Arsenal Women will seek to win the first domestic trophy of the season and their sixth Continental Cup, but will have to beat Chelsea for the first time this season in the final at Nottingham’s City Ground. Only Arsenal and Manchester City have ever won the Continental Cup, and Chelsea, who are a run of exceptional form, will look to take the trophy away from Arsenal, who have won the eight-year old competition five times.
Arsenal will also be motivated a desire to avenge their 4-1 defeat at Meadow Park last month. Indeed, Arsenal have not beaten Chelsea since winning 5-0 at Kingsmeadow last season, with Chelsea beating Arsenal in the league three times and winning in the FA Cup last season. The last match between the two was barely competitive; Chelsea went 3-0 up within twenty minutes as Joe Montemurro’s tactical plan to flood the centre of the pitch completely backfired, with the Gunners picked off by Chelsea’s wide play and direct counter-attacking. What will be more concerning for Montemurro is that in the two defeats this season, Chelsea have completely nullified Arsenal as an attacking force by their pressing.
Montemurro will not be helped by his large injury list. Kim Little, Lia Walti and Beth Mead will all miss out, with a foot, hamstring, and MCL injury respectively. All are expected to be fit again this season. Katrine Veje and Danielle Carter will also miss out. Arsenal will have Jen Beattie back, who will likely partner Viki Schnaderbeck in defence. Schnaderbeck played right back in January and was given a torrid time by Guro Reiten, and should be more comfortable at centre back. Leah Williamson will likely deputise for Walti in midfield, though Montemurro could utilize a back three to try and block off the strike partnership of Beth England and Sam Kerr. Indeed, a back three could enable Arsenal to get tighter on the wide players, Erin Cuthbert and Reiten, while still outnumbering Sophie Ingle and Ji in midfield. But while that could give Arsenal a tactical advantage, Montemurro’s use of a back three this season has mostly seen the two centre backs essentially play as wingers, and he may stick with a more conventional 4-3-3.
Arsenal’s passing from deep has suffered in the absence of Walti, most evidently in the 2-1 loss against Manchester City, where Williamson ended the match in a #6 position. Arsenal can replace Kim Little by either bringing Danielle van de Donk centrally or with Jill Roord, but replacing Walti is a much bigger proposition. If Arsenal are to beat Chelsea, Williamson’s ability to play through lines of pressure into front players will be key.
Player to Watch: Caitlin Foord
Caitlin Foord is the one addition Arsenal have made to their squad since they last played Chelsea. Foord played 90 minutes last week, and will likely start against her Australian counterpart Kerr. The two watched their respective sides’ semi-finals while in Matildas camp, and have played each other numerous times, with Kerr’s Chicago Red Stars beating Foord’s Portland Thorns in the NWSL semi-finals last October, with Kerr scoring the only goal. Foord played upfront for the first hour of last weekend’s cup win against Lewes, and then moved to a wide position when Vivianne Miedema came on. Foord has the potential to add a robustness and physicality that could match Chelsea’s power, and offer Arsenal a more direct route of attack. In a wide position last week, she set up a great chance for Miedema, and should’ve added another goal herself with a late-run off the far post.
Predicted XI: Zinsberger; Maier, Schnaderbeck, Beattie, McCabe; Williamson, Van de Donk, Nobbs; Evans, Miedema, Foord
Subs: Peyraud-Magnin, Quinn, Roord, Grant, Filis
Arsenal Women vs Chelsea Women
Continental Cup final, Saturday February 29, 2019
KO: 9:30 AM PST/12:30 PM EST/5:30 PM GMT
TV: BT Sport (UK only)