FA Women’s Super League – Round-Up…

Chelsea were victorious in the final weekend of the 23/24 WSL season. Their already superior goal difference gave them the edge before the match, and their victory over Manchester United left their title rivals Manchester City in the dust.

They were crowned with their title at Old Trafford, as Emma Hayes’ final goodbye to The Blues and Manchester United were left smarting to heavy defeat after their FA Cup glory last weekend.

With the title race coming down to the wire, anticipation will be high after the summer as we await what a Chelsea without Hayes will look like, as well as how all the teams will use the break to set their aims for the 2024/25 season…

  

Arsenal 5-0 Brighton & Hove Albion 

Arsenal had already secured their Champions League spot and were playing for pride in front of a packed-out Meadow Park. It may have been an inconsistent season for The Gunners, but they made sure they had their shooting boots on for a dominant performance to see out the season.

Arsenal were dominant from the first whistle, with Alessia Russo leading the line, causing problems for the Brighton defence.

In the 17th minute, it was Russo who broke the deadlock. Her strike into the top left corner was set up with some fine build-up play by Kim Little, Victoria Pelova and Emily Fox. 

In the 11th minute, there was a long applause in honour of Vivianne Miedema, 11 her shirt number, who was on the bench for the game, and her last appearance for the club.

The Seagulls were able to break in the 20th minute, with Elisabeth Terland, who has had a standout season for Brighton, sending her best effort at Sabrina D’Angelo in goal, but she saw her shot hit the crossbar.

Russo was again in charge as the home side doubled their lead in the 24th minute. She was able to pick up a loose ball from a mistake in defence by Maria Thorisdottir in front of goal, tapping it home to make it 2-0.

The visitors had a few further chances, thanks to Katie Robinson and Terland again, but were unable to hit the target.

The Gunners remained in control until the break, with both Beth Mead and Caitlin Foord coming close to adding to Arsenal’s tally.

The visitors had a little more fight in them at the start of the second half, but the Arsenal defence held well.

There was a chance for a 3rd when Steph Catley was brought down in the box by Jorelyn Carabali, but a rare slip-up by seasoned penalty taker Kim Little hit the post.

In the 62nd minute, Vivianne Miedema took to the field for the last time in an Arsenal shirt, to a standing ovation and loud cheers from both home and away fans. 

It took her just two minutes to score The Gunners 3rd, her 80th goal for Arsenal, with her first touch of the ball, slotting it past the keeper, assisted by Beth Mead.

The Netherlands international, not known for celebrating her goals, ran to the touchline, smiling with her arms aloft, as she was embraced on mass by her teammates.

They didn’t have to wait too much longer for their 4th, with Laia Codina’s header from Beth Mead’s corner heading into the net, marked as an own goal when defender Jorelyn Carabali was unable to keep it out of the net.

For The Gunners 5th and final goal, it was Miedema again who was the instigator, with her through pass setting up Frida Maanum for a fine run-on goal, sending the ball through the legs of Sophie Baggaley in the Brighton goal in the 89th minute.

Brighton had a chance to earn a consolation goal, but D’Angelo, also leaving the club at the end of her contract, was quick on her feet and preserved her clean sheet on her final appearance.

With 8 minutes added on, there was time for The Gunners to add to their tally, but the visitors will have been wishing the time away before any more damage could be done.

The Gunners Captain Kim Little reflected on their season, and how their away defeats had been a defining moment in missing out a chance at the title again.

Speaking after the match to www.arsenal.com, she said: “I think the games that we’ve dropped points in are the games that we should be winning if you put us on paper. 

“We really need to focus on that next year, as well as continuing to focus on our performances against the bigger teams. I think this year we’ve done incredibly well in those matches but ultimately, if you don’t do well in both then you’re not going to win the league so that’s definitely something we need to improve on for next year.”

“There were emotional scenes after the game as Vivianne Miedema said her goodbye to Arsenal, with both players, staff and fans hanging on every word of her farewell speech. After 7 years with The Gunners, her new club is yet to be decided, but her legacy will remain at the North London side for fans and teammates alike.

In her speech, she said: “Over the last couple of years I’ve really enjoyed my time here, I’ve loved playing with all the girls. I think today was the hardest game of my career. Again, thank you team for making it so special.”

In Vivianne Miedema’s time at Arsenal, she scored 126 goals in 173 appearances.

Next season will be a pivotal one for manager Jonas Eidevall, as the team continue their search for the WSL title that has eluded them for so long. 

With the departure of a well-respected player like Miedema, there had some disquiet amongst the fanbase so the spotlight will be firmly fixed on how the team begins their next campaign.

Brighton have had an inconsistent season, and it wasn’t the result that interim manager Mikey Harris had hoped for. They had been able to put in gutsy performances against the top 3 but were not able to keep The Gunners at bay.

Speaking to www.brightonandhovealbion.com, he said: “I am obviously gutted, it’s not the way we wanted to end the season. But, I don’t think it was through a lack of effort or application. They gave everything today, but we weren’t at the level that we’ve set in the last few months. Arsenal are a top, top team and they showed that. They were incredibly ruthless in the big moments and we had some moments of our own, but it wasn’t to be. It’s been a tough afternoon.”

With Harris only the interim manager for The Seagulls, it remains to be seen what next season may bring for the squad. With plans for a brand-new stadium for the women’s team, it’s clear Brighton are keen to invest in the side and what that philosophy will produce by the start of next season.

 

Manchester United 0-6 Chelsea

Manchester United’s FA Cup celebrations last weekend were a distant memory after 90 minutes at Old Trafford. 

They fell to a heavy defeat at the hands of a Chelsea side in search of their 5th successive title win. The Blues just had to keep their superior goal tally to keep Manchester City at bay, and they were not taking any chances as they ran rampant over The Red Devils.

Having beaten Chelsea to make it to the FA Cup final, there was a chance there would have been a nail-biting finish to the final day of the WSL, but when Chelsea went ahead after just two minutes, thanks to a goal from Myra Ramirez, it looked like that was not going to be the story on the day.

Despite having been out for four games through injury, Ramirez was on fine form, heading home a cross from Guro Reiten before some of the crowd were even in their seats.

Just six minutes later, The Blues had doubled their lead, with Johanna Rytting Kaneryd set up by Ramirez, her run on goal at speed giving Mary Earps little chance of disrupting her flow.

Manchester United had little to show for their efforts in the first half, a shot from Maya Le Tissier hitting the crossbar was just about all they could register.

Just ahead of half-time, Chelsea ramped up the pressure, with Ramirez again setting up Sjoeke Nusken’s tap-in for the third, and two minutes later Ramirez bagged a brace for her efforts.

She raced through two defenders, into the box, sending her powerful strike into the far corner to make it four.

The Red Devils will have been grateful for the break, but it did little to stem the flow.

Just two minutes into the second half, Chelsea scored again, this time it was Melanie Leupolz, with her first goal of the season, with an assist from Guro Reiten to make it six.

United’s manager Marc Skinner brought on fresh legs in the form of Geyse and Hinata Miyazawa, but their best efforts could not make it past Zecira Musovic between the sticks for Chelsea.

Chelsea continued to command all aspects of the game, and although they had to wait for their 6th goal, the scorer, Fran Kirby, made it all the more impactful. She had announced she would leave the club at the end of the season –  Scoring one final goal in front of rapturous away support in the 85th minute.

There was one final chance for United to get a consolation goal when Garcia found herself with the ball, but her shot went sailing over the bar.

As the final whistle blew, United had been well and truly trampled on Chelsea’s route to their 16th trophy under manager Hayes.

On the back of Manchester United’s FA Cup success, there was news of a contract extension for manager Marc Skinner this week, but it was definitely not the ‘theatre of dreams’ on Saturday.

Skinner reflected on the game and how they will look to build on the squad for next season to be able to compete with the bigger teams and get results.

Speaking to BBC Sport after the game. he said: “I think it reflects the gap in the game. The counter-attacks were aggressive and physical and we knew they would happen. Apart from that, I don’t think we’re 6-0 away from Chelsea at all, but we do need to continue to develop the depth of our squad in order to compete. Sometimes you have to be realistic. There is a gap for sure, we have to try and bridge it over the summer.”

Departing coach Hayes reflected on how close the title race had been, how it felt out of their hands in the past few weeks and the lifeline they were given after City’s defeat at the hands of Arsenal.

Speaking to www.chelseafc.com, she said: “They pushed us all the way but if you leave that door open for a team like Chelsea – I think the minute that door was left open was the minute everybody knew that we would walk through it….. I almost can’t believe we won the title!”

With another of Chelsea’s long-term servants, Kirby departing the club, scoring on her final time in Blue was a bittersweet moment for the England international who has had her fair share of injury struggles and seen how the women’s game has changed in her time at the club.

Speaking to www.chelseafc.com, she said: “I will be forever thankful to every single person because what this club has done – and what the WSL has done – for women’s football in this country is amazing. To be a small part of it is something I never dreamed of growing up. I’ve been at the club for a long time… For me to seal it off with a goal is perfect.”

It was the club’s biggest-ever victory over Manchester United and a fitting bookend in the 12 years under Emma Hayes.

Tottenham Hotspur 3-1 West Ham United

Mackenzie Arnold of West Ham United (Kieran Galvin ActionFotoSport)

Tottenham Hotspur had disappointing results in the FA Cup and then against Chelsea mid-week, but they made sure they were the team on top in the final London Derby of the season.

The home side were ahead after just four minutes when a defensive mistake by Mackenzie Arnold in the West Ham goal was seized upon by Martha Thomas, who was able to send the ball Bethany England’s way. England’s first touch fired it home at the near post.

The visitors responded well, with Becky Spencer in goal having to be alert to keep out an effort from Honoka Hayashi.

But Spurs were keen to double their lead, with chances from Celin Bizet, Charlotte Grant and Martha Thomas all calling The Hammers keeper Mackenzie Arnold busy.

They continued to control the game in the first half but were lacking the clinical finish to put away their chances. 

The Hammers were still in search of an equaliser to take advantage of Spur’s inability to finish, with Viviane Asseyi picking up a cross from Jessica Ziu, but her effort was saved by Becky Spencer in goal.

Their best chance of the game came just minutes before the break, with Asseyi picking up a cross from Anouk Denton, but Spencer in goal was able to push it off target.

Into the second half, The Lilywhites paid for their inability to score, when The Hammers found their equaliser thanks to Riko Ueki.

Just five minutes into the half, the Japanese international’s low-driven effort hit the inside of the far post and found its way into the net, set up by Honoka Hayashi.

Spurs responded well, with Bethany England having two quick chances to regain their lead. Her first went over the bar, and her second, a header met from an Ashleigh Neville cross, couldn’t stay down to hit the target.

There were further chances that hit the woodwork in the space of 9 minutes, while a clearance from Hawa Cissoko was almost guided into the net by Bethany England but went wide.

The Hammers continued their fight undeterred, with Jessica Zui’s threat down the right was cleared by Ashleigh Neville to deny them their second.

As the second half ticked on, Spurs eventually found their second, with substitute Jessica Naz picking up Grace Clinton’s through ball, making it past Tysiak in the Hammers’ defence, and sending it past Arnold in goal.

But the visitors were not done yet, back on their mission for a point, Risa Shimizu came close and a header from Tysiak was thwarted by Becky Spencer between the sticks, but it was Spurs who clinched the last goal of the game.

Drew Spence was on hand with a curling long-range effort, straight into the top right corner, sealing the win late in stoppage time and ending the campaign on a high.

The Lilywhites’ manager Robert Vilahamn has had a solid first season at the helm, steering his side to their first-ever win over Arsenal, and making the FA Cup final for the first time. Securing a strong win in front of a big crowd at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium was the perfect end to the campaign for the Swedish manager.

His aim of building a clear philosophy for the way the team plays and work together has brought a real change to the team since their relegation woes last year.

Speaking to www.tottenhamhotspur.com, he said: “That’s the most important thing in my leadership to make sure we have a group that want to spend time together and work together… I want to win and have a great environment.”

He also looked towards what next season will bring and built on the success of this campaign.

“Next is the summer vacation to reload and reflect on this year, and then we will work really hard to be even better next season because this is just beginning.”

The Hammers may have escaped relegation this season, but it is clear there is work to do for Rehanne Skinner and the team if they are to have a more comfortable time next season.

Speaking to www.whufc.com, she said: “It’s been a tiring season because there have been so many things that we wanted to do, but I think where we are at with everything behind the scenes it has given us a good platform to move forward. 

“The reconstruction and organisation within the team has been key, so we now have a lot of key people who are going to raise the level of performance next season and drive us forward. The players have worked incredibly hard and full credit to them as they have done everything, and I think that will stand us in good stead going into next year. We are in a good place.”