By Chris Harris
Arsenal Ladies were at their fluent, ruthless best as they overwhelmed Leeds to win the FA Women's Cup Final in some style at The Den.
Lucy Ward's own goal put the Gunners ahead after just three minutes and two goals in the space of 60 seconds ended the game as a contest before the interval. Julie Fleeting's low finish doubled Arsenal's lead, then Rachel Yankey curled a free-kick into the top corner. Kelly Smith converted a penalty in the second half and Lianne Sanderson slotted home the fifth to round off a perfect day for Vic Akers' side.
In truth it could have been a lot more. Smith hit the post, Fleeting spurned numerous chances and Yankey and Sanderson carved Leeds open time and again. Arsenal simply had too much pace, too much power and too much flair for their opponents.
Leeds, playing in their first Cup Final, looked cowed by the occasion. By the time they settled it was far too late. Arsenal had won each of their previous six Finals in this competition and they never looked like relinquishing their advantage today.
The tone was set as early as the second minute. Mary Phillip floated a pass into space on the left and Yankey, despite the attentions of two defenders, whipped in a cross. Ward tried to hack clear but her miskick dribbled across the six-yard box and out of play for a corner. Yankey trotted over to the other side of the pitch, curled a dangerous ball into the area and Ward, experiencing possibly the worst minute of her career, headed past Gemma Fay.
It was the worst possible start for Leeds and, if they thought life would get any easier, they were wrong. Arsenal were relentless with Smith dictating play in midfield while Yankey and Sanderson caused havoc on the flanks whenever they got possession. At the back, Faye White and company dealt comfortably with Karen Walker.
Yankey almost doubled Arsenal's lead before 10 minutes had elapsed. Sanderson curved a glorious pass into her path on the left and the England winger cut inside before unleashing a powerful low shot towards Fay's near post. The Leeds keeper thrust out an arm to rescue her side.
Sue Smith posed a sporadic threat to Arsenal at the other end with her pace and trickery, but Emma Byrne was a virtual spectator throughout the first half. Karen Burke's miscued cross forced the Irish keeper to backpedal and catch the ball high above her head on the line, but Byrne was otherwise redundant.
Fleeting was inches away from extending Arsenal's lead after 20 minutes. She met Jayne Ludlow's right-wing cross with a firm header but, although Fay was well beaten, the ball looped just over the bar. A minute later the Scotland striker beat the offside trap to race onto Yankey's through ball but Ward got back to make a last-ditch block.
The game could already have been over as a contest and it soon was. Eleven minutes before the break Sanderson got clear on the right and squared the ball to Fleeting. She had all the time in the world to pick out the bottom corner. Within seconds, Yankey's curling free-kick from a few yards inside the right touchline floated into the top corner. Did she mean it? It didn't really matter.
Arsenal's onslaught continued in the second half. Sanderson rolled a shot just wide and Fleeting spurned two great chances, first with a curling effort which Fay was able to grab, and then with a low angled shot after Yankey had again raced to the byline and cut the ball back.
A slick Arsenal move involving Sanderson and Yankey ended with Smith firing a shot against the post. Then the influential England star charged into the box and just failed to pick out Sanderson.
Further goals looked inevitable and so it proved. With 19 minutes left another Yankey surge into the box was ended illegally and Smith slotted the spot-kick confidently into the bottom corner. Five minutes later Sanderson got the goal she deserved, motoring past Jess Clarke and sliding the ball under Fay.
There was even time for White to storm up from the back and let fly with a long-range effort which fizzed just past the post. It was the last action of note before the Arsenal captain got her hands on yet another trophy.
You had to feel sorry for Leeds. They caused Arsenal problems in both league meetings this season but could not live with the champions with silverware at stake. For them, a long journey home up the M1. For Arsenal, a third 'double' in six seasons and proof once again that they are the dominant force in the English women's game.
Click on the link for more FA Women's Cup information in the Match Menu.
White and Pealling lift the FA Cup
The ladies party begins
Julie Fleeting with the trophy
Smith and White pose for the camera
Kirsty Pealling with the Cup
Cup winner Ciara Grant
Anita Asante with the silverware
Vic Akers with his seventh FA Cup
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