It took 455 days to get to this Women’s FA Cup final and in the end, for Chelsea at least, it was worth the wait.
This past week has been a damaging one for the FA, and English football in general, with the damning report into the awful scenes at Wembley Stadium during the Euro 2020 final made public.
They painted a grim picture of that miserable night at Wembley in July, but this final was a timely reminder about the progress being made in the game.
Exactly 100 years to the day since the FA banned women from playing football, Arsenal and Chelsea played out this final in front of a big crowd of 40,942 fans.
Before kick-off, the streets around Wembley were full of young families and fans, many getting their first taste of the national stadium.
The Covid-19 pandemic had forced this final to be played in December, with a major delay to last season causing a fixture backlog, and the only thing lacking was the usual May sunshine.
Everything else was in place for this showpiece fixture, which underlined how the women’s game is growing at a rapid rate ahead of next summer’s home Euros.
It felt like a big occasion and Chelsea were the ones who handled it better as they ran out 3-0 winners.
Perhaps that is because they, and their manager Emma Hayes, are serial winners, whereas for Arsenal boss Jonas Eidevall this was his first Women’s FA Cup final and his first visit to Wembley. Chelsea, in contrast, secured a belated domestic treble.
They flew out of the blocks for this game and were ahead inside three minutes through Fran Kirby, who capitalised on some sloppy Arsenal defending.
That was the theme of the Gunners’ first half and, had it not been for goalkeeper Manuela Zinsberger, they would have been more than 1-0 down at the break.
As it was, Chelsea spurned countless chances. Kirby and her strike partner, Sam Kerr, were the main culprits, with their devastating link-up play creating plenty of opportunities.
As Arsenal found out, there’s a reason Hayes has compared them to Manchester United greats Andy Cole and Dwight Yorke and, on another day, they could have had two each before the break.
Arsenal did rally before the interval and they had a good shout for a penalty waved away when Erin Cuthbert handled the ball when sliding to stop Beth Mead. Chelsea will say that balanced out them not getting a spot-kick when Jen Beattie caught Kerr in the box earlier.
Eidevall tried to change things after the break, issuing tactical instructions via coloured cards on the touchline, but nothing could stop the blue wave of Chelsea’s press.
Their second and killer goal finally came just before the hour mark as, you guessed it, once again Kirby and Kerr combined. This time it was Kirby setting up Kerr as she sent the Australian away down the left flank.
Once there, she jinked inside and wrong-footed Zinsberger with her finish by firing the ball low at the near post.
Chelsea could have added more after that, with Kirby hitting the post after she had hit the crossbar in the first half.
Kerr had also struck the woodwork in the first half, but she made amends for that by grabbing her second, and Chelsea’s third, in the 77th minute.
This time the striker was the coolest person in Wembley as she dinked the ball over Zinsberger after racing through on goal.
A fitting end to a special final for the women’s game.