The good news is that we created chance after chance.
The bad news is that we had to wait until the extra time to convert one of them.
I feel like I am writing the same thing over and over, lately. I cannot say any bad word about how the team is setup, how the players are diligently translating Jonas Eidevall’s gameplan into action or how the team is playing, overall, but I feel everything goes back to our lack of quality, composure and luck when it’s time to finish those chances.
Today is not about whining or complaining, though.
Today is about celebrating getting to the first final of the season.
On March 5th we will face either West Ham or Chelsea to bring home the League Cup, a trophy that we already won five times in eleven editions (with eight finals played in total) but that we haven’t won since 2018. Of course, a win would also represent Jonas Eidevall’s first success as Arsenal head coach, after we lost the FA Cup final to Chelsea in 2020/21, and a very much needed boost for everyone associated with our club.
Going back to the game, I won’t be writing about our struggles in front of goal as I rather focus on a couple of unexpected things that happened during the semifinal against Manchester City. The first and possibly most surprising one was the decision from Jonas Eidevall to play with three players at the back, while (I guess) many expected Leah Williamson to continue in midfield, in place of Lia Wälti.
As explained by Jonas Eidevall himself, the decision was made to counter Manchester City’s well-known ability to create opportunities from the flanks and it worked brilliantly. Rafaelle was particularly impressive on the evening, battling hard with Bunny Shaw and making multiple interceptions and clearances, on top of her usual outstanding ability with the ball.
The Brazilian had her best game in an Arsenal shirt to date, in my opinion, and was instrumental in keeping a very direct, powerful opponent relatively quiet but she played an even more prominent role when we were in possession, oozing confidence with her ball-retention and distribution, whether it was short or long.
Her awareness and calmness helped the team to retain their structure and made it easier for Katie McCabe to compete at both ends of the pitch, while Victoria Pelova provided the ever-important triangles in midfield, which eased the progression in the middle third. Manchester City proved to be a very dangerous opponent and had their spells but, if we look at the whole game, we were the deserved winners on the night and that emanated from the second surprise of the night, the attacking lineup: Jonas Eidevall went with Caitlin Foord and the very impressive Kathrine Kühl upfront, although both were moving around a lot and creating spaces for their teammates, especially down the flanks.
Looking from the outside, Manchester City looked a bit surprised by Arsenal’s setup at the beginning but it got worse when Jonas Eidevall made the triple substitution around the hour mark, increasing our attacking threat by sending in Steph Catley, Lina Hurtig and the matchwinner, Stina Blackstenius. BBC’s correspondent labeled those changes as “a statement of intent” but I believe that it was the plan from the beginning, to have three outstanding attacking players going in against tired legs (and brains).
The Swede duo had three clear-cut chances to win the game in normal time, only to squander them rather unforgivably, but proved too hard to handle for Manchester City, who then surrendered to Stina Blackstenius’ well taken shot from inside the box.
That was enough to validate our ticket for the League Cup final, which will be played at Selhurst Park in a month, and hopefully will create some momentum for the next league game against…Manchester City. The upcoming trip to Manchester is going to be pivotal for our ambitions in the league and going there on the back of a difficult but convincing win against them will be very helpful, perhaps the key factor for what will be another tight, hard-fought game of football.
The game is scheduled for next Saturday at lunch time, you don’t want to miss it.
Until then, let’s celebrate getting to the League Cup final!
Thirty-something Italian, currently in Switzerland. Gooner since mid-ninties, when the Gunners defeated my hometown team, in Copenhagen. Twelve years ago I started my own blog (www.clockenditalia.com) after after some experiences with Italian websites and football magazines. Debate, don’t insult or you’re out.
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