Image: Wikimedia Commons/Katie Chan
Image: Wikimedia Commons/Katie Chan

Chelsea clinch WSL in thrilling title race

Chelsea have continued their domestic dominance and sealed the Women’s Super League (WSL) title for a record third season in a row. In what is shaping up to be a rivalry for the ages, the Blues finished just one point ahead of fellow Londoners, Arsenal, on a dramatic final day.

Sparring managers, territorial rivalry, histories of success: the contest between the two has all the hallmarks of a great rivalry.

From the opening day of the season, the two London clubs didn’t shy away from a battle that would run right to the end. There was no shortage of goals or tension on that day as the Gunners managed to hang on to their goal advantage to win 3-2.

The emphatic celebratory knee-slide of Jonas Eidevall at full-time showed just what this rivalry meant to the new man in North London. He had introduced himself to managerial counterpart Emma Hayes and showed he was here to compete. In this bout, it was advantage Arsenal after the first round.

Neither team’s journey to the final day would prove straightforward. Arsenal would eventually show their fallibility as they dropped points to North London derby rivals, Spurs, just managing to salvage a draw at the death.

Though a shock defeat to Reading just a month later meant Chelsea were unable to take advantage of Arsenal’s slip-up.

Competition was evident just as much as the punches thrown in a war of words as it was on the pitch. The title hopefuls’ clash in the FA Cup Final led to press conference jibes being dealt between the two managers.

Eidevall, somewhat tenuously, used his superstition of black cats to comment on Chelsea’s excessive spending-habits. It was with relish, then, that Hayes landed a stinging blow in retaliation as she referred to her team ‘purring’ in their 3-0 victory at Wembley.

With Arsenal leading after the Christmas break, both teams faced challenges in squad depletion as Covid ran rampant and the Asia Cup took valuable stars from both. It was Arsenal who suffered.

As Hayes’ side were awarded postponements to deal with Covid cases, Eidevall wouldn’t be letting this perceived injustice slide. A jab at ‘other teams’ not having same intention to try and get games played was most certainly aimed at Chelsea.

For now, at least, London is Blue. But the rivalry is only just heating up, scores are still left to be settled next season

Meanwhile Arsenal persevered and faced bottom of the league Birmingham City. It appeared, however, their team also failed to make an appearance. A 2-0 loss saw their league lead diminish in what transpired as the shock of the season.

Patchy form saw both drop points in the succeeding spell, Chelsea drawing away at Brighton while Arsenal were also held to draws in meetings with both Manchester clubs.

The teams could barely be separated. Their second meeting of the season reflected as much. A 0-0 draw saw both teams unable to break the deadlock. The title race remained neck and neck.

With the end of the season impending the quality of both shone through as neither teamed faltered in the run up to the final day.

So, the stage was set. Chelsea took a one-point advantage into a tough final game against Manchester United while Arsenal would line-up against West Ham.

If Chelsea won, they would be champions. A draw for the Blues would require Arsenal to win for them to take the title, while if Chelsea lost Arsenal would only need a draw due to a superior goal difference.

A season full of entertainment wasn’t about to be let down by the final day. It was a WSL season that just continued to give.

Against a United team that needed a win to keep their hopes of Champions League qualification alive, Chelsea twice went behind in the first half. The title changing hands twice within 15 minutes. Both times Chelsea were a match for their opponents with equalisers from Kerr and Cuthbert.

On the other side of London, Arsenal were being held to a draw by West Ham. Their hopes of taking the title from Chelsea were still alive and a goal from Blackstenius in the 60th minute put them ahead of Chelsea again.

Guro Reiten and Sam Kerr proved Chelsea’s saviours. The Blues’ dominance came through in the second half and their title was sealed with an outrageous lob from Kerr in the 66th minute to see them win 4-2.

Arsenal fans had been given a glimmer of hope but despite a second goal from Steph Catley resulting in a 2-0 win, their reliance on Chelsea to drop points proved too much to ask.

As Eidevall had celebrated at the start of the season, Chelsea players took the opportunity to emulate the knee-slide in a final knockout blow to show just who had the upper hand in this fight on, and off, the pitch.

For now, at least, London is Blue. But the rivalry is only just heating up, scores are still left to be settled next season.

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