Arsenal meet Chelsea in the Continental Tyres League Cup Final at Selhurst Park on Sunday afternoon. The Gunners were knocked out of the FA Cup by the same opponents just a couple of days ago, despite creating plenty of goal scoring opportunities, Jonas Eidevall’s side could not convert in the same ruthless manner that the hosts managed.
Arseblog News asks Arsenal captain Kim Little how the team strikes the balance between accentuating the positives from that game and being honest about the lack of efficiency. “We reviewed it this morning, which we do with every game,” she tells me on Tuesday afternoon. “We created a lot of chances and a lot of space to allow us to build up into their half and into the final third.
“We weren’t efficient and clinical enough, like they were with fewer chances. At this level, with the performance we expect, we have to have that criticality. That’s why we’re here.” However, Little insists the team need to find a balance between analysing the game and not holding onto the bad feeling from the result. “It’s not the nicest feeling to fail, which we did on Sunday. We all feel disappointed in terms of not being able to be clinical and not score the goals we need to get a result.
“At the same time, we have to move on to Sunday. It’s a great occasion for us. We need to take the positives of creating so many chances against a very good team but we need to turn them into goals, that is something we focus on this week to do better.” I spoke to Little immediately after the club’s last Conti Cup win in 2018. At the time, Little suggested that she wanted the Conti Cup to act as a springboard for future success.
“Primarily, it is the WSL that we want to be dominant in again. This is a platform for us to build towards that and you can see we’re taking steps towards it now.” Sure enough, a year later, Arsenal won the WSL. I ask Kim whether she believes victory on Sunday- and a first trophy since 2019- could provide a similar salve. “In football, within seasons, you have these moments,” she explains in her familiar Scottish lilt.
“Sometimes they are negative and they can spur you on. But sometimes you get those positive moments and that’s what we had five years ago with the Conti Cup. That drove us on to win the league. We haven’t had that moment since we won the league.” Little says there is a tangible feeling that the club continues to push forwards but the players know they have to produce the silverware to prove it.
“As a club we are trying to do all the right things to move us forward, across the board. You can feel that, we need to match that forward thinking- commercially, growing attendances, growing the game in different ways- we need to connect that on the pitch and win trophies. A moment like that (winning on Sunday) could be a great catalyst to drive us forwards and achieve even more.”
Kim is no stranger to Conti Cup Finals, she has played in six, winning four and losing two. She scored the winner in the 2012 Final against Birmingham City at Underhill. Those successes in 2011, 2012 and 2013 were played in front of crowds of a few thousand. On Sunday, Selhurst Park will be close to capacity. The captain says it gives the Conti Cup Final a greater sheen than it enjoyed in the past.
“I think a couple of those games were at Barnet (one at Underhill in 2012 and one at the Hive in 2013), the League Cup Final was played a lot earlier in the season then too, it didn’t have the same status as the FA Cup. Now we’re going to be playing in front of a lot more people in a Premier League stadium.
“I’ve spoken before about how women’s football needs more of these big, special occasions. We have had some of those at the Emirates recently and we are looking forward to another one on Sunday, we are very excited about that.” The 32-year-old also suggests that the preparation for Sunday’s game will be very different to what she experienced in those first three finals from 2011 to 2013.
“The game has changed so much, when I first played there was very little analysis, there wasn’t much staff, the detail is heightened because games are watched more and there’s more input from various sections. It’s quite a different experience, when you are younger you think about it less and go with the flow but as you get older, you have a little more perspective on how you can influence people.”
Despite their pedigree- Arsenal have won the league title, the FA Cup and the League Cup more times than any other team in England- Little acknowledges that Chelsea will be favourites on Sunday. Not least because the Gunners haven’t beaten them in five attempts now and lost the 2021 and 2018 FA Cup Finals and the 2020 Conti Cup Final to Emma Hayes’ side.
“Chelsea have been dominant in the last few years and we haven’t picked up a trophy, it’s not for the want of trying and we have to continue to aim for that. We want to get back into that position we have been in before as the dominant club and that feeling that when you play these games that you feel dominant.
“Chelsea probably have that feeling over us just now but we believe that we have a very capable squad and when we’re at the top of our game we can compete in and win these trophies. We have to make sure we improve on the things that have let us down the last few times we have been in these positions.” However, Little does not believe there is any psychological issue for the players against Sunday’s opponents.
“I don’t think there is a mental block, when you come up against the best teams they can go either way. In the two games we have played against them this year we have been dominant in many areas that’s not good enough, we need the next step to win the matches. We can take those positives but we need to make the percentages work for us.
“These games have big moments and you won’t always be successful but being able to re-focus and reset is a big part of our job so we don’t hold onto bad feelings. From the conversations we’ve had about Sunday’s game, I think we know how to reset so we don’t have that block of remembering what happened last weekend.”
Little admits that as club captain and with over 250 club appearances under her belt, the final carries an emotional significance too. “I joined this club when I was 17, I think everyone in this club really wants to win this trophy on Sunday but some of us who have been here longer really have that love for Arsenal and want to show what a great squad we have and what a great club we’re at.”
The game between Arsenal and Chelsea takes place at Crystal Palace’s Selhurst Park on Sunday at 3pm. The game will be live on BBC Two in the UK.