Game Analysis #6: Arsenal vs. Chelsea – FA Cup Final 2016

Game Analysis #6

May 14th, 2016

Final Score: Arsenal 1-0 Chelsea

The newly sponsored Vitality Women’s FA Cup final took place Sunday the first of November, 2020 between Everton and Manchester City. City was crowned champions after a well fought battle that lasted into extra time. Although neither team mentioned in the article below managed to reach the semi-finals this year, as an Arsenal fan, there is never a wrong time to take a look back.

Game Recap: For a one goal match, the 2016 Arsenal versus Chelsea FA Cup final did not lack in excitement. Arsenal was off on the front foot from the moment the whistle sounded, leading their attack with veteran English legend Kelly Smith. Danielle Carter was hard to take eyes off for the entire game, grazing the top-netting from a misjudged pass by Millie Bright in the opening moments. She scored minutes later, spectacularly turning Chelsea’s defenders inside and out before finally cutting inside to curl the ball into the top corner. Fran Kirby was entrusted with the task of breaking through the Arsenal barricade on the Chelsea front, nearly doing so twice throughout the match. The first chance came shortly after Carter’s game-winning solo effort and forced a solid save out of Dutch keeper Sari van Veenendaal. Towards the end of the half, Smith laid the ball through to young Nigerian forward, Asisat Oshoala, who missed the shot despite making an intelligent run.

Throughout the second half, Oshoala showed to be a force of her own, spinning the Chelsea backline into a tizzy with immense speed and creative flairs of technique. Midway through the half, she returned Smith’s favor, narrowly missing out on getting an assist after rebounding her initial cross. It was not until the closing minutes where Chelsea started to top Arsenal, with Ji So-yun volleying the ball over the crossbar from close range and Fran Kirby hitting a shot past the left post. And at the end, after a worrisome few minutes, Arsenal was lifting the FA Cup trophy for a record-breaking 14th time.



Arsenal used the typical framework of a 4-3-3 to unleash their tactics, creating a compact defensive unit that sprayed the ball through the middle of the pitch and counteracted the Chelsea game-plan. In terms of the center-halfs, Casey Stoney was the ringleader of the back line, communicating to teammates around her and forcing Chelsea to give away possession at the top of the box. Both Stoney, and experienced German, Josephine Henning, were adept at staying patient, and made sure that their opposition was unable to slip balls through to oncoming forwards and succeed in runs in behind. For Stoney, Henning, and both outside backs, this involved a lot of switching positions and covering for one another, something they all did with ease. This way of defending forced midfielders to track back to help defend.

Sticking with the qualities of defensive and midfield connection, Arsenal’s back four were eager to push forward and distribute once they had won possession. This distribution meant that long balls into wider areas were usually a result of a pass envisioned by one of the central defenders, making it even harder for Chelsea to transition against Arsenal’s attack. The outside backs, Emma Mitchell and Alex Scott, were also able to roam outside areas, adding cover for the forwards in more advanced positions.


Arsenal 1-0 Chelsea: Women's FA Cup final - as it happened | Football | The Guardian

Although Arsenal had outbattled Chelsea in most areas of the pitch individually, the collective effort throughout the midfield was an impressive feat to attest to for the London side. Much like the defensive line, Fara Williams, the pivot in the center of the midfield, was a key distributor of long balls. She exhibited similar patience to that of the center-backs behind her, picking out passes to wider areas and lofting the ball over Chelsea’s central line. In addition, Williams cautiously chose moments to dribble herself, communicating to teammates Jordan Nobbs and Vicky Losada to make runs off of the ball or take her place for cover. Both Nobbs and Losada proved themselves immensely from a defensive standpoint, pressing the ball immediately after it was lost and double-teaming Chelsea in the middle to prevent them from playing forward.

In order to create a numerical advantage in the center of the field, Arsenal was able to be flexible positionally, bringing up their outside backs to join the attack and allowing Fara Williams to drop back through the center to cover. Another example of this positional flexibility was the play of Kelly Smith throughout the attacking midfield. Although this would have been her last FA Cup final, Smith looked as lively as ever and found herself as one of the most important members of Arsenal’s attacking line. By Smith dropping back into an attacking midfielder role, forwards Danielle Carter and Asisat Oshoala were allowed to cut inside, running Chelsea defenders ragged and creating many opportunities for Arsenal to score.

Vicky Losada is another example of the success that Smith’s flexible positioning brought. Losada thrived in her own creative space, making runs in and around the Chelsea defense and finding pockets to hold the ball. This type of play led Arsenal to continue the trend of playing quickly, laying the ball off to one another and weaving in and out of opposition like a patchwork quilt. As a result, Chelsea was unable to prevent the onslaught of Arsenal passing, forcing Millie Bright to step into the midfield at halftime and further expose their center-back pair.


Arsenal played with three forwards; these forwards each possessed talents and their own flair. On the wings, Arsenal was placed with an artillery of talent at the feet of Danielle Carter and Asisat Oshoala. Both players were technical, confident, and full of pace and energy throughout the entirety of the game. Carter was a player that liked to create 1 versus 1 situations for herself, finding a way to cut the balls across her body and onto her right foot to shoot. Her winning goal of the match was a moment to remember. Carter received the ball in front of Hannah Blundell, weaved her way in and out of pressure, cut the ball multiple times across her body, before finally turning inside and curling the ball into the top right corner. On the other wing, Oshoala was one of the most active players in the final third, with sporadic runs into different areas of the field which made her almost impossible to mark. This, along with her blinding speed, were huge concerns for Chelsea’s backline, who struggled to keep up with the now second top scorer in the Spanish league.

Although Kelly Smith was the central striker, she dropped back to bring flexibility and security to the midfield. This allowed Carter and Oshoala to make runs behind the Chelsea defense, using their strengths to push forward and play the ball to the top of the box. Smith not only used her strengths as a player throughout this final, but also her intellect and leadership. Throughout the match, Smith’s workrate was almost unparalleled, exemplified through her crunching tackles, runs off of the ball, and constant communication with players around her. Having a legend such as Kelly Smith allowed Arsenal to play their game and find their confidence.



Arsenal Ladies beat Chelsea to lift the FA Women's Cup | Football News | Sky Sports

Chelsea stacked their formation in a 4-2-3-1, unveiling their plan from the beginning to use their creativity up top. In terms of their defense, Chelsea struggled. Chelsea found their power through the middle of the field. Usually, Millie Bright and Gilly Flaherty are covered by a confident midfield line. Although Chelsea used the strategy of defensive distribution less often, neither of the center backs were provided cover. This led to both players being out of position and created a type of flat line and gap between the midfield and defense. This not only left them open to counter attacks, but also straight play down the middle. Arsenal exploited the wings using this fault and created dangerous chances through playing balls in behind Chelsea’s defensive line. Both Flaherty and Bright were forced to defend in places that would normally be taken care of in the midfield or outside areas.

In terms of outside defense, Hannah Blundell was a standout. Although she was not quite of the ability to nullify the brilliance of Danielle Carter, the young fullback marked her runs well and was able to delay Arsenal going forward. On the other flank, Ana Borges struggled against the pace of Asisat Oshoala. Although both players made solid runs going forward, tracking back to stop Arsenal’s counter proved to be a problem. The issue of a forward four proved to expose wider areas, or better yet for Arsenal, draw defensive midfielders out wide to leave space open in the center of the field. This caused Chelsea to struggle against a technical and composed Arsenal midfield and ultimately left their defense a harder job than necessary.


Whereas Arsenal dominated in the midfield, Chelsea faced significant problems. With Chelsea’s five midfielders, there was never a good amount of players while in possession. Either the wingers would be too far up the field to play through the middle, or there would be no one out wide at all. Arsenal played with pace and hunger through the center of the field, rotating positions and manmarking heavily when they would lose the ball. Arsenal covered players like Ji So-yun heavily, making it difficult for her to execute her usual dominant presence. Chelsea for these reasons, and were unable to keep the possession in central areas. With nobody moving off of the ball and limited options to play up top, the visionaries on the field had started to see blank spaces.

More issues arose with Chelsea’s duo in defensive midfield. Both Katie Chapman and Drew Spence were forced to drop back more often than not to cover for the central players behind them, who would be stepping to defend Arsenal’s quick counter attacks. This created immense confusion in positional awareness and led to issues while distributing out of the back.

While Arsenal had Fara Williams, Jordan Nobbs, and both center backs to distribute the ball upfield, Chelsea had gaps. Without any distribution to wider areas, Arsenal’s fullbacks were able to join into the attack and encourage their wingers to push further up the field. This also meant that Chelsea was not able to use their own pace to test the Arsenal back line. These issues led to exposed spaces for Arsenal to exploit, and a lack of chances created by Chelsea. The absence of this “ball player” in the center of the field further reflected the need for a leadership role in Chelsea’s attacking line, just as Arsenal had in Kelly Smith. In order to fix these problems, Millie Bright was placed into the midfield at the half. However, this change proved to only be worse for Chelsea, as the center-back showed to only add to the lack of positional awareness.


Fran Kirby - Fran Kirby Photos - Arsenal Ladies v Chelsea Ladies - SSE Women's FA Cup Final - Zimbio

Overall, Chelsea was very flexible in their attack, using the same tactic as the Arsenal midfield. Although both outside forwards also had midfield duties that hindered their freedom moving into attacking positions, both Karen Carney and Gemma Davidson were still able to implement their technical and confident dribbling skills at the top of Arsenal’s box. Both forwards enjoyed keeping the ball and cutting across the field to pick out Kirby in pockets of space, who positionally allowed both wingers to drift centrally. When Eni Aluko was subbed in midway through the second half, Chelsea was injected with more strength and the ability to hold the ball up top. In addition to Aluko’s pace and technique, this was something that Chelsea had started to see the benefits of in the final few minutes before the whistle.

Looking directly at Kirby, it is clear that she was the primary figure in their attack. Similar to Kelly Smith, players worked through and around her to create chances. Because of the lack of distribution to forward areas, the Arsenal midfield were easily able to prevent her from coming back into the center of the field to receive the ball. When Kirby was on the ball, the chances she                        created for herself on net were dangerous. Her intelligent runs into space were equally as important, drawing out defenders in order to create space for her teammates.


In this FA Cup final, Arsenal beat Chelsea through tactics. Both squads were intelligent choices,  in both experience and talent. In the past few years, Chelsea have grown in terms of personnel and tactical decisions. It is clear that Emma Hayes is managing her team to compete internationally. If all goes as planned, they will have a good shot this year at becoming the first English side since Arsenal in 2007 to win a Champions League title.


Arsenal: 4-3-3

Van Veenendaal

Scott       Stoney        Henning        Mitchell


Nobbs        Losada

Carter          Smith          Oshoala

Chelsea: 4-2-3-1


Blundell        Bright        Flaherty       Borges

Spence        Chapman

Davidson        Ji        Karney


Written by Maddie Metz

Creator of Only Women’s Soccer



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