aggressive Arsenal performance because they will defend that title with all their might. They have quality even with injuries so it will be a much tougher game than the league match at Boreham Wood earlier in the season.
‘I think they will come out all guns blazing and be aggressive. They’ll look to play to their strengths, to play around us, and when they’re at their best they’ve shown they’re one of the top teams in Europe. I’m expecting to see a strong performance from Arsenal so we have to be ready for that.’
Hayes reported a clean bill of health for her squad ahead of the final…
‘We’ve got all players back in training so I’ve got a fit and healthy squad going into the weekend. I thought the day off earlier in the week was good for the players to get fresh.
‘This chunk from Christmas to now is quite a long stretch so keeping your freshness is crucial. We’ve looked nice and fresh in training so everyone is really looking forward to the weekend.
‘We’ve got a great freshness on the bench and that freshness will add more and more so whether I consider a fresh approach for Saturday, I’ll contemplate that later in the week but I certainly have the options to change things up.’
The Blues were involved in a 3-3 thriller away at Man City at the weekend that leaves the WSL intriguingly poised…
‘You go into games thinking they’re going to be one thing and then they turn out to be completely different. It was a credit to both teams because they both really wanted it. I thought it was a great advert for the game and everybody told me that as well.
‘It’s a point gained for us in the grand scheme of things because it will go to wire for the title race. I’d rather be in our position than one that doesn’t have that control.’
The boss also reflected on her team’s journey to this stage of the competition…
‘Getting to this final has been our challenge because we know you can’t win something you’re not in. We haven’t been able to make it here before so that jump at Man United [in the semi-final] was so important psychologically for us as a team, to get to a point where you can compete for the trophy.
‘It’s the first one of the domestic campaign and it would be nice to go into the international break with our first Conti Cup title, our first trophy of the season. I know for our environment that this is one we really want to win.’
Tickets for the final are still available to purchase online and on the gate on matchday, priced at £10 for adults and £1 for concessions. The game will also be shown live on BT Sport 1. Kick-off is 5.30pm.