There was a sense of deja vu in Arsenal’s comeback from an early goal, with the Gunners defeating Chelsea to lift the Continental League Cup in front of 19,010 fans at Selhurst Park.
The men’s team had conceded in 9.11 seconds at the Emirates Stadium in the Premier League on Saturday and it took Sam Kerr 98 seconds to put the Gunners behind yesterday.
In front of the Chelsea owner, Todd Boehly, and Arsenal’s chief executive, Vinai Venkatesham, the Gunners embarked on a remarkable comeback, with a goal from Stina Blackstenius, Kim Little’s penalty and a Niamh Charles own goal earning victory in the first half.
There was elation at the full‑time whistle, with images of Ian Wright’s celebrations in the dressing room with the players reminiscent of his viral antics after Reiss Nelson’s winner the day before.
Arsenal’s manager, Jonas Eidevall, had said that despite Kerr’s strike in Chelsea’s 2-0 defeat of the Gunners in the FA Cup seven days prior, he had been pleased with how much his side had limited the striker. “For most parts of the game we were doing a really good job and it’s about continuing to do that and doing it until perfection this time,” he said before the final.
Kerr ended any hope of perfection in the second minute. An Arsenal clearance fell to Erin Cuthbert and the midfielder sent it wide to Guro Reiten who whipped a cross towards the back post for Kerr to head in.
Perfection off the table, Arsenal had to dig deep early on. They were urged on by a dominant Arsenal crowd, still buoyed by the elation of Saturday’s late recovery by the men’s team that provided the roadmap for a turnaround whatever the scenario.
“When you look at the last decade, Arsenal has not been the leading club,” said Eidevall. “Historically it has been. There is, of course, ambition for the club to go back and regain that position in women’s football. The [Chelsea goal] was a real test of character and I think we handled it brilliantly. If any team wants to win things then you need to handle difficult moments.”
Arsenal’s record against Chelsea though, was poor. Eidevall’s side has failed to beat Chelsea in five attempts, suffering three defeats and two draws prior to the final. Their last victory came on the opening day of the 2021-22 season, which was the manager’s first league game following his appointment.
While Arsenal dominated possession and created chances much in the way they had the preceding week, there was a different energy to the side, a doggedness and, critically, they were far more clinical. It took just 15 minutes for the team in red to draw level, with Frida Maanum’s stray pass under pressure from Kerr, deflecting fortuitously off the back of Magda Eriksson’s heals into the path of her compatriot Blackstenius and the forward swept a low effort into the far corner.
The men’s team had to wait until the 97th minute to take the lead against Bournemouth and keep their title challenge on track. At the home of Crystal Palace, the nerves of the Arsenal fans were eased far sooner. Sophie Ingle tangled with Katie McCabe just inside the box and Little converted from the spot, sending Ann-Katrin Berger the wrong way and firing low to the keeper’s right.
It was all Arsenal and at the back Rafaelle Souza and Leah Williamson were excellent at limiting opportunities for the Chelsea forwards Kerr and Lauren James.
Emma Hayes felt the need to change things before the end of the first half, switching to a back three with Kadeisha Buchanan coming on in place of Jelana Cankovic to line up with Eriksson and Millie Bright.
Deep into stoppage time at the end of the half Arsenal extended their lead, with Charles heading the ball into the back of her own net under pressure from Rafaelle after a Steph Catley corner.
If the Arsenal players were fuelled by a desire for a first trophy since their title win in 2018-19, then the muted response of Chelsea perhaps displayed the complacency that can set in when you are serial winners.
A disappointed Hayes echoed those thoughts after the game. “We looked like a team that won a lot and they hadn’t,” she said. “Sometimes losing games like this serves as a reminder of all the work you have to do to stay on top.
“We scored early, we were comfortable for 10 minutes, then as soon as Arsenal got the equaliser momentum shifted. They were significantly hungrier than my team.”
The second half lacked the energy of the first but still Arsenal poured forward, Chelsea reverting to a back four with Melanie Leupolz on for Charles at half-time.
Eidevall’s side should have had a second penalty, with Caitlin Foord tripped just inside the box by Buchanan, but the referee, Kirsty Dowle, gave a corner.
There was jubilation on the full-time whistle, with Arsenal deserved winners and having turned their fortunes around after struggling to cope with the loss of Beth Mead and Vivianne Miedema to anterior cruciate ligament injuries before Christmas.