A game so good they are going to play it twice
Was Chelsea - Arsenal really just a case of Chelsea being more ruthless?
For the third season in a row, Chelsea knocked Arsenal out of the FA Cup. The victory came courtesy of goals from Sophie Ingle and Sam “82 goals in 100 games” Kerr in a Fifth Round win at Kingsmeadow, which wasn’t necessarily comfortable for Chelsea but was pretty close to routine.
The line that came out from the match was that Chelsea took their chances whilst Arsenal failed to. The top level numbers would seem to support that view. Arsenal had 20 shots, with 11 on target, to Chelsea’s 7 with 3 on target. Chelsea scored twice and Arsenal didn’t.
After the match, Jonas Eidevall said: “I don’t expect us to come here and create more than we did, we created enough in order to win the game. But they are brutally efficient, hats off to them, we are not.”
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The context of Eidevall’s keenness to emphasise their chance creation comes off the back of a pretty torrid run for Arsenal when it comes to attacking. Their only real stand-out attacking performance they have had since January was a 3-0 win against Aston Villa in the Conti Cup.
The fixture list hasn’t been kind to them in this time period - they have played Manchester City and Chelsea twice each - but it feels like Eidevall has not got much closer to solving the issue of how Arsenal attack without Beth Mead and Vivianne Miedema.
Undoubtedly there were chances to score against Chelsea. Four key ones stand out - Frida Leonhardsen Maanum’s shot in the opening minutes, Stina Blackstenius’ 1v1, Ann-Katrin Berger’s spectacular double-save from first Katie McCabe and then Caitlin Foord, and finally the Blackstenius ball across Chelsea’s six yard box that just eluded Leonhardsen Maanum at the back post.
The first two came from long balls over the top. Steph Catley’s pass for Leonhardsen Maanum’s shot perfectly cut open Chelsea’s defence but it was relying on the spectacular to score from there. To be fair, that is something that Leonhardsen Maanum has had little trouble in providing recently but is perhaps not a reliable strategy.
The second came when Leah Williamson’s long ball enabled Blackstenius to outmuscle her compatriot Magda Eriksson and run through 1v1. This is the kind of opportunity that when Blackstenius was signed, Arsenal hoped would be her bread and butter. But it is clear that right now, we are quite a long way from seeing the player that was signed back in January 2022. She wasn’t even able to get the ball on target.
However, the chance where Blackstenius crossed the ball but no one was able to get on the end of it was another example of the space she was able to find in behind Chelsea. Her first touch was way too heavy which took her out wide but she still managed to make enough of the opportunity to have Leonhardsen Maanum an inch away from scoring.
The fourth big chance was the best of the lot. Blackstenius drops deep to win the ball and quickly plays it out to Foord. Foord spins Niamh Charles with ease but instead of shooting, Arsenal play the ball out to the left to take advantage of their overload. Katie McCabe’s shot can only be parried by Ann-Katrin Berger but she recovers quickly to smother Foord’s would-be tap-in.
Chelsea created about an even number of clear cut opportunities to score. The two goals from Ingle and Kerr whilst Jelena Cankovic spurned a great opportunity in the first half after Lia Walti had passed directly to Sam Kerr. The difference is that Chelsea created those three chances in the first 55 minutes, scored two and then happily sat back for the rest of the match. Given the game state, it is hard to predict what Chelsea might have gone on to create if they had played full throttle for the remaining 35.
Arsenal, despite being 2-0 down, seemed to run out of ideas in the second half, particularly as Chelsea sat back a bit more, making it harder for Arsenal’s players to spin in behind Chelsea’s defence. Starved of a gap to play longer balls into, they ran out of options. Instead, they racked up their shots on target numbers by taking tame shots from distance straight at Ann-Katrin Berger.
Arguably, it was one of Arsenal’s better attacking displays recently, but they were not as dominant as they were able to be against Chelsea at the Emirates, and realistically, the bar after the two Manchester City games was very low. How long can Eidevall go without coming up with an answer for Meadema’s absence?
It has been five consecutive games for Chelsea without losing to Arsenal, with all three of their wins in that time period coming in the FA Cup. Eidevall said: “When I see our performances against Chelsea, we are getting closer to them.” But the more games that pass without a win against their London rivals, the more the questions will pile up.
Fortunately or unfortunately, Arsenal do not have long to wait to have a crack at it as they face Chelsea in the Continental Cup final next weekend. Realistically, it looks like their only chance of silverware this season so pressure on Eidevall and his players will be high.
Chelsea facing an opponent they are expected to beat comfortably in a Conti Cup final? Now where have I heard that one before…