Arsenal's women succeeded yesterday where Arsène Wenger's side failed this season, winning their version of the FA Cup with a comfortable victory over Charlton Athletic. The win set up the possibility of a league and cup Double after Arsenal had finished last season empty-handed for the first time in eight years.
Played in torrential rain here, the game was effectively settled in a two-minute spell midway through the first half with a brace of goals from the Scottish international Julie Fleeting, who completed her hat-trick six minutes from time.
"We couldn't cope with Fleeting," said the Charlton manager, Keith Boanas. "They adapted far better to the conditions than we did. We did all the things we said we wouldn't do before the game."
The Arsenal manager, Vic Akers, has now won 18 trophies in as many years. But he said he had thought Fleeting would not make the match after playing the day before for Scotland against Germany. "I feared the worst because at one stage [on Sunday] she could barely walk," he said. "But you would never have known. It was a special day for us, especially after...last season, and now we have a great chance to win the league.''
The dreadful weather kept the crowd down to 12,244 and tested both sets of players on a heavy pitch. But it was, nevertheless, a decent advertisement for the women's game, especially in the first half when legs were fresh and minds alert. League leaders Charlton were pushed back from the kick-off and fell behind on 23 minutes when Fleeting, who has played professionally in the United States, finished off some excellent work by the 16-year-old Lianne Sanderson.
Two minutes later Fleeting took advantage of a bad slip by her marker Julie Fletcher to unleash a fierce drive that gave the England international goalkeeper Pauline Cope no chance.
Charlton, who conceded 11 first-half corners, improved in the second half but never came to grips with Arsenal's physical and organisational supremacy. A twisting save by Cope thwarted Fleeting once but six minutes from time the Arsenal striker wrapped up the scoring with a shot that took a wicked deflection off Daniella Murphy and left Cope wrong-footed.
Arsenal (3-5-2): Byrne; Champ, White, Asante; Pealling, Ludlow, Grant, Maggs (Lorton 90), Wheatley; Fleeting (Scott 90), Sanderson (Potter 79).
Charlton (4-4-2): Cope; Murphy, Mills, Stoney, Fletcher (Coss 69); Williams, Broadhirst, Barr, Smith (Hunn 79); Walker, Heatherson (Aluka 69).
Referee: A Rayner (Loughborough).
Player of the match: Fleeting.