The third meeting in the Continental Tyres Cup final between Arsenal and Manchester City was always likely to be a tense and cagey affair; and so it proved as Manchester City emerged victorious to claim their 3rd league cup thanks to a 4-2 penalty shoot out win.
The opening stages of the game were a nervy affair with both sides denying the other space to play in. Arsenal lifted their tempo and gained the upper hand as they lifted their tempo with City seemingly caught off guard. Neither side fashioned anything like a real chance until the 18th minute when Danielle Van De Donk was released down the right and her low cross was almost deflected into the City goal by the boot of Captain Steph Houghton.
After successfully defending a string of Arsenal corners City came into game late into the half as Georgia Stanway first broke free but as she shifted her body to shoot saw the ball toe poked off her boot. Moments later she was involved again as she did well to glide past two players in the Arsenal penalty area; laying the ball off to Tessa Wullaert whose hard effort was blocked into the path of Caroline Weir but the Scotland international opted to curl it and couldn’t place her effort on target.
The best moments of the half came in three minutes of first half stoppage time. City finally sustained a period of possession following Demi Stokes driving run down the left before playing the ball from left to right into the path of Caroline Weir who saw her goal bound effort blocked for a corner by Louise Quinn. From the resulting set piece City should have taken the lead through Houghton has her downwards header was palmed away by goalkeeper Sari Van Veenendaal. The Arsenal goalkeeper could only push it into the path of Gemma Bonner but the City defender couldn’t turn it towards goal.
The second half began much brighter than the first as both sides lifted the tempo and looked to play on the front foot. Arsenal were created their first real chance from open play as a deep cross from Katrine Veje from the left picked out Beth Mead un-marked but the England striker couldn’t direct her header on target.
City went closer still on 58 minutes when a Weir free kick from deep found the head of Nikita Parris whose backward header beat Van Veenendaal but she could only watch as the ball rebound off the underside of the crossbar and bounced out. Again, both sides exchanged chances as Janni Arnth missed a glorious chance from six yards out volleying wide before Parris fired over from an equally close but narrower angle.
In the closing minutes City went close twice in quick succession as Van Veenendaal dropped a croner from Weir at the feet of Houghton but the defender couldn’t get her body over the ball and volleyed over. The best move of the game came from Janine Beckie who drove purposefully down the left cutting the ball inside to Weir’s path before racing into the box only to be denied by the desperate sprawl of Van Veenendaal.
Arsenal came close themselves as they countered wonderfully switching it from right to left before Dominique Bloodworth released Mead with a terrific cross field pass but Gemma Bonner did well to narrow the strikers angle with the resulting shot well saved by Karen Bardsley. Arsenal thought they might have won in it in the first seconds of stoppage time as Vivianne Miedema’s volley whistled an inch past the post. City went closer still as Arsenal surrendered possession and Beckie almost won it with virtually the last kick of the 90 minutes when Beckie saw her vicious volley cannon off the bar.
Extra time would be needed as neither side could find the breakthrough in regulation time. However, it took 12 minutes of extra time to produce anything noteoworthy as City were again denied by Van Veenendaal when Stokes perfectly weight through ball as Parris left Leah Williamson for dead only to be denied by the Arsenal goalkeeper one-on-one.
The second half of extra-time brought a pair of chances in quick succession for City as twice Stanway crossed in but Lauren Hemp couldn’t turn the ball home; heading the first effort wide with the second effort bouncing into the keepers grateful hands. The second half saw very little of note again as both teams tired with Beckie having the best chance firing a long range effort over after being released down the left by Jill Scott.
The first round of penalties saw both teams finally break the deadlock as Georgia Stanway drilled home a superb penalty before Kim Little coolly sent Karen Bardsley the wrong way. The second round saw both takers spot kicks saved as Van Veenendaal guessed correctly diving to her left to push away Hemps pen before Bardsley did likewise with Leah Williamson’s week penalty.
Claire Emslie then made it 2-1 sending the Arsenal goalkeeper the wrong way before Bardsley’s heroics again as she got two hands to Danielle Van De Donk’s penalty. Steph Houhgton made it 3-1 with a well struck pen as Bloodworth kept Arsenal alive slotting into the corner. It was for Janine Beckie to decide the cup tie as she duly stepped up and drilled her penalty into the bottom right corner to hand Manchester City their third Continental Cup tie.
Arsenal: Van Veenendaal, Veje (Hazard 70), Arnth (Miedema 68), Williamson, Van De Donk, Little, McCabe, Quinn, Evans, Bloodworth, Mead. Subs Not Used: Peyraud-Magnin, Kuyken, Albuquerque.
Manchester City: Bardsley, Stokes, Bonner, Beattie, Houghton, Scott, Stanway, Parris (Hemp 105), Weir (Emslie 118), Walsh, Wullaert (Beckie 65’). Subs Not Used: Roebuck, Bremer, Campbell, McManus.
Referee: Lucy Oliver