It has taken Emma Hayes four games to get the better of Jonas Eidevall in the league since he joined Arsenal from Rosengård in 2021 – more than any other manager she has faced. But there was no more significant time to end that run, and no more significant a scorer of Chelsea’s second goal in this 2-0 victory.
Chelsea needed a win to briefly extend their lead against Manchester United to five points and render United’s late victory in the Manchester derby somewhat irrelevant. Three points against Reading on Saturday will secure Chelsea the title. Arsenal were left ruing Katie McCabe’s missed second-half penalty, but had their Champions League place all but confirmed by City’s evening defeat.
Kingsmeadow fizzed with anticipation hours before kick-off, the away section full and vocal as the players warmed up. But the sold-out home crowd would dampen the sound of the travelling posse when Guro Reiten scored her eighth Women’s Super League goal of the season to give Chelsea the lead before the departing captain, Magda Eriksson, added an emotional second in her final game at Kingsmeadow.
“This is so fitting, of course she’s scored today,” Hayes said. “Everybody wanted that fairytale for her. She has been our captain and leader. I know the work that has gone on behind the scenes to get the team to where it is. I just looked on to the pitch and all I see is the years of work in the background. The meetings, the analysis, the disagreements, the good times and the moments you’re sick of looking at each other.
“It’s all of those things and when they come off this team has a habit of peaking when it matters. There’s three senior leaders in our team and I think it’s important that the baton is passed on through them.”
Hayes made six changes to the starting XI that beat West Ham on Wednesday night, with Erin Cuthbert, Lauren James, Reiten, Maren Mjelde, Ève Périsset and Ann-Katrin Berger all having been rested following the FA Cup final victory against United last weekend.
For Eidevall, there were fewer options to rotate between given Arsenal’s lengthy injury list. So there was just one change, an enforced one, with Kathrine Kühl replacing Lia Wälti who was injured in the 4-1 defeat of Everton on Wednesday.
This has been a difficult season for Eidevall’s side. They have lost Vivianne Miedema, Beth Mead, Leah Williamson and Laura Wienroither to anterior cruciate ligament injuries; Kim Little and Wälti to injury for the close of the campaign; and have been without Caitlin Foord and Steph Catley for long stretches. Arsenal have remained competitive despite players dropping out, but Wälti’s injury was one too many, making them that bit too light in midfield.
“It is one factor,” said Eidevall on whether the injuries had made it too hard to compete for the title. “When we are building for next season we know player availability is an important KPI [key performance indicator] if you’re going to be successful. We know the number of games is not going to be less, the competitiveness is not going to be less, so we need a deeper squad in order to deal with those situations. You see that with Chelsea here, they have been able to use their squad in a very good way. That is something we need to improve next season.”
It was end to end at Kingsmeadow, but the home team had the edge and had the ball in the back of the net in the 10th minute. However the flag was raised, with Sam Kerr offside when Reiten played the ball through the legs of Lotte Wubben-Moy.
Arsenal forced a fine save from Berger moments later. Foord won the ball from Périsset in the middle, that set Stina Blackstenius free on the left but Berger read the move well and came out to block the shot.
A goal was inevitable and, while Arsenal had threatened, Chelsea looked in control and keen to make amends for a disappointing performance in their 3-1 Continental Cup final defeat by this team.
There was some fortune in the goal that put the home side ahead, with Périsset slipping as she played a perfect long ball to Reiten and the Norwegian sliding on to one knee while steering the ball goalward on the half volley.
Chelsea extended their lead shortly before the break, Arsenal undone by a set piece as they have been too often this season. Reiten’s free-kick from the right swung towards Kerr who headed it down for Eriksson to poke the ball beyond Manuela Zinsberger having escaped her marker.
Arsenal came out fired up in the second half. Foord smacked an effort off the bar then they had a penalty as a result of a Sophie Ingle handball, but McCabe, the captain, pulled her penalty wide and too much damage had been done before the break.
Only the most catastrophic of collapses against Reading on Saturday will deny them a fourth consecutive title and a third back-to-back league and FA Cup double, in a season where they have had to tough it out like never before.