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WSL and FA Cup semi-final talking points: Arsenal must harness Conti Cup momentum to end season strongly


WSL and FA Cup semi-final talking points: Arsenal must harness Conti Cup momentum to end season strongly

Arsenal are out of the running for this season's WSL title, and must now turn a cautious eye to next term. That is not to disregard the rest of the campaign, nor disrespect their five remaining opponents, but this season has not got much left to offer the Gunners.

They can, of course, drum up some welcome momentum by staying undefeated between now and late-May, having also lifted the Conti Cup trophy last month. Crest of a wave stuff. That is important, not least because a third-place finish will earn Jonas Eidevall's side entry into the Champions League qualifying rounds - the point in which they crashed out of the competition this season.

Eidevall will be desperate to avoid a repeat of that.

Sunday's Bristol City clash, live on Sky Sports, will be a good chance to gauge Arsenal's approach to their final five WSL matches. And it might be refreshingly pleasant to play with less pressure attached.

As mooted, there is not loads to profit from, although a complete collapse would open the door to Manchester United for the final European spot. Seems unlikely now, but any sort of wobble gives Marc Skinner's side a faint chance.

Again, a situation to steer well clear of.

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Two weeks on from a last-gasp defeat to Arsenal in a thrillingly contentious Conti Cup final, Chelsea need a regroup. Four competitions reduced to three, at least that is a blessing for the busiest WSL side of any around.

The FA Cup is a competition they know well, having lifted the trophy three times in a row. A fourth successive triumph would match the run of Arsenal between 2006 and 2009.

Before talk of any finals can surface, Chelsea must remove Manchester United from the picture on Sunday, the team they beat 1-0 in last year's Wembley final.

They will want to exorcise some demons from their disappointing Molineux loss, but let's not forget, they were also defeated by Arsenal in the Conti Cup last season, and went on to FA Cup and WSL glory.

Emma Hayes' team are known as the 'mentality monsters', but that has its roots in more than just an ability to win football matches. It comes from an unrivalled ability to overcome adversity in trying circumstances. They have consistently turned setbacks into success - a scary omen for anyone standing in their way.

Perhaps most importantly for Chelsea, most of their available squad appear to have made it through the international break unscathed. If the Blues are to come out on top in their remaining competitions, they can ill-afford more injuries.

The Blues will be favourites for Sunday's semi against a Man Utd team who have meandered through an indifferent season. It is by no means a done deal, but provides the perfect chance for Chelsea to turbo charge their final two months under outgoing Hayes.

Plenty of media outlets have begun suggesting Manchester United boss Marc Skinner has already secured himself a new contract, with his current deal due to expire this summer. FA Cup success may well cement that line of enquiry.

The club's new minority owners INEOS, having assumed control of football operations in February, have been swift to address the women's set-up. Matt Johnson was appointed as interim head of women's football last month.

Clearly there is appetite to engage, as acknowledged multiple times by Skinner in interviews himself. But INEOS arrive with Man Utd Women at somewhat of a crossroads. This season has not gone to plan, and is a far cry from last term's impressive tete-a-tete with Chelsea.

They sit fourth in the WSL, 15 points off leaders Chelsea and six points behind third-placed Arsenal. If they do progress past the intrepid Blues this weekend, they would be favourites to lift the FA Cup for the first time in their history. It would rescue an otherwise below-par season.

And, perhaps, rubber stamp Skinner's new term at the helm.

Sunday's semi-final between Tottenham and Leicester is the biggest game in both teams' history.

In their current guises, neither have reached the FA Cup final last four before, let alone a final. But for one of these teams, the dream of playing under the arch at Wembley will become a reality in May.

Spurs stunned three-time winners Manchester City on penalties in the quarters, and will host the Foxes at the resplendent Tottenham Hotspur Stadium this weekend. Their last outing at the ground yielded a first-ever derby win over north London rivals Arsenal. Fond memories.

"It's going to be a good one," Ashleigh Neville told Tottenham's website. "You know at the back of your mind that if you win, you are at Wembley. However, we don't want to get too far ahead of ourselves, we are completely focused on the task at hand against Leicester and we will prepare like it's any other game."

Only a month ago in the WSL, Tottenham beat Leicester - who themselves have had a turbulent few weeks after the dismissal of Willie Kirk.

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Despite a lack of full-time manager, Leicester will have a point to prove. Jutta Rantala will act as their danger-woman. She scored both goals in a 2-0 success against Liverpool in the last round, having now contributed nine strikes and six assists in all competitions this campaign.

Sunday's semi-final will be a test of wills, nerve and, ultimately, who handles a big occasion better. History has already been made, but much more is on offer to the lucky victor.

Rachel Daly's England career has not always been smooth sailing, but she finishes her time with the Lionesses as a bona fide legend.

She was part of the team that started all six Euro 2022 games at left-back, having worked her way back into contention under Phil Neville, and has rarely been out of the squad since.

One of England's most versatile assets, she has recently enjoyed a renaissance as a centre-forward - scoring 16 times for the Lionesses - while contributing to goalscoring success at club level too.

But she will always be remembered as a reliable England defender, ably filling that role again at last summer's World Cup as Sarina Wiegman's side made it all the way to the final.

Daly has found herself primarily used as a substitute since then - Niamh Charles and Jess Carter the regular choices at left-back, while Alessia Russo often gets the nod up top.

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Certainly her personality and leadership will be sorely missed in camp.

Perhaps the only other shame will be that unknowing Lionesses fans saw Daly in an England shirt for the very last time against the Republic of Ireland on Tuesday, where she replaced Russo in the 86th minute.

Of course, it is an individual's choice how they bow out of international duty, but it would have been an almighty send-off for one of England's most popular players had fans known that was the final farewell.

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29 of May 2024