Gunners Town would like to welcome Emmet McEvoy who returns to stand in for Anushree in Gunners Fait this week and to preview the FA Cup Final
When I last wrote for this column ahead of the Champions League quarter-final tie against Birmingham, I looked towards the new season with an air of cautious optimism.
Fast forward two months and, Sunday’s FA Cup final against Everton aside, things have rarely have looked bleaker for the Ladies.
Four losses in a row, no goals scored, bottom of the WSL and soon to be manager-less; not ideal preparation for a cup final, a match that already seems to be their best chance of silverware this season.
The aforementioned tie against Birmingham ended in a disappointing 3-0 aggregate defeat. This, I reasoned, was down to a raft of new players having little or no time to gel before being thrust into competitive action. It was understandable.
The WSL season started with a well-earned draw away to Notts County, one of the league’s new full-time teams, but disappointing home losses to Man City, Birmingham and Bristol have left the Ladies in an unfamiliar position at the foot of the table. It’s perhaps too early to suggest they’re in a relegation battle but the manner of the recent defeats and lack of quality chances created must be concerning to those in charge.
Their defence of the Continental Cup started with a convincing 3-0 home win against Watford but a 2-0 reverse against WSL2 side Reading (managed, of course, by Arsenal legend Jayne Ludlow) started the team’s current losing run.
The Bristol game was the straw that broke the camel’s back for Shelley Kerr, who announced she is to step down as manager after the final this weekend.
It is worth pointing out at this stage that Jordan Nobbs, the creative lynchpin in midfield who was expected to fill Kim Little’s role, is yet to play this season due to a back injury. When I spoke to Shelley a few weeks ago she was reluctant to put a timescale on Nobbs’ return but, from an Arsenal point of view, the sooner the better. She has been badly missed.
The bright spark this season, and a reason that the team’s current league position is merely disappointing rather than panic-inducing, has come in the form of an impressive FA Cup run.
A solid 2-0 win against Gillingham in the fifth round secured the team’s first competitive win of the season. They then gained a measure of revenge against WSL leaders Birmingham in the quarter-finals by coming from behind to win 2-1 and set up a semi-final tie against much-fancied Chelsea at Woking’s Kingfield Stadium.
The semi-final was quite extraordinary, a display of attacking potency and sheer determination to succeed. They fell behind twice in the second half and responded instantly each time, Kelly Smith’s brace forcing extra time. They stepped it up in the extra period and put Chelsea, one of the preseason favourites, to the sword. The match finished 5-3 and that flattered Chelsea in the end. It could, and should, have been more.
That match is a major reason for optimism. It showed that when they click, they really click. They’d be a match for anyone. The challenge, of course, is to produce performances like that on a weekly basis. It’s easier said than done, but it’s something for the new manager to go on.
Sunday’s opponents Everton have had a remarkably similar season to Arsenal. They sit 7th in the WSL, a point and a place above the Gunners, and are also awaiting their first league win of the season. But, like Arsenal, the FA Cup has been a different story. They knocked out current WSL champions Liverpool in the last eight and beat Notts County 2-1 to reach the final.
Andy Spence’s side are also the only team to beat Arsenal in an FA Cup final, having done so in 2010, and will provide a stern test in Sunday’s showpiece.
On a final, related note, I’ve seen one or two people query Shelley’s decision to step down after the final but, for me, this is a non-story. Shelley guided the team to the final and won the competition last season. She deserves the chance to go out on a high.
Hopefully she does, and the team gets the win that kick starts their season.
Until next time thanks for reading