Chelsea launched our defence of the Continental Tyres Cup with a 4-1 win against Arsenal in a high-tempo, highly entertaining derby at Kingsmeadow.
One of the most frequently contested fixtures in women’s top-flight football offered its characteristic level of excitement – with four goals coming inside the first quarter of an hour – as a towering header by Magdalena Eriksson, a brilliant brace from Guro Reiten and a landmark 50th Chelsea goal for Bethany England ensured the defending League Cup champions came out on top against the early Women’s Super League leaders.The new-look Conti Cup got off to a blistering start under the west London lights when Eriksson sharply turned the ball in from the opening corner of the game, before Chelsea’s lead was instantly blunted by Arsenal’s Caitlin Foord, only for Guro Reiten to reinstate and extend it, with still only 15 minutes on the clock.Following a flood of attacking football in which nearly every chance ended up as a goal, the hosts eventually asserted our superiority over the Gunners’ possession play and dominated the match, just as we did in last season’s final against the same opposition. We take this victory into our league showdown with Manchester City on Sunday of this busy week.
With the largest squad in the WSL at her disposal and three fixtures in quick succession to negotiate, it was no surprise that Emma Hayes opted to rotate. It was an extra special night for England youth international Niamh Charles, who made her full debut for the club. Alongside her, Pernille Harder had her first taste of Conti Cup action, as part of a refreshed front four, spearheaded by Sam Kerr, supported by Reiten. However, the Chelsea defence had a more familiar feel, the experienced Carly Telford coming back in between the posts, behind our now regular back four of Maria Thorisdottir, Millie Bright, our skipper Eriksson and Jonna Andersson.
Hayes’s opposite number, Joe Montemurro, also made changes to his usual league line-up, some of those enforced. The Gunners were without vice-captain Jordan Nobbs, who limped off with cramp at the weekend, as well as their captain Kim Little, still yet to recover fully after leaving the field last month with a thigh injury. Overall, there were four alterations to their team that beat Bristol City 3-1 on Sunday, their third win out of three so far in the WSL, with former Bayern Munich right-back Leonie Maier making her full debut.With the stands still empty, the atmosphere was a shadow of the usual showdowns between the sides, but from Kingsmeadow to Meadow Park or Wembley – the two biggest clubs in the capital were clearly still stirred by the occasion.The hosts set the attacking standard straight from kick-off, gradually driving our way up the pitch then opening the scoring and unleashing the chaos. Five minutes in, Thorisdottir had a corner and it was her Scandinavian colleague Eriksson who rose highest, powering home a header from eight yards out. The defending wasn’t perfect, but the defender’s sharpness so early on was impressive.
However, Arsenal’s attackers were also alert. The visitors were level within less than three minutes after pacey Australian Caitlin Foord cut neatly inside and placed a lofted strike comfortably beyond Telford into the top-right corner. They were level for only a matter of moments, though, before Thorisdottir found Reiten on the edge of the box and her Norwegian colleague directed the ball into the far bottom corner with an acrobatic first touch. Thorisdottir already had her second assist of the night, while Reiten managed to maintain her remarkable average of a goal every game for Chelsea.The Blues momentarily looked in trouble again soon afterwards, as Vivianne Miedema stormed through on goal, but Telford stepped up and stood up to the striker with a brave save from close range. Next there was almost a mirror image of that move at the other end when Kerr was played in through the middle – except that, this time, the rebound fell to Reiten, who smashed it home. We were still only 15 minutes into the encounter.
Chelsea worked hard to keep up the attacking pressure, like we did in February’s cup final, where we were rewarded with a late Beth England winner. Typically, though, as soon as it started to seem like everything was going to be a goal, nothing was. In the remainder of the first period the Gunners did come closest with a free-kick on the half-hour mark.There was a much-improved second half from the visitors, as they continued to threaten from set pieces. Danielle van de Donk forced another superb save from Telford as she turned a curling free-kick around the post.Hayes demonstrated the depth of our attacking talent by introducing Fran Kirby and Erin Cuthbert on the hour mark. It could have been four when Kerr almost got on the end of Harder’s lovely aerial ball on the right-hand side but was beaten by an unfortunate bounce.
The Blues were back in the ascendancy, as the forwards, including Harder, worked harder, winning back possession deep in Arsenal’s half and finding Cuthbert in space on the edge of the box. The Scot turned and fired a low effort, which clattered – almost shattered – the post.England entered the fray as the rain started to fall with 15 minutes remaining and would have scored straight away, had it not been for a superb double save by Zinsberger. Our Player of the Year’s luck was in moments later, however, as she stormed in on goal and powered in her 50th Chelsea goal, sealing a win which could provide a vital psychological advantage going into the rest of the campaign.
Three points also helps Chelsea in Group B, which also includes our near-neighbours Tottenham Hotspur and London City Lionesses. Teams will only play each other once in this year’s group stage, and only the group winners, along with the top two among the six group runners-up, will progress to the quarter-finals.Our next Conti Cup fixture is scheduled for the evening of Wednesday 4 November against Spurs. This will also be a 7pm kick-off at Kingsmeadow. We will then head east to Dartford to face London City Lionesses on Wednesday 18 November, in a 7.30pm kick-off.Before then, another big game follows when we host Man City in the WSL on Sunday afternoon. The mouth-watering encounter will be live on BT Sport at 2.30pm.
Chelsea (4-2-3-1) Telford; Thorisdottir, Bright, Eriksson (c), Andersson; Ingle, Ji; Charles (Cuthbert 58), Harder (J. Fleming 90), Reiten (Kirby 58); Kerr (England 74)Unused subs Berger, Blundell, Mjelde, Leupolz, C. FlemingScorers Eriksson 5, Reiten 10, 15, England 90Booked Ingle
Arsenal Zinsberger, Maier, Wubben-Moy, Beattie, Maritz, Gut, Walti, Van de Donk (Williamson 78), Mead (McCabe 78), Miedema, Foord (Mace 84)Unused subs Schnaderbeck, StensonScorer Foord 8
Referee Scott Jackson