Arsenal knew what they had to do in the final game of the season: win against West Ham and hope Chelsea slipped up against Manchester United. They did the former with two goals and a clean sheet, overcoming a steely defensive performance from the hosts in the first half.
The latter, however, is where their hopes were dashed. Chelsea, who went behind twice, scored four goals to secure a final home victory and consecutive Women’s Super League titles.
Though the Gunners have every right to be heartbroken, this performance, full of dash and vigour, represented everything that has gone right for Jonas Eidevall and his side this season.
In the first half West Ham restricted Arsenal from operating centrally, forcing Beth Mead and her teammates to the flanks with a high-pressing 3-5-2 system. Where the defenders Leah Williamson and Lotte Wubben-Moy would usually have time to spray the ball across the field and instigate counterattacks, this time they were either occupied by Kate Longhurst or Hawa Cissoko or busy breaking up counters.
Eidevall seemed to spot that particular trick. Before the game he mentioned West Ham would “give us very little time on the ball and we have to be mentally prepared”.
After the game he said: “They made us lose our compactness, our passes were also hard to control on a very dry pitch.”
The best opportunity to attack was on the Arsenal right, where Mead was galloping down to provide her side with some creative joy, having scored in her past three away games in the league. She zipped crosses into the box, often finding Vivianne Miedema and Caitlin Foord; both had a few pops at goal but were smothered by one of the West Ham back three on every occasion.
The home defenders were being kept on their toes and responding well but there were gaps opening up that Foord and Miedema were bursting into with increasing frequency. All evidence seemed to point to an imminent goal for Arsenal, and the attack needed no more encouragement than the injured Jordan Nobbs jumping up and down on the sidelines every time she got wind of another goal update in the game between Chelsea and Manchester United.
After the break Arsenal brought on Stina Blackstenius for Foord, forcing West Ham deeper into their own box. It was a sensational move on Eidevall’s part as Blackstenius got to work. Her first move was to break the deadlock in the 61st minute, with a powerful drive into the box followed up by a low shot past Mackenzie Arnold.
Five minutes later she was in the mix again, this time playing the supporting role to Steph Catley, who thundered the ball into the net with her left foot after picking up possession at the corner of the penalty box.
West Ham’s midfield was no longer able to keep up with Arsenal’s ferocity. But the goals mattered little as Chelsea steadily regained the dominant position in their game.
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At the final whistle Arsenal, who had never previously finished second in the league, had no choice but to give up the ghost.
Eidevall spoke about the effect this had on the players: “They could feel it in the stadium, the last 15 minutes of the game was dead, the stadium was dead, the energy was gone.”
Despite the Gunners’ best efforts, Chelsea’s own win proved to be enough to snatch the glory away from the north London side.