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Arsenal Ladies 2 – 0 Bristol Academy: How the Women’s FA Cup was won

May 23, 2011

Arsenal Ladies arrived at the Ricoh Arena in Coventry eyeing their eleventh Women’s FA Cup title.

Bristol Academy were appearing in their first final, having fallen at the semi-final stage on six previous occasions and spurred on by the 2-2 draw they had earned against their opponents just eight days previous in the Women’s Super League.

Unfortunately for those supporting the underdogs, Arsenal strolled to a comfortable 2-0 victory with goals from Scottish internationals Kim Little and Julie Fleeting. The London club were able to keep Bristol Academy at arm’s length in the second period thanks to taking the two goal lead in the first half lead.

Unlocking Bristol

Bristol Academy were quick to the employ tactics they had worked on to stop Arsenal Ladies. Captain Corinne Yorston and Katie Daley took command of the defence and midfield banks and squeezed the space the Arsenal midfield had to work within. Loren Dykes and Helen Bleazard tucked in to close down space rather than trying to pose attacking threats.

Katie Chapman and Kim Little were caught in possession in the early moments and Bristol’s game plan seemed to work. The midfield three were unable to turn on the ball and look for a defence splitting pass.

Instead they were forced sideways and back; but it was the pressure and hard-work exerted by Bristol players that actually helped their opponents break down their strategy. The full-backs were always an available outlet. Their time was of course limited but after one hopeful long ball by Stephanie Houghton put Ellen White into a foot race she was always likely to win; Arsenal had found the key to unlock Bristol’s defensive structure.

The ball was quickly worked to Houghton and left-back Niamh Fahey who were just as quick to play White and Rachel Yankey in over the top of their markers. On almost every occasion, Arsenal were rewarded by creating a chance or earning a dead ball situation; but more importantly it forced Yorston to pull her backline deeper. Daley didn’t follow with her midfield four and that opened space for Little to operate within.

She dropped into the hole created and from there, scored the first goal. A defensive header landed at her feet and with two touches, Little had danced into the area. No midfielder was available to cover and she soon steadied herself to open the scoring.

Following the goal, Dykes and Bleazard tried to cut loose and put more pressure on the Arsenal full-backs but the Gooners had built up their rhythm and weren’t to be denied a second goal. Siobhan Chamberlain made two important saves from a free-kick and a header before Julie Fleeting got in front of her marker to nod in the second. The cross was created by Kim Little roaming out of the left and linking up freely with Yankey.

Deeper Bristol

Two down at half-time, Bristol Academy dropped much deeper in the second half and allowed Arsenal to play their usual possession football. Jess Whitlock didn’t return to the pitch after the break because of a neck injury and without the Welsh star’s eagerness to link the play with Ann-Marie Heatherson up front, the former WPS striker was left isolated.

The Academy seemed keen not to concede a game ending third goal but in turn, they also ruined their own chances of scoring the goal that could have made Arsenal nervous. From the six corners that Arsenal won in the second half, the ball was cleared by a Bristol player into the Arsenal half and straight back into their possession. Having pulled everyone into the area to defend the set-piece, the Academy Women decided against trying to break from the back and instead cleared their lines constantly.

Jordan Nobbs and Chapman anchored the midfield for last year’s beaten finalists superbly, spraying the ball to wherever a player had become free. Rachel Yankey refused to stop running off the shoulder of the right-back and with more considered delivery, a third goal could have arrived.

In the end, Arsenal Ladies weren’t made to scorn rue their missed opportunities of the second half. Bleazard’s free-kick that struck Emma Byrne’s bar in the 65th minute was the closest Bristol got.

Even in the dying minutes the Academy players struggled for possession. Jennifer Beattie replaced Fleeting for the last ten minutes and her presence up front for Arsenal caused a new set of problems. The versatile player, who started the semi-final at right back, very nearly set-up Little with her first touch; only for Chamberlain to stop the volley with another fine save.

Bristol Academy will be consoled in defeat by the fact that their appearance in the final has booked them a place in the Champions League.

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