Arsenal FA Cup success marks the dawn of a new era

Winning trophies has been something of a second nature to Arsenal
Ladies’ managers over the past 25 years. On Sunday afternoon, current boss
Shelley Kerr secured her first.

Prior to the final, it had been a
mixed start to the season for the Gunners. Kerr replaced Laura Harvey in
January and the new era got off to a flyer with an impressive aggregate victory
against ASD Torres in the Champions League. They followed that up with emphatic
wins over Nottingham Forest and holders Birmingham in the FA Cup.

Professional German outfit
Wolfsburg proved a step too far in Europe but they did win 2-1 against
Liverpool at Anfield, a result that has been swept under the carpet somewhat
following the 4-0 defeat to Matt Beard’s side at the Emirates in the opening
game of the Women’s Super League season.

They responded to that particular
loss with another win against Birmingham but relied on a stunning goal from
Steph Houghton to rescue a point against Lincoln a few days later. The 4-2 win
against Sunday’s opponents Bristol a week before the final saw the Ladies safely
through to the last four of the Continental Cup.

When I spoke to Shelley for
Arsenal.com after that 4-2 win, she emphasised how pleased she was that the
team had taken so many of their chances after a few frustrating, low-scoring
games. She’ll have been delighted, therefore, with the start her team made in
the final.

With less than two minutes on the
clock, a nice interchange between Jordan Nobbs and Steph Houghton in midfield
saw the latter find Rachel Yankey on the wing. The England international
whipped in a perfect cross for stand-in skipper Houghton to power home a
header.

That goal calmed any pre-match
nerves the team may have had and they proceeded to dominate the first half
against current WSL leaders Bristol. Ellen White was denied by a smart stop
from Siobhan Chamberlain before Jordan Nobbs’ shot cannoned off the post with
the goalkeeper beaten.

Any momentum gained by either
team after an open start to the second half was brought to a halt by a nasty looking
injury to Bristol’s Lucy Staniforth. Attempting to control a bouncing ball, the
midfielder’s standing leg gave way from under her. Her cries of anguish were
audible and, after lengthy treatment, she was stretchered off. Thankfully she
was able to collect her medal afterwards, albeit with the help of crutches.

Arsenal doubled their lead a few
minutes after play restarted. Gemma Davison showed great persistence down the
right flank and crossed for Nobbs to expertly loft a header over Chamberlain
and in.

The Ladies showed their
experience after that to hold the ball well and could have added a third when
Nobbs broke free but her touch was heavy and Chamberlain was able to gather.

The injury to Staniforth meant
that there were six minutes of stoppage time, during which Arsenal added a
third to put the game to bed.

Unsurprisingly, player of the
match Nobbs was involved. Her shot was parried by Chamberlain into the path of
White, who finished emphatically from the edge of the six yard box.

The Ladies’ professionalism and
determination to keep a clean sheet was evident just before the final whistle.
First, Emma Byrne made a superb reflex save. The resulting corner led to a
goalmouth scramble but a few excellent blocks ensured there would be no blots
on the copybook.

The Ladies fully merited the win,
and it was one which secured an incredible 12th FA Cup triumph in
the club’s illustrious history.

The occasion itself was a superb
advert for the women’s game. A year or two ago, the FA introduced a ‘five-year
plan’ to increase interest in women’s football and it was clear on Sunday that
this plan is starting to come to fruition. There was a good crowd, the match
was excellent and some of the goals were superb. When you compare it to the
final between the two teams in 2011, it’s evident that the quality of both
teams has improved greatly. The introduction of the WSL has been a hit and,
with the expansion of the league into two tiers from 2014, it’s only going to
get even more competitive. Attendance figures are steadily rising and increased
TV coverage is only adding to the interest.

With one trophy already in the
bag and passage to the semi-finals of the Continental Cup already confirmed,
the Ladies can now turn their attention to the league. It seems like they’ll
have their work cut out if they are to retain their title, but if any team is
capable of putting together the required run of results, it’s Arsenal. One
thing is for sure: it’s going to be an exciting summer.

And that’s no bad thing at all.
Until next time.

Emmet McEvoy


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