FA Cup Final Preview: Arsenal vs Chelsea04 Dec, 2021
The two London giants will head to Wembley to battle it out to be crowned the winners of the 2020 FA Cup.
Sunday’s FA Cup final marks an important date in the women’s football calendar. 100 years ago, on the 5th December 1921, the FA imposed a ban that forbade clubs to allow female to use their pitches. At the time, women’s football was flourishing and drawing crowds that often surpassed the attendances of men’s games. This popularity concerned the FA and its commitment to the growth of the professional men’s game, and so, citing social, economic and even medical factors to rationalise their decision, women’s football had the rug pulled.
So, this weekend’s fixture does not just serve as a spectacle of the here and now, it is a celebration of how far the game has come, and a gratuitous nod to those who have helped it get here, despite the impediments it has faced. Quite fitting really, on the 50th anniversary of the women’s FA Cup.
This year we really are in for a treat as the top two sides of the domestic league, Arsenal and Chelsea, face off in what promises to be a match to remember. Arsenal and Chelsea have met in the FA Cup final twice before, having won one a piece. Arsenal took home the silverware in 2016 and Chelsea more recently in 2018. This fixture marks the first time that either club have reached the final since Chelsea’s victory three years ago.
Given that Wembley is a neutral ground we’ll go through the teams alphabetically starting with Arsenal. The Gunners have been in fine form and currently sit at the top of the Women’s Super League, one point above Chelsea.
Arsenal have a rich FA Cup history. They are, by far, the most prolific club within the competition having reached the final 17 times, winning 14 of them. Their last victory came against Chelsea in 2016 through Danielle Carter’s sole goal, under then coach Pedro Martínez Losa.
In terms of availability, centre half Leah Williamson remains out injured and boss Jonas Eidevall has confirmed that forward Tobin Heath will not feature this weekend.
Due to Williamson’s absence, one assumes England international Lotte Wubben-Moy will pair up with regular starter Jen Beattie keeping Eidevall’s preferred 4-3-3 formation intact. However, with both Wubben-Moy and Beattie typically filling the left-sided centre-back role, Eidevall may well elect to use defender Anna Patten at some point.
Further up field, Eidevall has the option to utilise Republic of Ireland captain Katie McCabe in her more natural left-sided winger role, and to complement this with Australia international Steph Catley in the leftback position. On the other side, it is likely Beth Mead will start with Noëlle Maritz placed behind her to enrich the overload, and the Netherlands all-time top scorer, Vivianne Miedema will lead the line. In the middle, captain Kim Little will presumably be joined by holding midfielder Lia Wälti. Whether Eidevall will opt to use the creativity of Jordan Nobbs or the box-to-box graft of Frida Maanum to complete his midfield trio will remain to be seen.
It is likely Manuela Zinsberger will be between the sticks for this one. The goalkeeper has shown a significant increase in confidence under Eidevall’s leadership and one notes the translation from this to far more cohesive and consistent performances from Austria’s number one.
Similarly, to Arsenal, Chelsea are fashioning themselves a fruitful domestic season, having only been beaten once, by the Gunners. The Blues currently have 21 points with a goal difference of 22, just one below Arsenal.
Chelsea most recently won the FA Cup in 2018 when goals from Ramona Bachmann and Fra Kirby ousted Arsenal’s single registration from Vivianne Miedema. This particular final brings with it a fair weighting for Chelsea, as, should they win, they will have clinched the treble, having already been crowned victors of the 2020 Women’s Super League and the Continental Cup.
The Blues are likely to implement the 3-4-3 system they have been exercising this season, with Millie Bright, captain Magda Eriksson and Jess Carter taking up the three centre-back roles. Dutch defender Aniek Nouwen is also able to slot in here, providing Chelsea with another smart option at the back.
Converted wingbacks, and certified “defensive headaches”, Guro Reiten and Erin Cuthbert will presumably retain their positions within the starting eleven, however boss Emma Hayes was very clear that she would not set any line-up in stone until she had seen all players in a full training session upon their return from the international break. Providing Reiten and Cuthbert do start as wingbacks, Chelsea may opt to use their formidable trio of Sam Kerr, Fran Kirby and Pernille Harder upfront to begin with, yet Hayes will be wary of player workload, mindful that Chelsea will play three games in six days this week.
Hayes expects a tough challenge from Arsenal stating that “they’re providing, this domestic season, stiff competition for us, and they’re deserving of where they are.”
Chelsea report no injuries for this game, however Hayes has indicated that defender Maren Mjelde is unlikely to feature. Citing the process of recovery from an “almost career ending injury”, Hayes rightly explains that “long term Maren is more important than short-term Maren.”
Coming from a successful international break, and already having an impressive domestic season, Arsenal’s Katie McCabe is certainly one to keep an eye on. Whether she is played upfront as a winger or is tasked as a fullback, McCabe proves herself to be a nuisance to oppositions every time. The Republic of Ireland international has a drive that lurches her side forward and also boats the aptitude of being both a reliable assistant and a deadly finisher.
For the Blues, all eyes will be on Australia international Sam Kerr. The forward is known for her intelligent positioning and off-shoulder runs, as well as being a clinical goal scorer. Paired up with fellow forward Fran Kirby, the duo possess an almost telepathic understanding of each other’s movements that typically leave defences in tatters. The pair have been widely described as “unstoppable” and will provide an indisputable test for Arsenal’s backline.
The match kicks off at 2pm (GMT) on Sunday 5th December and will be shown live on BBC1 with coverage from 1:30pm. The game is available to view on ESPN in North America, on Star+ in South America, Optus Sport 5 in Australia, Viaplay in Finland, Iceland and the Baltics, Ziggo in the Netherlands and V Sport 1 in Sweden and Norway. For viewers in other countries, the match will be streamed live on the FA Player.
Photos: @VitalityWFACup, @ChelseaFCW and @ArsenalWFC