Conti Cup Final: Arsenal v Chelsea
Arsenal reign victorious at Selhurst Park as Chelsea’s numerous changes fall short
6 March 2023
The Gunners earned their first silverware in four years despite Sam Kerr’s 90 second goal and Chelsea’s early exposure of Arsenal’s right-hand side.
It was the perfect start for Chelsea as Australian marvel Kerr inflicted early damage by nodding in Guro Reiten’s lofted delivery. Yet, even with the early lead, it felt as if Arsenal were in the driving seat from the off; comfortable on the ball, comfortable with each of their individual tasks and comfortable in their collective plan.
Stina Blackstenius netted the equaliser fifteen minutes later, finishing off a lovely piece of weaving build-up play from Frida Maanum. Blackstenius, who has struggled in front of goal recently, kept utterly cool and slunk a low strike past Ann-Katrin Berger.
The Gunners went ahead after Sophie Ingle left a leg out and brought down Katie McCabe in the eighteen-yard box. Up stepped captain and resolute penalty taker Kim Little who made little mistake in hitting the back of the net.
Emma Hayes then made an early change, replacing Jelena Cankovic with the more athletically driven Kadiesha Buchanan in attempt to contain Arsenal’s forward troupe. This shifted Chelsea to a playing a back three of Buchanan, Millie Bright and Madga Eriksson, which probably would not have been a bad move in the long run had Hayes not then gone on to flit between several more formation changes throughout the match.
Unfortunately for the Blues, this first tactical turnover was not enough to stop the Gunners getting a third before the break as Niamh Charles headed a corner into her own after Berger failed to take the control in the closing minutes of added time.
Another substitution for Chelsea at half time meant more movement on the pitch with Melanie Leupolz on for Charles. Clearly, this was an attempt to gain some control over the midfield which had been dominated by Arsenal trio Frida Maanum, Kim Little and Lia Walti. The latter two, in particular, played a spotless game.
The addition of Leupolz pushed Erin Cuthbert into a higher midfield role and pulled Lauren James in centrally to support Sam Kerr, almost as a second striker. You can see the though in it. Lauren James is typically a demon of a dribbler, weaving her way in and out of opponents with total ease. But the watchful eye of Walti and brilliance of Little neutralised James’ trickery before it left the gate. This move also meant that Chelsea’s most dangerous looking threat, Reiten, was now pulled exceptionally wide and saw little of the ball.
Throwing the kitchen sink at it by this point, Chelsea once again made substitutions, this time to overload with attacking players to stretch Arsenal defensively and use any which way to get the ball through to Kerr. This “hammer and tongs” attacking style usually works for Chelsea, especially in English competitions, but on this day could not match immaculate defending of Rafaelle Souza and Leah Williamson. The pair constantly scanned and marked to minimise space which nullified Kerr for large portions of the game.
Essentially, Hayes’ flurry of in-game tactical changes did little to settle Chelsea and instead culminated in a rather convoluted attacking load and a sparse defensive line. Opting for a whole host of formations that meant no player, minus Berger, ever really had a clear idea of what was expected of them.
In contrast, Arsenal were clear in what they wanted to achieve and they were clear in how they were going to do it. Jonas Eidevall was well prepared and ensured his players were too, the plan was well executed without a single weak link.
Arsenal held their nerve and got it right from start to finish, and were probably helped along nicely by the hoards of Gooners whose chants bellowed beyond the rafters. Dust off the cabinet, the Arsenal are back in business.
Arsenal: Zinsberger (GK), Souza, Williamson, Catley, Little (C), Maanum, Walti, McCabe (57’), Maritiz (70’), Foord, Blackstenius (87’)
Substitutes: Marckese, Wubben-Moy, Beattie (87’), Hurtig, Pelova (57’), Kuhl, Wienroither (70’)
Goals: Blackstenius 16’, Little (p) 24’, Charles (og) 45+5’
Yellows: McCabe, Foord
Chelsea: Berger (GK), Bright, Ingle (63’), James, Reiten, Perisset, Eriksson (C) (77’), Kerr, Charles (45’), Cuthbert, Cankovic (38’)
Substitutes: Musovic, Carter, Leupolz (45’), Fleming (77’), Mjelde, Rytting Kaneryd (63’), Buchanan (38’), Abdullina
Goals: Kerr 2’
Yellows: Leupolz, James