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Blackstenius and Little fire Arsenal to Continental Cup triumph over Chelsea

Blackstenius and Little fire Arsenal to Continental Cup triumph over Chelsea

  • Continental Cup final: Arsenal 3-1 Chelsea
  • Arsenal comeback secures first trophy since 2019

There was a sense of deja vu in Arsenal’s comeback from an early goal, with the Gunners defeating Chelsea to lift the Continental League Cup in front of 19,010 fans at Selhurst Park.

The men’s team had conceded in 9.11 seconds at the Emirates in the Premier League on Saturday and it took Sam Kerr just 98 seconds to put the Gunners behind in the cup final.

In front of the Chelsea owner Todd Boehly and Arsenal’s chief executive Vinai Venkatesham, the Gunners embarked on a remarkable comeback, with a goal from Stina Blackstenius, Kim Little’s penalty and a Niamh Charles own goal earning victory in the first half.

Arsenal’s manager Jonas Eidevall had said that despite Kerr’s strike in Chelsea’s 2-0 defeat of the Gunners in the FA Cup seven days prior, he had been pleased with how much his side had limited the striker. “For most parts of the game we were doing a really good job and it’s about continuing to do that and doing it until perfection this time,” he said ahead of the final.

Kerr ended any hope of perfection at a heaving Selhurst Park in just 98 seconds. An Arsenal clearance fell to Erin Cuthbert and the midfielder sent it wide to Guro Reiten who whipped a cross towards the back post for Kerr to head in.

Perfection off the table, Arsenal had to dig deep early on. They were urged on by a dominant Arsenal crowd, still buoyed by the elation of Saturday’s late recovery by the men’s team that provided the roadmap for a turnaround whatever the scenario.

Arsenal’s record against Chelsea though, was poor. Eidevall’s side has failed to beat Chelsea in five attempts, suffering three defeats and two draws prior to the meeting in the cup final. Their last victory came on the opening day of the 2021-22 season, which was the manager’s first league game following his appointment.

However, while Arsenal dominated possession and created chances much in the way they had the presiding week, there was a different energy to the side, a doggedness and, critically, they were far more clinical. It took just 15 minutes for the team in red to draw level, with Frida Maanum’s stray pass under pressure from Kerr, deflecting fortuitously off the back of Magda Eriksson’s heals into the path of her compatriot Blackstenius and the forward swept a low effort into the far corner.

Stina Blackstenius celebrates scoring in Arsenal’s victory

The men’s team had to wait until the 97th minute to take the lead against Bournemouth and keep their title challenge on track. At the home of Crystal Palace, the nerves of the Arsenal fans were eased far sooner. Sophie Ingle tangled with Katie McCabe just inside the box and the captain Little converted from the spot, sending Ann-Katrin Berger the wrong way and firing low to the keeper’s right.

It was all Arsenal and at the back Rafaelle Souza and Leah Williamson were excellent at limiting the opportunities for the Chelsea forwards Kerr and Lauren James, two players that can produce magic against the run of play time and time again, atoning for any complacency in the opener.

Emma Hayes felt the need to change things before the end of the half, switching to a back three with Kadeisha Buchanan coming on in place of Jelana Cankovic to line up with Eriksson and Millie Bright.

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Deep into stoppage time at the end of the half Arsenal extended their lead, with Charles heading the ball into the back of her own net under pressure from Souza following a Steph Catley corner.

If the Arsenal players were fuelled by a desire for a first trophy since their title win in 2018-19, then the muted response of Chelsea perhaps displayed the complacency that can set in when you are serial winners.

The second half lacked the energy of the first but still Arsenal poured forward, with Chelsea reverting to a back four with Melanie Leupolz on for Charles at the break.

After being clattered into twice, McCabe, on a yellow card for a late high foot into Berger, was withdrawn for Victoria Pelova. Eidevall’s side should have had a second penalty moments after the change, with Caitlin Foord tripped just inside the box by Buchanan, but referee Kirsty Dowle gave a corner.

There was a late Chelsea surge, but the closest the Blues came to clawing a goal back came with Leupolz’s cross catching Manuela Zinsberger off her line but the goalkeeper got back and tipped it onto the bar and over.

There was jubilation on the full time whistle, with Arsenal deserved winners and having turned their fortunes around after struggling to cope with the loss of Beth Mead and Vivianne Miedema to ACL injuries before Christmas.

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