Arsenal fell to a late Bethany England winner as Chelsea claimed the Continental Cup. The Gunners have now lost five straight games against Chelsea, who are on track to become the dominant side in English women’s football.
Arsenal came into the match missing a number of players, and were dealt a further blow as Jen Beattie was not available, as Joe Montemurro confirmed post-match that Beattie suffered concussion last week. With Lia Wälti out, Leah Williamson went into midfield and Viki Schnaderbeck and Louise Quinn came into the defence. Schnaderbeck made a last-minute block to deny an early Beth England chance, but confusion in the Arsenal defence following a cross meant the ball was allowed to sit in the penalty box, and with Sam Kerr and England converging, it was the latter who slotted home inside eight minutes.
Arsenal’s response was good; indeed, from then on they dominated. While Chelsea always consistently held a threat on the break, it was Arsenal who created the best chances, especially from set pieces. Leah Williamson had a good shout for a penalty, as she was taken down by Ji following a corner, and then Louise Quinn’s goalbound header was clawed away by Ann-Katrin Berger.
Most Arsenal-Chelsea encounters this season have been characterized by Arsenal not being allowed to play through Chelsea. But with a higher tempo, and good width on the right from Caitlin Foord, Arsenal were able to find space and then create overloads, with Jordan Nobbs on the left coming inside. Foord created two good chances, first slipping Nobbs in, but the England international was denied by Berger, and then linking well for Jill Roord, whose shot went wide of Berger in goal. The Australian then hit the side netting after being played in by Vivianne Miedema on an Arsenal break.
Arsenal’s final ball had to improve in the second half, but despite good build-up play, the final ball wasn’t always there. Despite that, Arsenal had more good chances: Miedema fired inches wide, and then after bringing down Foord’s cross, was denied at close range by a resolute Berger, who was injured by the shot. From the ensuing corner, Arsenal finally equalized: Williamson won the header, and then when the ball came down, swung her left foot at the ball, finally beating Berger. With just five minutes to go, Arsenal seemingly had all the momentum, and Berger flapped at another corner.
Arsenal, though, were undone at the death. A long ball into the channel sent Sam Kerr into a race against Schnaderbeck. The Austrian initially looked to have the situation under control, but was then beaten far too easily. The ball was sent across the 6-yard box to Beth England, who ghosted in behind Lisa Evans to tap home the Chelsea winner and break Arsenal’s hearts.
While Arsenal can take positives from some of the performance, Chelsea were stronger in both penalty boxes. After dominating domestic football last season, Arsenal’s recent performances against Chelsea and Manchester City have shown that the dynamic has shifted. While the margins between the sides were small today, and were small when Arsenal played Manchester City last month, Arsenal have to respond.