Perhaps there was no more fitting way for this final to pan out than for it to be decided by Fran Kirby and Sam Kerr goals. The duo had received the nickname “Kerrby” after their partnership during the Blues crusade last season but due to the pandemic they were unable to delight fans in person – this time they did it in front of more than 40,000.
For the Blues boss, this final carried great personal significance. Standing alongside her team before the game, waiting to sing the national anthem, she looked into the stand and with a beaming smile waved at her son Harry. He was born just 12 days after she last picked up the trophy and now he has been there to see her win English football’s greatest honour.
The significance of this game was not only personal to Hayes, it was an important landmark for the women’s game. The final marked 100 years since the FA effectively banned women from playing in England and 50 years since the trophy was first contested.
So too was the game an important milestone for Chelsea. Picking up what is the 2020-21 title after last year’s competition carried over to this campaign, they now hold the domestic treble of the FA Cup, League Cup and Women’s Super League.
In games like these, getting ahead early is crucial – it sets the tone for how the match will play out – and so the Chelsea faithful could not have been more pleased when they did just that. Capitalising on a Gunners mistake in which Frida Maanum spilled the ball, Kirby ran on to it and struck past Manuela Zinsberger before the clock had even reached three minutes.
Jonas Eidevall paced backwards and forwards between his dugout and the bench, clearly uneasy at the shape which the game was taking. His side’s defending was haphazard at best and they had Kerr to thank for directing two attempts from close range directly at Zinsberger.
As the opening 45 went on, Chelsea remained on top but they were not clinical enough in front of goal and Kerr smashing the bar from a relatively easy angle was symbolic of their indecisive finishing.
It is not a problem limited to the Australian but there is a clear case to be made that she often struggles more than most. She notches in so many as she is able to work in ways which allow her to have a plethora of chances but she is far from the most accurate when it matters.
In an attempt to do better in the opposition’s third, Eidevall switched his wingers – and it resulted in quick improvements. Almost immediately, they were left aggrieved when referee Helen Consley failed to spot that Erin Cuthbert had stopped Beth Mead’s cross with her arm, although the decision perhaps evened out a rejected penalty appeal for Chelsea earlier in the game when Kerr was hauled down after a cross.
Half-time provided a much-needed reprieve for the Gunners and they seemingly came out revitalised. Their passing became sharper, their wingers increasingly found more pockets of space in behind the Chelsea defence.
But that would all prove to have been in vain when Kerr – the woman who had been wide of the mark in the first half – doubled Chelsea’s lead. Arsenal had repeatedly left their back line open wide and she was able to run through it before cutting inside in order to get a shot away. It was neither pretty nor special but Zinsberger failed to get down in time and the ball rolled past her at the near post.
In fact, it was Kerr who seemed to have been changed the most by the break. In the first half, she would probably have squandered her chances but she seemed a different player in the second. After making it 2-0, she then produced the pick of the bunch when she spotted that Zinsberger was far enough off her line for her to send a deft chip over the goalkeeper’s head.
That goal put a rubber stamp on Chelsea’s victory and sent the sea of blue flags behind the goal into a frenzy. When these sides met earlier in the season, Arsenal were victorious at the Emirates and deservingly so – but today’s game could not have been further from that.
Had you told an audience in 1971 that a woman would be one of the best tacticians in the nation, managing a women’s team who could gather crowds of more than 40,000 to the country’s best stadium, then many would have laughed. Elsie Cook and Lesley Lloyd, the captains of that final 50 years ago, clearly looked emotional when they brought out the trophy before the game because something which they would probably not even have dreamt of happening had come true.
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