Chelsea lost an unbeaten run stretching back to the first game of the season in untimely fashion as a dogged and dangerous Arsenal side won a record sixth Women’s League Cup title with a 3-1 victory at Selhurst Park.
Emma Hayes’s Chelsea may not be top of the Women’s Super League right now — that’s Manchester United — but they are a juggernaut few teams can stop and arrived having scored 12 goals in their last three games.
Indeed their semi-final in this competition was a 7-0 hammering of the otherwise defensively astute West Ham. But Chelsea duly reached their fourth Continental Cup final in a row. Once they were here, they got started early — scoring after 98 seconds.
Guro Reiten’s cross into the box sailed over Arsenal’s centre-backs and Sam Kerr stole in to head home via the crossbar. The Australian poacher had her fifth goal in only her third League Cup final.
Arsenal arrived as the most decorated team in this competition’s history with five titles, yet their recent form has been shakier. They are fourth in the WSL and had won just one of their last four games.
Yet they responded to the chants of those in red among Selhurst Park’s 19,010-strong crowd, turning the screw and dictating play. They were level after 16 minutes when Stina Blackstenius stroked home for 1-1.
And after Katie McCabe turned cleverly away from the challenge of Sophie Ingle, Arsenal had a spot-kick and a chance to turn the scoreline on its head. After just 24 minutes it was already 2-1 in this lively encounter, the Gunners’ skipper Kim Little slamming the spot-kick into the inside netting with precision.
Within minutes Jonas Eidevall’s side nearly had three when Steph Catley’s overhead pass allowed Blackstenius to steel in, only for Ann-Katrin Berger to save. By now Arsenal were well in command, and Hayes’s Chelsea were hanging on.
They were so nearly in deeper trouble when Blackstenius made an intelligent run and poked past Berger, but the offside flag spared Chelsea’s blushes. Arsenal just kept coming, the off-colour Blues were at sixes and sevens.
Hayes, who looked nonplussed, responded by replacing Cankovic with Canada centre-back Kadeisha Buchanan on 39 minutes and switching to a back-three. It did not work, as deep in first-half stoppage time, Niamh Charles headed into her own net from Catley’s corner.
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When Lauren James had a shot in anger in the 57th minute, it felt like her first notable in involvement in a final that simply passed her and Chelsea by.
Melanie Leupolz struck the bar late on, but Arsenal held on to claim a much-deserved first Conti Cup title since 2018. Both teams resume their Champions League campaigns in a couple of weeks. Arsenal sprung a surprise here and now they look the most ready to challenge Europe’s elite.
For Chelsea, it is two defeats in the last two finals, but they can have no complaints. Arsenal deserved to lift the trophy.