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Rivals? Chelsea justify Hayes' dismissal of Arsenal as Women's FA Cup triumph seals treble win

1:40 AM SGT 6/12/21
Chelsea FA Women's Cup final vs Arsenal 2020-21 celebrate
The Blues completed a domestic treble on Sunday, after winning the Women's Super League and Continental Cup earlier this year

“Playing against Arsenal as Chelsea manager is always a great game for us,” Emma Hayes told the press before Sunday’s Women’s FA Cup final against the Gunners. “But it has never been our rival game. Manchester City has always been that.

“This is a London derby so it's slightly different. There's a lot more fan involvement, press interest, but I've always thought the bigger game was us versus Man City over the years.”

It’s the type of quote that could have become infamous, one to fire up the opponent just days before the showpiece event at Wembley in front of a record crowd.

In the end, the Gunners didn’t show too many glimpses of making Hayes eat her words. Chelsea were ruthless from the off, the frantic nature of the game suiting their transitional style best as only Arsenal goalkeeper Manuela Zinsberger stopped them putting the game to bed before half-time. In the end, her efforts were in vain as the Blues emerged 3-0 winners.

Arsenal didn’t have a shot on target all game. Chelsea had eight and hit the woodwork a further two times.

With this the final from last season’s competition, due to Covid-19 disruptions, it doesn’t only make Chelsea FA Cup winners either. Indeed, after their league and Continental Cup triumphs, it makes them treble winners. In the latter competition, Arsenal were knocked out in the group stage. In the league, they finished third, nine points off the top.

After the Gunners’ 3-2 win over the Blues at the Emirates to kick off the season, and their unbeaten league form that has them top of the Women’s Super League table, they are certainly making progress after a couple of difficult years under former coach Joe Montemurro.

However, this game showed that those who doubted the significance of that result on the opening weekend had a point. With Sam Kerr and Fran Kirby among those on the Chelsea bench, after long summers with their national teams, the Blues weren’t at full strength. With ‘Kerrby’ on the pitch at Wembley, it was quite a different story.

First goal – it was Kerr’s play that caused disruption in the Arsenal defence so Kirby could score. Second goal – it was Kirby’s pass that set Kerr free, and she did the rest. With Kirby substituted off when Kerr put away the third, it was just all about the Aussie’s skill, as she scooped the ball over Zinsberger to seal it.

"That was Fran's best game in a Chelsea shirt," Hayes said after the game. "I thought she ran the show. She got on the ball in dangerous situations, she threaded Sam in on numerous occasions, but also herself was a real threat, a real handful throughout the game.

"I think Sam Kerr, so many wondered how she would handle the English game. As far as I'm concerned she's the best striker in the world and she displayed that when it mattered most.

"She's courageous. She's full of confidence. She can do that after getting off a plane from Sydney, Australia, on Thursday.

"She's a superb athlete, an amazing human, and they are two of many, many characters in this dressing room that are noteworthy for their performances today.

"The second goal was critical in the game. That was so vital just to calm any anxiety or nerves that might have existed. But I don’t think my team played like that today.

"I think everything they did was decisive, was collective, coherent, champion-like. I've said it in recent press conferences, I think we're getting better. I really do."

Arsenal were not at full strength themselves for this final. Leah Williamson was missing, which was a huge absence in central defence, where Kerr and Kirby wreaked havoc.

But this was still a team with stars. Vivianne Miedema is one of the most feared forwards in the world. Beth Mead is one of the league’s most in-form players. Kim Little is one of the most talented midfielders on the planet. They were all kept quiet.

Arsenal might be making positive strides – there’s no doubt about that – but catching up to the progress Chelsea, and Man City, have made in the last few years will be no easy task.

The commitment, investment and time that the Blues have put into this project have been excellent for many years. It got them to a Women’s Champions League final this year and has made them the team to beat in England.

Jonas Eidevall is only a few months into his Arsenal tenure. He’s a clever coach, and he has some great players, but it will take time yet until the Gunners’ rivalry with Chelsea means as much to the Blues as their competition with City.