Women's FA Cup Final Preview

December 5, 2021
After a season of action tempered with COVID-19 delays, the stage is set for today’s 2020–21 Women’s FA Cup final. Chelsea (the Blues) and Arsenal (the Gunners) will battle in today’s “London Derby” match at 9 a.m. ET. So swap your Sunday coffee and toast for some black tea and biscuits and get ready for a morning of soccer football!
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The closest I’ve come to being at Wembley was when I bought tickets for Adele a few years ago but then my wife and I couldn’t go. I’m definitely going this time.

— Arsenal manager Jonas Eidevall, on making it to the FA Cup final and playing at legendary Wembley Stadium. One thing’s for sure, no one’s going easy on his squad today.

⚽️ The background

Established in 1863, the Football Association (FA) is the oldest football association in the world and serves as the governing body in England. The FA oversees all aspects of the game, both at the amateur and pro levels, including the Barclays FA Women’s Super League (WSL), England’s top women’s league.

  • Each year, the FA holds a season-long tournament called the FA Challenge Cup, known today as the FA Cup. The men’s FA Cup began in 1871 and is the oldest national football competition in the world.
  • In 1921, the FA banned all women’s teams from playing on its grounds. Their reasoning? Because “the game of football is quite unsuitable for females and ought not to be encouraged.” Give us a break.

The ban stalled the women’s FA Cup establishment until 1970, andnow, 100 years later two WSL squads, Chelsea and Arsenal, will battle for the coveted Cup in the tournament’s 51st installment.

🏆 The format

The FA Cup is a unique knockout competition due to the diverse mix of hundreds of professional and amateur teams involved. Typically beginning in August, non-WSL and amateur squads enter a “draw” to decide the matchups and their locations.

  • Those teams then compete in three qualifying rounds that are followed by five “proper” preliminary rounds where the large, pro squads from different tiers join the tournament.
  • The quarter-final and semifinal rounds typically take place in the spring before the final competition in mid-May. However, due to the pandemic, the 2020–21 competition was delayed multiple times, hence today’s December final.

The restructure in schedule made for an interesting start to the 2021–22 FA Cup too, as this year’s edition is already underway, with the second round proper being held last week, all before a 2020–21 champ has been crowned. Weird times!

🏟 The location

The women’s final was played in London’s iconic Wembley Stadiumfor the first time in 2015, and the big showdown has been held there ever since. Often referred to as the “Home of Football,” Wembley is steeped in tradition (and Adele concerts).

  • While the original Wembley was demolished in 2002,the updated venue, which opened in 2007, boasts a capacity of 90,000, making it the second-largest soccer stadium in Europe.

The highest Women’s FA final attendance recorded at Wembley was also between Arsenal and Chelsea when the teams played in front of 45,423 fans in 2018. This year’s competition was poised to beat that record, but with a new waveof COVID-19 concerns, we’re not so certain it will.

  • That said, with the FA announcing its three-year Women’s Professional Game Strategy, which aims to turn the WSL into the best women’s sports league in the world by 2024, we expect the record to be broken soon. Bet.

🔴 The Gunners (Arsenal)

Now, to today's game. Arsenal are the most successful club in women’s FA Cup history, holding the record for wins (14); however, they haven’t held the trophy since 2016.

In October’s semifinal match, Arsenal topped Brighton & Hove Albion 3–0, punching their ticket to Wembley once again. With goals from star players Beth Mead, Leah Williamson and Kim Little, the squad had an impressive showing throughout all 90 minutes.

  • More good news for Arsenal fans? They’ve beaten Chelsea recently, securing a 3–2 opening weekend win over the Blues at their home stadium.
  • Since joining the squad in June, aforementioned new manager Eidevall has seen nothing but success with this Arsenal team. The Swede is known for his high-pressing, enthusiastic style, which paid off with the Gunners scoring 26 goals this season (only one goal behind Chelsea, who leads the league).

Arsenal has an impressive roster, with 2021 BBC Women’s Footballer of the Year and Dutch star Vivianne Miedema leading the way. Miedema already has six goals this season and is both the WSL’s and the Netherlands’ all-time leading scorer with more than 100 goals for Arsenal alone. Yeesh.

  • But with Williamson out and USWNT star Tobin Heath questionable due to injury, Miedema, Mead and teammate Lia Wälti will have to pull out all the stops to lead the Gunners to their 15th FA Cup win.

🔵 The Blues (Chelsea)

In their semifinal, Chelsea toppled reigning back-to-back champ Manchester City 3–0 on goals from Erin Cuthbert, Melanie Leupolz and Bethany England.

  • While the squad only has two FA Cup wins, their most recent came in the 2017–18 season beating — you guessed it — Arsenal 3–1. And this season, the Blues’ only WSL loss came at the hands of the Gunners. Bad blood, anyone?

Chelsea’s manager Emma Hayes is sure to give Arsenal’s Eidevall a run for his money when it comes to sideline enthusiasm. A seasoned leader on the pitch, Hayes has been at the helm since 2012 and is known for her “psychological methods,” like having the team watch videos of other top female athletes as motivation before matches. Here for it.

With five 2021 Ballon d'Or nominees—Canadian Olympic gold medalist Jessie Fleming, 2021 WSL Golden Boot winner Sam Kerr, Fran Kirby, Magdalena Eriksson and Pernille Harder — Chelsea’s roster is, in a word, stacked.

  • The trio of Harder, Kirby and Kerr combined for 69 goals last season and we expect the front three to lead the way today.

📺 Tune in

While we wish we could be watching from the stands at Wembley, us North Americans can stream today’s 9 a.m. ET match on ESPN+ in the U.S. or the FA Player no matter where you’re located. Get that tea brewing!