By Max Jones at Wembley
Danielle Carter’s sensational strike helped Arsenal Ladies beat Chelsea 1-0 to lift their 14th Women’s FA Cup at Wembley.
Pedro Martinez Losa’s side dominated from the first whistle but, despite creating a number of clear-cut opportunities, Carter’s goal proved to be the difference in front of a record final crowd of 32,912.
The England striker had given Chelsea’s defenders headaches in the opening exchanges and it only took her 18 minutes to make her mark, curling a spectacular opener past Hedvig Lindahl from a tight angle.
Aside from a couple of stray shots from Ji So-yun and Drew Spence, Arsenal were firmly in control going into half-time and nearly doubled their lead shortly after the break, but Kelly Smith’s header rattled the crossbar.
Asisat Oshoala and Josephine Henning were unable to take their chances to ease the strain on the defence, and Chelsea soon mounted a late aerial onslaught on the Gunners’ penalty box.
Losa’s players were equal to it, with Alex Scott and Casey Stoney throwing themselves in front of the ball, and held out to secure a well-deserved win and become only the second team to lift the trophy at Wembley.
SETTING THE SCENE
The last time Arsenal lifted the Women’s FA Cup, they beat Everton 2-0 at Stadium mk. Two years and an short trip down the M1 later, they had the chance to reclaim it at Wembley.
Plenty has changed for the Gunners in that time with a new manager, a new level of professionalism and a number of new players coming in, but Smith, who scored in that final two years ago, has remained a constant and led Arsenal’s attack once again.
England’s record goalscorer was one of five changes made by Losa, with Fara Williams, Jordan Nobbs and Oshoala also coming in. Emma Mitchell returned at left back following her one-match suspension.
The Gunners secured their place at Wembley with a 7-0 thrashing of Sunderland in the semi-final, but the competition’s decider against Emma Hayes’ undefeated Chelsea side would provide an entirely different test.
The champions made one change to the side that beat Arsenal 2-0 at Meadow Park last month, with Ana Borges replacing Clare Rafferty at left back while Ji and Karen Carney continued to support Fran Kirby in Chelsea’s lethal front line.
At the other end, Gilly Flaherty was one of five former Gunners lining up for the Blues, having formed a key part of Chelsea’s unbeaten streak in the Women’s Super League. With the England defender in the team, Hayes’ side had only conceded five goals all season.
Despite boasting the third-best defensive record in the league, Chelsea’s back line looked shaky in the opening exchanges. After just 35 seconds, Carter pounced on a loose pass but her first-time lob crept just over Lindahl’s crossbar.
The Blues’ defence were struggling to contain the England forward and, after a few more dangerous runs, Carter found her range. The 22-year-old cut inside from the left wing, beat Hannah Blundell with quick feet and then curled an unstoppable strike into the top corner.
It was a deserved lead for Arsenal but they were almost pegged back immediately. Kirby beat the Gunners’ offside trap and raced through on goal, but Sari van Veenendaal continued her fine early-season form to keep out the striker at her near post.
Undeterred, Losa’s side came forward once more. Vicky Losada broke into the box and found Smith with a clever backheel, but Chelsea captain Katie Chapman made a vital challenge just before Arsenal’s striker could pull the trigger.
As the Gunners piled forward in search of a second goal, though, the Blues missed two good chances to equalise on the counter-attack. First Gemma Davison squared to an unmarked Ji before Carney found Drew Spence in a similar position minutes later, but both times the Chelsea midfielders looped their strikes harmlessly over.
However, the best chance to snatch the game’s second goal before half-time fell to Arsenal. Oshoala was slipped into the box by Smith but lost her footing at the crucial moment and could not generate any power on her shot.
Hayes sought more balance after the break, bringing on Niamh Fahey in place of Drew Spence to push Millie Bright into midfield, but Chelsea were still struggling to cope with Arsenal’s rampant front line.
The Blues looked particularly vulnerable on the left-hand side and, when Oshoala breezed past Borges once more, Losa’s side should have doubled their advantage. The Nigeria forward crossed to Smith, who crashed her header off the crossbar from six yards.
As the half progressed, Carter’s influence grew once more. The forward raced into the box unmarked and for a split second it looked as though her cross would nestle in the bottom corner, but Lindahl improvised brilliantly to save with her feet.
Once more Hayes looked to her bench in search of an equaliser and this time Eniola Aluko - a three-time FA Cup winner - got the nod. The England forward almost made an instant impact too, cutting inside from the left wing, but was unable to recreate Carter’s strike and curled well off target.
It was a rare foray into Arsenal’s half for Chelsea, but Losa’s side were soon in control again. Oshoala broke forward but was thwarted by Lindahl before Henning headed Williams’ corner just wide at the far post.
Chelsea were growing in desperation and their final chance to equalise fell to Bethany England. The substitute collected a loose ball and shot at goal but Scott hurled her body in front of the ball to maintain the Gunners’ clean sheet and lead her childhood club to a record-setting trophy.
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