Chelsea Women will meet Manchester City in the Women’s FA Cup final at Wembley after brilliant goals from Guro Reiten and Ji So-Yun were enough to see off Arsenal in the last four.
This was a meeting between the top two clubs in the Women’s Super League, separated by just a point as we enter the run-in, but unlike in the men’s FA Cup, semi-finals in this competition are not played at a neutral venue and the Gunners had home advantage.
They perhaps edged the first half of an intriguing contest in which neither side managed to properly test either keeper, but after the break the Blues stepped it up a notch and we produced a performance that wasn’t far off the majestic display in December when we had thrashed Arsenal in the 2020/21 FA Cup final.
Our opener came from Guro Reiten, who has really stepped up as a major goal threat in the early months of 2022, and it was another spectacular effort with her left boot. The home team’s defence may have given her too much time and space to pick her spot from outside the box, but her curling strike from the best part of 25 yards was of the highest order.
From that moment on, it was nearly all Chelsea, and we deservedly extended our advantage 10 minutes later through Ji So-Yun. The Gunners defence didn’t cover themselves in glory with this one either, as it was a rushed clearance that dropped to our No.10 on the edge of the box, and she rattled in a thunderous effort that found the back of the net via a touch off the crossbar.
Since our opening-day defeat to Arsenal we’ve now beaten them in an FA Cup final and semi-final, as well as drawing a league game at Kingsmeadow, and attention now turns to making sure we get the better of them in the WSL title race.
After that is decided, we can then focus on a second FA Cup final in six months, as we take on Manchester City at Wembley Stadium on 15 May. It’s a repeat of March’s Continental League Cup final and a chance for us to retain the trophy for the first time in our history.
The scheduling of this contest directly after an international break was far from ideal for both managers, but Emma Hayes retained the bulk of the starting XI which comfortably saw off Reading in our last WSL game. She made just three changes, as Zecira Musovic, captain Magdalena Eriksson and Jessie Fleming made way for Ann-Katrin Berger, Niamh Charles and Ji.
It was a fairly fluid system deployed by Hayes for this one, as a back four out of possession quickly became a three in possession. Charles therefore had plenty of attacking licence down the right-hand side, with Millie Bright and Aniek Nouwen playing inside of her and left-back Jess Carter regularly shifting across to centre-back. Likewise, in midfield there was plenty of interchanging between Erin Cuthbert, Sophie Ingle, Ji So-Yun and Reiten, while in-form attacking duo Bethany England and Sam Kerr led the line.
Although the Blues looked comfortable on the ball during the early exchanges, despite Arsenal’s intent to engage with our back line as early as possible, the Gunners were able to find the occasional moment of joy in the attacking third, albeit without testing Berger.
There was one moment of concern after 13 minutes when Stina Blackstenius got clear down the left, but she seemed to be caught between whether to shoot or square it for Vivianne Miedema, and her weak pass was easily cleared by a relieved Chelsea defence.
Despite this being an away game, the travelling Blues contingent were in fine voice throughout, and they could be heard belting out a rendition of ‘Super Fran’ in support of our unfit forward, who Hayes revealed will be unavailable for selection for the foreseeable future.
In her absence, the attacking threat was coming from Kerr and England, both of whom were looking to get in behind the Arsenal defence at every opportunity, whether the passes were coming from deep or further up the pitch. For the first half an hour, save for a long-distance effort by England, such chances were proving hard to come by. Those with a fondness for a cliché might have said they were feeding on scraps.
As the half edged towards a conclusion we almost found a way through courtesy of Charles, who cut inside onto her left foot and fired in a low shot, but Zinsberger got down well to make the save. Sloppy passing out from the back almost let in both Cuthbert and Kerr, but the Gunners defence recovered well on both occasions to ensure the two sides went in level at the break.
Neither manager made any changes at the interval, but there was very nearly a change to the scoreline just three minutes into the second half, as Catley picked out Beth Mead inside the box and the Arsenal No.9 fizzed in a low shot that missed the far corner by a matter of inches. It was undoubtedly the closest either side had come to finding the back of the net – that is, until a moment of genius from Reiten.
The Norwegian international was allowed to bring the ball deep into Arsenal territory, with defenders backing off to cover the runners swarming either side of her, and we all know she doesn’t need a second invitation to have a pop with her left foot. Although she was the best part of 25 yards out, Reiten didn’t opt for power, as she curled a wonderful effort past the despairing dive of Zinsberger and into the far corner. Something special was needed to open the scoring in this cagey contest and that’s exactly what we got.
We almost extended our lead a few minutes later when England burst clear and lashed a low shot that almost caught out Zinsberger at her near post, only for the Gunners keeper to brilliantly turn it behind. It proved to be only a temporary reprieve, though, as we went 2-0 up on the hour.
After the opener our passing and pressing had stepped up a notch, and it was Kerr doing the latter which hurried Arsenal into a clearance that landed at the feet of Ji on the edge of the box. She took one touch to shift it past Walti before hammering a shot in off the crossbar. As with Reiten’s effort, it was oozing with class.
The home side’s defenders were now at sixes and sevens, struggling to keep up with the relentless Chelsea attackers lining up to take them on as we threatened time and time again on the counter. Reiten almost had a second, forcing Zinsberger into a fine save with a low shot that was curling into the bottom corner.
Kerr made way for Pernille Harder soon after, while Arsenal made three changes of their own either side of our second goal, and then Hayes added the fresh legs of Fleming in place of Ji. With 10 minutes to go the sting had been taken out of the game, and it was all about seeing this out to reach our second trip to Wembley of the season.
England nearly put the icing on the cake with a blockbuster strike, following an outrageous first touch, that flew inches wide of the top corner. But the story of the game was perhaps summed up best in the final minute of regulation time when Parris headed wide. Arsenal had failed to have even one shot on target, while the stadium announcer revealed the fans’ choice of their Player of the Match: goalkeeper Zinsberger.
Chelsea had been outstanding and our reward comes in a month's time with another trip to Wembley Stadium, as we look to win the FA Cup for the fourth time. Initial ticket info is here
The games against north London clubs continue to come thick and fast. Next Sunday we meet Tottenham Hotspur away from home, before welcoming them to Kingsmeadow a few days later on Thursday 28 April. Tickets for the latter fixture are on sale now – click here to buy yours now!
Arsenal (4-2-1-3) Zinsberger; McCabe, Williamson, Wubben-Moy, Catley; Little (c), Walti (Maanum 64); Miedema; Mead, Blackstenius (Parris 71), Foord (Heath 71)
Unused subs Williams, Beattie, Nobbs, Maritz, Williams, Iwabuchi, Wienroither
Booked Mead 47
Chelsea (4-1-3-2) Berger; Charles, Bright (c), Nouwen, Carter; Ingle; Cuthbert, Ji (Fleming 79), Reiten; Kerr (Harder 72), England
Unused subs Musovic, Eriksson, Mjelde, Spence, Andersson, Abdullina
Scorers Reiten 50, Ji 61
Booked Cuthbert 65
Referee Rebecca Welch