Arsenal Women have booked their ticket to the Conti Cup final courtesy of a strike from late substitute Stina Blackstenius, sealing victory for the gunners in the semi-final and sinking holders Manchester City who battled valiantly for 120 minutes as the game was forced to extra time. The goal and the win will be seen as well earned by Arsenal who had a larger share of the big chances but failed to make them count after 90 minutes, whilst City were frustrated in the attack and only managed to take control of the game after conceding.
The tie was fiercely fought, with nothing to separate the two teams after a first half of high intensity but precious few chances- star striker Khadija ‘Bunny’ Shaw failed to spring into action and on numerous occasions Arsenal looked as if they sorely missed the threat of attacking talents Beth Mead and Vivianne Miedema (both currently injured).
The second half saw Arsenal begin to gain momentum, receiving constant encouragement from the buoyant North Bank at Boreham Wood. The tide of the game certainly felt as if it was turning in Arsenal’s favour, though statistically there was little to separate the elite WSL sides who shared possession equally and both registered 7 shots on target. Manchester City increasingly relied on counter attacks in their search for a goal, and at the other end Arsenal were left wondering how they had failed to break the deadlock as attacking substitutes squandered chances, in particular a header from Lina Hurtig glanced narrowly wide.
Player of the Match Katie McCabe looked like Arsenal’s best hope of finding the back of the net in normal time, creating chances with dangerous crosses from the left flank and keeping City forward Chloe Kelly quiet all night. McCabe catalysed the crowd whenever enthusiasm dwindled, encapsulating all of the determination and desire required in a cup tie of such high stakes.
The deciding goal finally arrived in the 93rd minute following a ruthless Arsenal press which won them the ball high up the pitch and kick-started a sweeping move, culminating in a low cross from Hurtig and the decisive strike by Blackstenius. The finish took an obvious deflection on the way in but made no difference to the roaring home fans now certain of victory. The goal finally forced City’s hand, they chased the game for the remainder of extra-time after a fairly conservative period of play perhaps with thoughts of a penalty shootout already playing on minds.
Arsenal Captain Kim Litthe will be very happy with the result having hinted at City’s quality pre-match. She had also touched upon regrets from their most recent WSL fixture away to West Ham, a goalless draw which she felt merited more points after a dominant performance, but went on to add ‘ultimately we didn’t score, that’s what football is’. Today’s game represented a more difficult contest which arguably presented similar problems for the Gunners, except on this occasion they found an eventual solution. Arsenal will search for similar solutions on Saturday morning when the two teams face off again in the WSL, whilst hosts City no doubt have ideas of their own- both teams have ground to make on current leaders Chelsea, who are also likely to face Arsenal in the Conti Cup final assuming they can overpower underdogs West Ham in the remaining semi-final.
Match Report by Adam Smith, trainee journalist and sports writer @adamsmith29uk
Photos by @groundhopperGr1